Thousands of Nepalis working in India and elsewhere have returned home after cases of COVID-19 started to spike around the world. There is a fear among ordinary people across the country that those returnees might spread the coronavirus since the government failed to screen them properly. On the other hand, health professionals do not even have enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to handle patients with symptoms of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). While reports claim that individuals with the symptoms are not being entertained by private hospitals triggering a riskier and chaotic situation, the government's coordination is seen not very effective to handle the national crisis. Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali spoke to Republica's Anjali Subedi on these issues. Excerpt:
Situation inside the country is getting worse. Is the government doing enough to bring Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for health professionals?
Our neighboring countries have assured us that they would send some PPE kits soon. But that would not be enough. Secondly, as the health minister said yesterday [Wednesday], all necessary materials will be available within three days. We are purchasing them. Next, some charity organizations and corporate houses have also announced assistance, maybe they will also deliver soon. Maybe there will be no scarcity of such equipment.
The situation at the Teku Hospital is chaotic due to an overflow of patients while private hospitals are not cooperating. Don't you think emergency purchases could be handled little differently?
It's not true that there is already a crisis. We do have coronavirus testing kits, PPE and other materials for now. But we should remain prepared for the coming days because the number of infected patients could increase.
But we are hearing that the health professionals at the Teku Hospital are not assured of their own safety.
No, that is not true. Reporters should look at the facts, the administration might not have told you how many sets there are in stock. We are indeed preparing for tomorrow.
But reports say otherwise. Patients who go to private hospitals complaining of fever or cough are not being entertained citing lack of PPE.
We are preparing for tomorrow. But what we must understand is that it is a pandemic, a global problem. Even the developed countries are facing shortage of PPEs and testing kits. And in some places, even the factories which produce the PPEs have been shut down.
We had time. What did we do in the last few months?
No, it's not like that. Even the factories cannot supply PPEs now. Those factories and others had no idea that there would be a coronavirus pandemic. Only after this crisis that the demand for PPEs has shot up.
The public is panicked. But the sense of urgency is missing on the part of the government. Why?
No, the government is not sleeping. We are preparing, one step at a time. But we should not make the public panic, and the media should not do that.
Provinces and districts across the country do not have PPE. Health professionals won't be able to work as expected.
No, PPE is not the issue. Our biggest problem is that we don't have decentralized health service. Except for the Teku Hospital, COVID-19 testing services are not available in other hospitals. Swabs have to be collected and brought here. Testing or treatment is affected just because of PPE, as you say, is simply not true.
Media reports say that the lack of PPE has affected health services in Kathmandu and elsewhere. Situation is not normal in hospitals.
At present there is no shortage of PPE, testing kits and other materials. For the future, we have plans in place.