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A dozen media outlets in Nepal have published news claiming that the World Health Organization (WHO) has removed Nepal from the list of countries at high risk of COVID-19. While the government-run daily Gorkhapatra published the news on April 26, news outlets including Kantipur, Nepalnews and Deshsanchar carried a similar report of the government-owned National News Agency.

On April 24, Post Khabar, another online news outlet, published a news report headlined ‘Govt’s efforts bear fruit, Nepal is off the list of high-risk countries for coronavirus.’ The outlet reported that the WHO has removed Nepal from Level 4, the high-risk countries’ list and placed it on Level 3.

Foreign Affairs Minister Pradeep Gyawali tweeted the Post Khabar headline along with the link of the news report. Immediately afterward, Twitter users started questioning the veracity of the news. Among them was Narayan Amrit, Editor-in-Chief of online news outlet Nepal Live. Replying to Amrit, Minister Gyawali tweeted, “I believed the news because it quoted the director general of the Department of Health Services.” Gyawali has since deleted the tweet containing the Post Khabar report.

Republica daily’s website www.myrepublica.com also published the news under the headline: ‘Nepal Removed from WHO High Risk Zone for Covid-19’. The report interpreted the downgrading of the risk level by the WHO as Nepal’s progress in the fight against the virus.

Republica quoted Samir Kumar Adhikari, deputy spokesperson at the Ministry of Health, and the Post Khabar report quoted Mahendra Prasad Shrestha, the director general of the Department of Health Services, in their news reports. But none quoted the WHO. Also, the news reports have not elaborated on the ranking.

South Asia Check has fact-checked the news.

In its Country Preparedness and Response Status Report, the WHO website classifies countries into five levels — Level 1 to 5.

The UN body issues such lists periodically. The list is based on a WHO framework for international health regulation, which in turn is based on self-assessment of the countries.

According to the WHO, countries are classified on the basis of the risk of imported infections, community infections and the number of confirmed cases.

In its latest reported titled ‘Covid-19 Strategic Preparedness and Response Status‘, published on April 20, WHO has placed Nepal at Level 3 in terms of preparedness for the pandemic.

In the report published four days before that, on April 16, Nepal was placed on Level 3.

We also examined previous reports to see if Nepal was on Level 4 before the imposition of the lockdown. But in the WHO report of February 28 also, Nepal was on Level 3. Also in the March 16 report of the WHO, Nepal’s place had not changed.

This shows Nepal was never on Level 4.

According to the latest WHO reports, Nepal is among the countries with more than 10 COVID-19 cases. Likewise, Nepal was among the countries with less than 10 cases as per the WHO reports of February 28 and March 16.

Dr Samir Kumar Adhikari, deputy spokesperson at the Ministry of Health, told South Asia Check that the government’s internal assessment suggests that the level of risk in Nepal may have decreased.

Adhikari said: “We’re not aware of any such statement by the WHO. It’s our rough assessment after over a month of lockdown. ”

In an email reply to South Asia Check, the WHO office in Nepal said: “WHO does not have a risk classification/ranking for COVID-19. However, WHO has updated the ‘Country Preparedness and Response Status for COVID-19’ on 20 April 2020 which is available on the WHO website (link here).”

Therefore, the news reports published by several Nepal-based media outlets were misleading.

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This article was originally published in South Asia Check – an independent, non-partisan, non-profit initiative by Panos South Asia, aiming to promote accuracy and accountability in public debate.

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