Nepal's Battle with COVID19

Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place

January 13th marked the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nepal when a Nepali student returned from Wuhan. Since then it's been an uphill battle for the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal.

March 24th marked the next major event when the Government of Nepal decided to enact a nationwide lockdown, restricting movement and crippling the economy. A 'Rapid Assessment of the Social and Economic Impacts of COVID-19 on the vulnerable groups in Nepal' conducted by UNDP, highlighted just how bad the situation was.

  • 28% of men lost their jobs during the lockdown, compared to 41% of women.

  • 31.5% of the total workers have lost their jobs

  • 74% have not been paid since the lockdown started.

The IMF and World Bank echoed the damaging effects of COVID-19 on Nepal's economy. In comparison, the two institutions reduced their predictions for Nepal's GDP from 6.0 and 6.4 to 2.5 and 1.5-2.8, respectively.

Nepal has been in a battle to control the spread of the virus and has enacted various measures to do so. I highlight some of the major actions below.

July 21, End of Lockdown?

The nationwide lockdown was lifted on July 21st after four months of strict lockdown. The lockdown was lifted due to reported hardships around the country, and multiple youth led protests in the Kathmandu valley. When the lockdown was lifted, there was around 18,000 confirmed cases, with approximately 4,000 daily tests being conducted daily in Nepal. For a country of 30-million, this was inadequate, and the lack of testing meant a missed chance at containing the virus.

The lifting of the lockdown was accompanied by certain restrictions, like limited movement (vehicles could only be operated on odd/even days, and no passengers were allowed), no large public gatherings, and shopping malls, movie theaters, restaurants, and gyms remaining closed. However, these rules were poorly enforced, and people moved around freely as well as ate at crowded restaurants as Kathmandu Post noted.

Unrestricted movement of people has caused health professionals throughout the country to be concerned. The concern stemmed from thousands of people returning to the Kathmandu valley from hot spots around the country, hoping to find employment opportunities. The large influx of people in the valley was only compounded by people not adhering to social distancing and wearing masks procedures. An article by the Kathmandu Post reported that in less than three weeks, over 20,000 people were booked for violating these procedures.

August 19th - Lockdown 2.0

After a surge in cases in the Kathmandu valley, the three Chief District Officers of Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur decided to reinstate the lockdown starting August 19th. The announcement on August 18th was coupled with the single highest rise in cases totalling 1,016 throughout Nepal and 205 in the Kathmandu valley. The same day also saw seven new COVID-19 related deaths, bringing the nation's total to 114 (Nepali Times).

Throughout Nepal, lockdowns have been enacted by the local governments to curve the spread of the virus. With the Terai and Kathmandu valley being the hotspots of the country, strict lockdowns were put in place in hopes to slow the spread. However, as you can see from the chart below, the cases have only risen since the lockdown was enacted.

September 9th, End of Lockdown 2.0?

With growing demands for the lockdown to be lifted, the Chief District Officers of Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur have once again decided to end the valley-wide lockdown. Once again beginning September 10th people will be allowed to leave the houses, return to work, and travel across the valley in cars and taxis.

The Kathmandu valley has been seeing a steading increase in cases over the last five: 408, 354, 326, 396, and 464 (September 5th - September 9th). Since the lockdown was put in place on August 19th, a total of 6,942 people have been infected, bringing the total to 9,440 (Kathmandu Post).

With a steady rise in cases, experts are having a hard time understanding why the restrictions have been eased. Health experts have raised concerns that the Oli administration is mishandling the situation by allowing bureaucrats to take decisions without consulting experts on ways to deal with the pandemic (Kathmandu Post).

Store shutters have been closed, and livelihoods have been put on hold, but Nepal currently finds itself between a rock and a hard place. Either lift restrictions and risk the further spread of the virus or continue the lockdown and threaten the livelihoods of millions.

Now what Kathmandu?

The Kathmandu valley has provisioned new rules for the eased lockdown. However, as the Nepali Times points out, the rules are so ambiguous that even the police are confused and uncertain on how to enforce them.

The festival season is quickly approaching, and Nepalis are preparing to travel home to celebrate. The mass movement of people for the festival season is alarming, as most people will be relying on overcrowded public transportation to travel to the far reaches of the country. As reports have shown, social distancing and mask-wearing protocol have not been followed.

With the three-week lockdown being lifted and Nepal preparing for long-distance buses and domestic flights for Dashain, people are wondering what the longterm plan is? Both lockdowns have been conducted and ended with little preparation for the future. Contact tracing has been limited, the number of tests is still hovering around 10,000 per day, and hundreds of thousands of people are still stranded abroad waiting to be repatriated.

With Nepal working to suppress COVID19, the government needs to come up with a coherent plan on how to move forward. An article in myReupblica confirms how important a coherent plan is, and how the government has failed to set any target or goal for curbing the virus.


Wise Words from WHO

WHO in Nepal after the first lockdown eased gave Nepal a fair warning on how to conduct themselves, saying:

After the lockdown, people may go back to work or be in contact with friends. Therefore, it becomes much more critical for the people to do these things, like keeping distance, washing hands, etc. And I can't stress enough that an easing of the lockdown does not mean going back to life before the lockdown. On the contrary, it requires more self-discipline to protect yourself and to protect others.

We did not heed the first warning and found ourselves in another lockdown. The question is, will Nepal heed the warning this time, and take better measures to protect themselves and their fellow citizens?