Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on May 15, 2020
How Nepal has tried to tackle the Covid19 pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has spread around the world and Nepal is no exception. With developed countries finding it hard to cope with the spread of Covid-19, Nepal, one of the least developed nations with poor health services, has only one option to follow—prevention is better than cure.

Nepal is an emerging tourist destination, with the Chinese being the second highest tourist nationality. Given that China borders Nepal in the north with several crossing points, and many Nepalese studying in China have returned home, the risks of transmission in the country have risen greatly. Nepal’s first confirmed case (in January) was that of Nepalese student in China’s Wuhan province.

As of 6 May, the death toll in Nepal due to Covid-19 is zero, while the number of positive cases was 99. On 24 March, the government announced a lockdown, which was extended for the sixth time until 18 May. The consequences and impact of the lockdown have been felt throughout the country.

Police brutality and returning migrants

The first few days of lockdown were marked by confusion among the people, but the police was intent on enforcing the lockdown, as well as dealing with those violating it. A picture of a man carrying a gas cylinder as punishment by the police went viral, as have other police atrocities against journalists and health professionals. Individuals found venturing out were made to stand on the road for hours to teach them a lesson. The police even started using an improvised device to take lockdown violators into custody while maintaining social distancing. Thousands of citizens were detained all over the country for flouting the lockdown.

Meanwhile, thousands of Nepalese working in India tried to return only to find the borders closed. The news was rife with stories of migrants trying to enter Nepal despite the lockdown and of the police using violent methods to control them. Amongst all the chaos at the border, a group of six advocates filed a petition in the Supreme Court of Nepal stating that it is the government’s responsibility to rescue its citizens from wherever they are and it should make the necessary arrangements for quarantine or isolation after repatriating them. But the Supreme Court refused to issue any interim orders for the evacuation of the Nepalese citizens at the borders. About 500 migrant workers who had returned from India were kept in quarantine but they escaped, citing congestion and lack of basic facilities. Some migrant workers even resorted to swimming across a river when all other avenues to enter the country were stymied.

Remittances are a major source of income for Nepal. Thousands of Nepalese workers were stuck in the countries they had gone to work in. To make matters worse, the UAE threatened to send back all Nepalese workers without any arrangement for quarantine or isolation.

Crimes on the rise

Despite the troubles people are facing during the lockdown period, several sections have tried to profit from this tragedy. The mayor of Kalaiya distributed rotten rice to those affected by the lockdown. Nepal’s Honorary Consul for Kyrgyzstan was arrested for black-marketing infrared thermometers. People have also resorted to faking deaths to get a vehicle pass and smuggling drugs guised as essentials. There have also been reports of an increase in wildlife poaching and wood smuggling.

Although news of illegal activities was rampant and an increase in social crimes was reported, the overall crime rate plummeted during the lockdown.

During periods of crisis it is the poor who usually bear the brunt; daily wagers must fend for themselves, with little or no reprieve from the government. Farmers too have felt the impacts of the lockdown, with vegetables worth crores rotting and winter crops lying unharvested. Apart from agriculture, the poultry sector, hotels and tourism sectors have also been hit hard by the lockdown.

The lockdown has seen a surge in gender-based violence. Rights activists have reported an increase in cases of violence against women and girls in Nepal, and they fear the crimes will increase if the lockdown continues. The types of violence during the lockdown period included social violence, rape, attempted rape, murder, attempted murder, suicide, attempted suicide, sexual misconduct, and cybercrime. Nepal Police data shows that there were 211 reported complaints of child sexual abuse nationwide in 2018-19, whereas there were 48 cases for only 6 weeks of the lockdown period in just 18 of Nepal’s 77 districts.

Government ineptitude?

Amongst all the hardships faced by the people, the government becomes indispensable. But Nepal’s government has been accused of playing pranks. For instance, the Office of the Prime Ministers and Council of Ministers (OPMCM) announced via its social media channels that those trapped in Kathmandu during lockdown would be authorised to go home. Online news outlets were quick to carry the news. But soon after the OPMCM’s post, a chief minister of a province wrote a contradictory post denying the decision. Around the same time, the industries minister told a TV channel that the government was going to facilitate the people’s movement to their hometowns. But then the coordinator of a high-level coordination committee formed to prevent and contain the Covid-19 said that no such resolution has been made.  Finally, the home ministry issued a statement that no decisions to allow people to leave Kathmandu had been made. Within a of a few hours, the government flip-flopped on one key decision.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected all in various ways, but as seen in crisis situations, the weak, poor, children and the elderly are mostly the worst affected. The government imposed the lockdown without any consultations at the local level, and assumed all its citizens will survive the lockdown irrespective of their access to resources. Covid-19 has infected people across class lines around the world. This coupled with news of the difficulties from Italy, Spain, the US and other developed countries have faced in controlling the pandemic led to apprehensions on Nepal’s capacity to tackle the virus. Only time will tell if the lockdown was the rational alternative to other measure at the regional, state or local level that could have taken the existing nature of realities at the ground level into consideration.

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Avaniendra Chakravartty

Avaniendra Chakravartty

Avaniendra Chakravartty is an assistantprofessor in School of Public health and Community medicine at B.P.Koirala Institute of Health Sciences Dharan Nepal. He has a Masters ...

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Mira Khadka

Mira Khadka

Mira Khadka is a public health doctor. She has a MBBS and MPH degree from Nepal. She has extensive experience in refugee health and currently ...

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