Nepal recorded 3,439 new Covid-19 cases in the past 24 hours, the highest single-day rise so far, taking the national tally to 94,253.
According to the Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP), a total of 14,209 PCR tests were conducted on Wednesday. Almost one-fourth of the swabs collected tested positive, which represents an exceptionally high rate of infection, experts said. Even government officials have had to admit that Wednesday’s infection rate was very high.
At the regular virtual press briefing by the ministry, Spokesperson Dr Jageshwor Gautam said that the crisis was getting out of hand. “Now, the treatment of the infected has become even more challenging, particularly in Kathmandu Valley. If the cases increase at this rate, hospitals will not be able to take on the burden,” he said.
Hospitals have already filled up. There is also a shortage of health workers. And many health workers have not been provided personal protective equipment (PPE). Experts had long ago alerted the government that the crisis facing Nepal now could transpire, but the government has yet to listen to their advice.
The surge in cases is so overwhelming that the government has been asking people not to go to hospital unless they find themselves in an absolutely urgent situation. “There has been a growing trend among people of going to the hospital if they are suffering from just a slight fever or the common cold,” said Dr Gautam. “We would like to make a request to you all to go to the hospital only if you have difficulty breathing, have fainted or feel as if you might faint, or are suffering from issues of urinary retention or reduced urination.”
That desperate request contravenes the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. By defining health care as a fundamental right, the Constitution clearly states that the state will provide access to health facilities. The government’s request also says much about the strain the increased number of Covid-19 cases has had on the country’s already creaking health infrastructure.
Kathmandu Valley, the country’s worst-hit hot spot, is now so overrun with cases, its hospitals are stretched beyond capacity. In recent days, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of Covid-19 cases in the Capital. On Wednesday, a total of 1,684 cases were recorded in the Valley, home to nearly 5 million people.
Experts think the crisis will continue to deepen. “I don’t think this is the peak. Given the situation in Kathmandu, the case numbers might flare up after the holidays,” said Dr Lhamo Sherpa.
With Wednesday’s 15 Covid-related deaths, the country’s death toll has now reached 587. And the total number of Covid cases stands at 33,771. Of them, 18,544 infected persons have been discharged. And the total number of active cases has reached 25,007. Earlier, the ministry had recommended that the government should impose a lockdown if the number of active cases crossed the 25,000 mark. But the government has not decided yet whether it will abide by that suggestion.
For now, to tamp down the increase in case numbers, the government has urged the people not to travel during the festivals but to celebrate them virtually. Dashain, the biggest Hindu festival, starts from Oct 17; after that comes Tihar, Chhath, and other festivals. Usually, during Dashain, people who have been living away–for education or work–return home for the festive season and then make their way back after spending nearly a month at home.
Worried by the potential mass exodus of people from major cities to their hometowns, the government has appealed to the public to forgo their travel plans this festive season. The government has specifically urged the elderly, who are the most vulnerable to the disease, not to travel, but to instead offer their blessings virtually to the younger generation.
“Let’s not travel during the festival. Let’s instead take care of the elderly people, and save them and their blessings,” said Foreign Affairs Minister Pradeep Gyawali when he was announcing the Covid-related decisions made during the recent Cabinet meeting.
Gyawali, who is also the government spokesperson, said that although the government hadn’t yet considered imposing a nationwide lockdown to contain the virus, local governments could impose restrictions on their own.