Coronavirus response: Government’s abysmal failure
KP Sharma Oli-led government has proved itself as incompetent, inefficient and cruel. Excited with the landslide victory in the general elections, Oli had projected himself as the magician with the power of making all evils bedevilling Nepali politics disappear. He had put forward the slogan of prosperous Nepal and happy Nepalis. But his gift of the gab has done nothing to mitigate people’s pains.
This article will focus on the government’s slapdash coronavirus response but in multiples fronts has the government delivered subpar performance. The government imposed lockdown to stem the transmission of the deadly virus as per the guidance of the World Health Organization. Logic behind the lockdown is delaying the transmission in order to carry out massive scale of COVID-19 tests and treat the infected in accordance with the degree of infection. But testing has been haphazard and the government continued with the lockdown as if it in itself constituted a treatment. Despite the lockdown, 15 people have died while more than 4,000 people are infected and the number is increasing by the day. Fed up with the “home imprisonment”, common people have started disobeying the lockdown even if it is technically imposed till 14 June.
Problems arose as lockdown was not implemented in a serious and humane manner. Common people themselves were disciplined enough to avoid going out of their homes unless there was an emergency. But those with access to the powers-that-be managed to get passes for unjustified reasons. Misuse of ambulance for travelling purpose was rampant as police personnel did not bother to carry out raids and cross-checks.
While the privileged were breaking lockdown rules with impunity, the daily wage labourers were forced to walk home hundreds of kilometres away from urban locations. The government did not bother to facilitate transportation for those poor people, as these people have no standing in the eyes of the rulers. The unscientific imposition of lockdown deprived the subalterns of jobs, forcing some of them to beg on the streets for survival. It is a mockery of the slogan of happy Nepalis. This cruelty on the part of the government has no precedence in the annals of Nepal’s democratic history.
The communist government treated the proletarians in inhumanly. It could have identified the indigent people and ensured subsistence to them throughout the lockdown period. But it left them to their own devices. People have cried out for food and have died of hunger but the government has turned a deaf ear to their plights while puffing up for ‘nationalistic’ causes.
That the government is not kind towards its citizens is also reflected in the treatment of migrant labourers in India. These migrant workers tried to return to their home country after the lockdown but the government failed to hold them at the border properly. Consequently, people entered the country through unofficial border points. The government set up isolation centres at the border areas but those centres lack basic facilities including decent food and sanitation. So ridiculous are the arrangements in coronavirus tests at the border areas that there are photos circulating in the internet where the health worker keeps his hand on the worker’s forehead to measure body temperature. This incident has highlighted government’s failure to acquire necessary health equipment. Because of the unhealthy and improper management of isolation centres, healthy people have been infected and there are many instances of people running away from these centres.
The biggest folly of the government is its insistence on carrying out Rapid Diagnostic Tests (RDT). RDTs have been found faulty in confirming coronavirus infections because negative cases shown by RDTs have been found positive in Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests. Because of the results of these RDTs many people returned to their normal life and infected others. Reports have shown officers were involved in malpractices while acquiring RDT kits. Perhaps that explains why the government is showing doggedness in faulty RDTs whereas PCR kits are gathering dust in the storerooms.
Oli government, in a Trumpian fashion, chose to ignore the suggestions of the experts in managing coronavirus response. Different public health experts and epidemiologists have been crying hoarse to change lockdown modality and also choose scientific methods in corona testing but the government obliviously trundled on, causing death and destruction all the way. More than a thousand cases of suicides have been recorded along with one self-immolation because of the unscientific lockdown measures.
Ministry of Health should have been at the forefront in managing the vigorous response but it was mired in petty politics, red tape, and blame games. Health Minister flouted social distance norms at times and did not offer good leadership and vision. The government did not even follow the good examples set by countries like Vietnam, South Korea, Germany and New Zealand to contain COVID-19.
At least the prime minister could have spoken soothing words to the public during the crisis but his addresses to the nation at times were vacuous. He lauded the efforts of the government to bring back migrant workers, formation of crisis management centre, encouragement of health workers and so on but chose to explain corruption practices and mismanagements as the ‘opposition’s propaganda’. But the government has not been able to justify the spending of 10 billion rupees on coronavirus management. Besides pandemic blues, the country is witnessing despicable social and racial discrimination but the PM did not utter a consoling word for the grieving families of the slain Dalit youths in Rukum. He issued a cosmetic statement on caste-based discrimination which does not properly address other instances of horrific treatments against the marginalized.
COVID-19 management has thus exposed the incompetence and cruelty of the government. If it does not rectify its errors and fails to bring meaningful stimulus package to revive the economy, the brewing public anger can explode to cause law and order problem in the country. A much shared meme in social media goes like: I’m vigorously washing my hands with the soap to keep the virus at bay but this washing is also to expiate the sins my hands have committed in voting for this government. One can only hope that people’s rage is reflected in the next general elections.