Going by the government’s Covid-19 figures, the pandemic seems to be under control in the country. The number of daily cases has come down to 1,000, from almost 6,000 daily new cases. The active cases have come down to 12,000, from 40,000. The recovery rate is more than 94 percent, and the Covid positivity rate has come down by half, to around 15 percent. Even the death rate has reduced by half. Only 12 deaths were reported on Thursday, taking the national tally to 1,663. And all of this has been achieved without the government’s doing anything significant that the public knows of.
Only 10 districts of the total of 77 have more than 200 active infection cases. The general public outside of Kathmandu have stopped wearing masks, abiding by health protocols, or maintaining social distancing. And Lalitpur authorities on Thursday allowed the central zoo to reopen, albeit with the caveat that visitors adopt health protocols and social distancing norms.
Schools outside Kathmandu Valley have fully reopened and local governments on the outskirts of Kathmandu have also allowed the reopening of schools. Only public and private schools in the densely populated areas of the Valley remain shut.
But some public health experts paint a less rosy picture. “The government figures are deceptive,” says epidemiologist Dr Lhamo Sherpa. “The virus does not go away without doing anything at all. The number of daily cases has gone down because people hesitate to get tested. The public seem anxious about potential lockdowns, the trouble of staying in isolation, and social ostracisation. These are but a few of the reasons for the decline in the number of cases.”
Considering the current rate of decline in the number of daily cases, active cases, Covid positivity rate, and recovery rate, Nepal appears to have become a Covid-19 free country in a matter of a month. A month ago, the infection was pervasive. Yet, around that time, a dramatic decline began that has allegedly continued till date.
Public health experts were expecting the cases to go up dramatically after the festivals. But the government eased restrictions on public transportation, shops, restaurants, malls, flights, and long-distance bus services. In its regular briefings, the health ministry continued to request the public to follow safety protocols, but without any intention of implementing them. For instance, the government has imposed the odd-even rule for vehicles plying in the Capital, while public buses remain filled to the brim.
Even as many suspect whether virus cases have really come down, government officials say coronavirus caseloads have reduced in recent days.
“Although the ICU beds are all occupied, the Covid-19 designated hospitals are gradually emptying,” said Dr Basu Dev Pandey, director at the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital. “The number of people contacting us to get tested is decreasing as is the infection rate.”
Dr Pandey, however, has urged the public and school operators in Kathmandu to have patience for at least another couple of weeks. Citing research where children had tested positive for the coronavirus without showing any visible symptoms, he warned that the virus could spread among families if schools were reopened immediately.
“We must stay cautious and follow health protocols until the situation comes fully under control,” said Dr Pandey.
According to government data, only 309 individuals are being treated in intensive care units across the country, while 57 others are on ventilator support.
The government’s claims and figures deviate quite starkly from those of the rest of the world. Many countries have been reporting the resurgence of the virus. Nepal, on the other hand, does not seem to be bothered at all — neither the public nor the government.
Last week, the government announced the construction of 396 hospitals across the country, even as it has provided barely any assistance for those affected by the pandemic. The government has completely overlooked the spread of the virus and its consequences. While rich countries have started hoarding vaccines following their successful third phase trials and results, Nepal has only made promises that it would provide vaccines. “The Nepal government has made arrangements to obtain the vaccines as soon as they are ready,” said Dr Jageshwor Gautam, spokesperson at the health ministry.
Dr Gautam did not elaborate on the arrangement that will allegedly ensure that Nepal will obtain the vaccines as soon as they are produced and distributed on a mass scale.
For his part, Prime Minister KP Oli, in a video message, asked the public to remain on guard. “I appeal to you all to follow safety protocols seriously, as the risk of getting infected will remain until the vaccine is available. The government has been doing its homework to ensure the vaccine will be available to the public,” said PM Oli.