The annals of coronavirus in Nepal

The perverse mathematics of tragedy

Published On: May 18, 2020 09:00 PM NPT By: Subhash Ghimire  | @subhash580

Subhash Ghimire

Subhash Ghimire

Subhash Ghimire is the editor of Republica English daily. He holds a Master in Public Policy (MPP, 2014) degree from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

A 29-year-old mother of two children, one of whom was born just nine days before at TUTH, from Bahrabise Municipality-9, Ramche, died of coronavirus complications at Dhulikhel Hospital on Saturday, May the 16th. 

She is the first victim of the deadly virus in Nepal, 53 days after the nationwide lockdown was announced on March 24. According to the Ministry of Health, she gave birth to a baby boy at TUTH on May 6, and was discharged the next day. 

She did not receive the proper funeral rites. Her body was packed in a plastic bag and was taken to an electric crematorium at Pashupatinath on Saturday night.  

Her only mistake was to go to the country’s top hospital for delivery. She did not have to die. We can only imagine what her family is going through right now. People like her, living on the margins of our failing social and economic structure, have been tossed around by our politics for so long. Overtime she will just become a number. Everyone will forget her. But her young kids, deprived of their mother, will live with that searing pain for the rest of their lives. Someday her children will question this government and understand that her death was all in vain.

Another 25-year-old Mumbai-returnee man died on the 55th day of the lockdown in quarantine in Banke. Media reports say no medical professionals and ambulance were available on site to help him. How could this happen? Many more questions will be asked, and if such quarantine facilities are meeting the WHO standard.  

Now that we have seen two deaths, it has struck fear in the hearts of 30 million Nepalis. In the last 55 days, just 28,160 PCR tests have been conducted, a little over 500 tests per day. Unfortunately, there will be more deaths. And as numbers increase, they will likely become statistics. 

These deaths came at a time when the Oli government was touting its success in the parliament in avoiding deaths from coronavirus. As countries in Europe and East Asia look to open up their cities, airports and ports, we have entered into an alarming zone. As of this morning, the total number of infected has reached 304. The numbers are spiking by the day. There is all around chaos in quarantine centers: dirty bathrooms, no proper sanitation, poor food and the lack of testing kits and medical professionals.

To make matters worse, age-old border disputes with India have flared up. Both sides are claiming lands that are currently occupied by the Indian forces. The other day, the chief of Indian army alluded that Nepal is raising the border issue at the behest of ‘someone else’. This someone else is no other than China, our northern neighbor. While this dispute is not new, it comes at a time when both Nepal and India should be working together to curb the flow of people across the open borders, and cooperating on defeating coronavirus. 

Reports of thousands of Nepalis stuck at the India side of the border are all over the media. Videos of Indian security forces telling Nepali migrant workers to leave for Nepal have made rounds on Facebook and Twitter. Those living in the comforts of 24-hour electricity, water and safe homes are typing out extreme rhetoric on Twitter and Facebook: the burning of Indian flags to call for an uprising against India. If these nasty slogans win the day, our very survival as a country will be at stake. “We now live in a world of people who provoke for a living,” says Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, a Nigerian-born author. 

Trend of coronavirus infections in Nepal. Source: Coronavirus Resource Center, Johns Hopkins University

While all this is going on, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli is busy writing poems. “No one has to die or cry now,” he wrote last week. As he wrestles to stay in power, other leaders within the communist party want to kick him out. The game is being played out on national television, and on the front pages of newspapers and online portals for the last few weeks. It almost appears that the tragedy of tragedies is upon us. 

It’s a horrible time to have a horribly incompetent government. Nepalis working in the Middle East, India, Malaysia, South Korea and elsewhere are pleading with the government to arrange for their safe return home. News coming from some of the crowded quarantine camps in the Middle East will be darker with each passing day. Some have run out of food. Others are dying, deprived of proper medical care.  

Will our government bring back millions of Nepalis stuck in their work countries? The math will play out loud and ugly: who gets to bring them home and how much will the contractors receive in return? If we need more medical supplies, such lucrative contracts will go to those who have been loyal soldiers to PM Oli and his people.  

There is an uncanny feeling of helplessness here. It feels as if we are put to the test, and our lives are being put to the test, constantly. People are sad, depressed and worried about their lives. A recent report says that 60% of employees have lost their jobs in Nepal due to the COVID-19 crisis. This crisis will only deepen as the number of coronavirus infected continues to increase at alarming rates. Children as young as thirteen are saying that they have to take care of themselves, and who can argue with them when we know our government is incompetent? When even our young do not trust the government and the leader leading us, we are in deep trouble. The lockdown has been extended for two more weeks, with no end in sight. As the nationwide lockdown enters the third month, the government rhetoric of ‘everything is hunky-dory’ is a perverse mathematics of tragedy when the dying and poor are struggling to save their lives.


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