Here is the edited version of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s interview with Rastriya Samachar Samiti (RSS) about COVID-19, the government’s preparation to tackle this crisis and a host of other issues at his official residence in Baluwatar on Sunday.
What is your assessment of the situation of the coronavirus in the country?
Coronavirus is a serious challenge that humankind is facing today. This is a serious challenge that we have faced after centuries.
Nepal adopted measures on time to keep the country and people safe from this disease. We could have prevented the arrival of foreigners from air routes earlier than we did but it was not possible for us to go alone, defying the global system. Questions would have been raised on us if we had suspended the international flights at a time other countries were not doing so. The disease is not yet a pandemic in Nepal, thanks to timely closure of international borders and health precautions we took in advance.
We have taken all possible measures to contain the spread of the COVID-19 and implemented the WHO guidelines. The testing system has now been expanded to all the 77 districts. Medical supplies and human resources have been deployed to all sites, and RDT and PCR tests have been expedited by identifying the infected and tracing the possible cases.
Are you thinking of changing the modality of lockdown? A number of other developed countries have also come up with lockdown measures.
We are working to minimize the impact of the pandemic. We are launching awareness campaigns to combat the possible outbreak and the effects of COVID-19. We have expanded the scope of testing by searching people suspected to have been infected by the COVID-19. International borders have been sealed off. We have prioritized human lives. We cannot compare the loss of human lives in terms of economic losses and gains. Lockdown has been enforced to secure the lives of the people, which is aimed at containing the virus from further spreading.
How long will this lockdown continue?
It is an effective way to control the deadly virus. It was not the wish of the government to enforce the lockdown. It is for the betterment of the people. We have adopted other measures, including maintaining social distance, using various preventive measures and many more. Economic activities could be resumed gradually after analyzing the gravity of the situation. The threat of coronavirus should be brought to an end. It should not be interpreted as a political issue. It may be noted that the rate of casualties is seen more where there are no effective lockdown orders. So it cannot be interlinked with political ideology and governance systems.
More than the issue of relaxing lockdown measures, our focus is on the effective control of the COVID-19.
How do you interpret the issue of effective management of PPE and other medical equipment, and the controversy surrounding the procurement of medical supplies?
I want to repeat my commitment to corruption control. I will never compromise on it. I am here to develop the country, and not to make money. I won't let others unduly benefit from this situation. However, some issues have been distorted and manipulated to give the impression that all corruption cases are being carried out by the government. But the reality is that the previous cases of corruption made by the erstwhile governments were disclosed by this government. The journey towards good governance is long.
This Prime Minister is not involved in the procurement process, as in the past. Those who were involved in the past now have been spreading the rumor. Signing agreements related to health equipment and scrapping them is the responsibility of the concerned department at the Health Ministry. I came to know of the decision to scrap the agreement from a press briefing. Linking the prime minister and the council of minister in this issue is ludicrous. It is driven by a mentality to spread illusion and try to ensure that this government fails. Those involved in irregularities will be punished. But we should not discourage those working in adverse situations.
Most workers inside the country as well as Nepali migrant workers in India have started their painful long journey home. How is the government’s strategy to deal with this situation?
The concerned government bodies have to be informed immediately if workers, labourers and other unemployed are found to be heading home from Kathmandu or from India. There is ‘Hello Sarkar’ and a team of 20 people working round-the-clock to provide information. We all should work together to resolve this situation.
The media can also inform the concerned government bodies about such cases, rather than running the story a day after. The people have been facing difficulties during this lockdown. We should all be united to save lives.
What arrangements are being made to ensure regular supplies of daily essentials during the lockdown?
Shopping centres have been kept open at various locations. Inflation is under control and the use of induction stoves has been encouraged. The country is starving. Action has been taken against those selling adulterated or substandard food items. The government is for the poor and helpless people.
Many Nepalis in India are calling for help to return home. Some are along the border. Situation of Nepali migrant workers in the Gulf countries is also worsening. What do you think about it?
They must be brought home. We want to bring them back once the virus is wiped out. We have asked the concerned authorities to quarantine those who have been stranded along the border, or let them stay at hotels as per their wish. It has been found that some of them refused to be quarantined or stay at hotels. Instead, they chose to stay in the no man's land. We have held talks with the Indian government to arrange food and accommodation for Nepalis who have been stranded on the other side of the border. We will open the border after reviewing India's infection situation. We won't let Sudur Paschim Province become the epicentre of coronavirus. We should not seek rights to mobility as guaranteed by the Constitution of Nepal, 2015 during this emergency.
I have held a series of talks with my counterparts where Nepalis are living. Other government mechanisms have also engaged in talks with concerned authorities in foreign countries. The governments in the respective countries have assured us that they will make necessary arrangements for Nepali migrant workers and students there. So, we do not have to panic.
There are talks about providing immediate reliefs to workers and the working class people. But this pandemic will have a long-term impact on the country's economy. How about the preparations being made to address the situation in upcoming policies, programmes and budget?
We will manage food and accommodation for all Nepalis. The situation would have been different if we did not have coronavirus. Our goals of development and prosperity would have gained pace. Our common aspiration of 'Prosperous Nepali, Happy Nepalis' continues to exist. But we can only prosper when we are free of this virus. Our first priority is saving lives. Everyone, including the poor, industrialists and business persons, are affected by this crisis. All workers, farmers, industrialists and business persons have the right to live. Appropriate policies and programmes will be brought in view of this crisis.
There was also a proposal to form a high-level mechanism to deal with the situation. Why did you reject this proposal?
I want to ask this question to those who have put forth this proposal: Which country has formed such a mechanism to fight the infection? There has been support and cooperation from all political parties, all sectors and people to contain the spread of coronavirus. The government is ready to accept appropriate suggestions from all sides and coordinate with them in an appropriate way. Government will fulfill its responsibilities as per the constitution and laws.
It seems the government and the political parties are divided at a time when the government and party leadership should stay united and ensure effective coordination to tackle this situation.
The government is united. There might have been delays, mainly because we have an old mechanism and bureaucracy. However, I do not put this blame on civil servants. Our party is also united, and the government is receiving support from all.