Three of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s advisors along with one of his secretaries announced on Saturday that they have tested positive for Covid-19. With the latest turn of events, Baluwatar, the prime minister’s residence, has turned into a coronavirus hotbed.
Chief advisor Bishnu Rimal, foreign policy advisor Rajan Bhattarai, and press advisor Surya Thapa all made their announcements through social media about having contracted Covid-19. Along with this, Oli’s secretary Indra Bhandari and photographer Rajan Kafle have also been infected by the virus. Earlier, his personal physician, Dr Dibya Shah, tested positive for Covid and is currently in isolation. Apart from them, as many as 74 security personnel guarding the PM’s residence in Baluwatar are also reportedly infected with the virus.
The PM’s advisors have urged anyone who may have come in contact with them to go into isolation and adopt mandatory health protocols immediately.
“The four of us have now tested positive,” said press advisor Thapa. “Even though we confined ourselves to a few destinations like Baluwatar, Singha Durbar, and home, the virus didn’t spare us.”
Oli’s advisors as well as secretary Bhandari work closely with the PM on a regular basis and the surge in infections among his core aides has raised concerns about the possibility that the PM himself may be at risk of catching Covid. The situation has caused alarm given Oli’s preexisting health condition which puts him in a high risk group.
Oli is 69 years old and went through a second kidney transplant in March. Government data reveals that pre-existing heart conditions — especially chronic kidney disease and diabetes — are primarily associated with Covid-19 morbidity in Nepal. According to the PM’s office, the advisors have been following strict safety protocols while meeting with him, but this does not guarantee that he will not catch the virus in the days to come.
Across the nation, Covid cases have increased dramatically in recent days. Nepal recorded 2,120 new Covid-19 infections on Saturday, with 1,117 of them in Kathmandu Valley alone. The nationwide tally has reached 84,570 while the active case count is at 21,302. Kathmandu Valley’s cases comprise almost 58 percent of all cases. Within the valley, Kathmandu District has 9,892 cases, Bhaktapur has 1,072, and Lalitpur has 1,290, based on data provided by the Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP). The numbers show that the virus is thriving in Kathmandu Valley where an estimated five million people reside.
The resumption of public transport in the valley in the past month became a big factor in letting the virus spread at a fierce pace. Given that the festive season is right around the corner, and people are likely to step out of their homes in order to make preparations, infections may rise even more in the days to come.
With the intention of reducing inter-state infections, the health ministry is urging those from outside the valley to halt their plans of travelling to Kathmandu for the time being. “Please do not come to Kathmandu at this point,” said MoHP spokesperson Dr Jageshwor Gautam. “If it is unavoidable, please strictly follow health and safety protocols.”
Public health experts have strongly and repeatedly been recommending that the government focus on contact tracing to effectively contain the virus. However, local authorities have failed to implement the tracing of those who have come in contact with the infected. By now, the coronavirus has already been spreading at the community level for several weeks and this makes the fight against it even more difficult.
In the initial days of the spread of the pandemic in Nepal, PM Oli’s tone was oddly sarcastic and dismissive; he called Covid-19 just another flu and even recommended that people drink hot water with turmeric to cure themselves. To this day, Oli is being mocked on social media for making such absurd remarks when the nation was looking for responsible leadership from him.