Health of public and democracy both matter
The protestors gathering in the streets amid pandemic are posing more risks of infection. The government with its deeds is also jeopardizing the people’s health.
While the gathering is sure to accelerate the current spike in coronavirus infections, why are the protestors risking their lives? Do they represent real youth’s voice? Are they being used by someone to gain political advantages? To find the answers let’s start analyzing the demands of protestors.
The transparency in the expenses for preparedness against the Covid-19 is one of their concerns. The statement from the government that 10 billion rupees have already been used inflamed them. No apparent bigger actions, limited tests, procurement of inadequate health kits and the alleged corruption issue of PPE have created space to doubt in government statement. However, due to the public pressure the government has published the report.
“Quarantines are the doors to hell!” A placard holding the protester reads. The unscientific quarantine sites are their second concern.
Few weeks back, huge number of Nepalese people entered Nepal from India. To prevent the possible infection government decided to put them in 14 days of quarantine. This was a good attempt against the pandemic. However, the problem was with the congested and unscientific quarantine sites. According to news reports, it is apparent that people inside the quarantine are in no good condition.
About a month back, the situation was different when the infection rate was insignificant. That was the important time to plan and think about the Nepalese working in India. Had there been enough homework at that time people today would not have faced the pitiful unhygienic and low standard quarantines. But government was busy with the two irrelevant ordinances in the meantime. Thus, it is clear that government missed the opportunity to take timely action regarding quarantines. However, there are still opportunities to take further important decisions regarding these issues. In light of these facts, the second demand of protestor, i.e. improving the standard of quarantines, sounds reasonable.
The recent action of health ministry seemed controversial. The ministry has forwarded a letter stating that the infected persons in quarantine will be released without any Polymarase Chain Reaction (PCR) test if they possess no significant physical symptoms. This certainly risks the soaring of infection because the persons set free without the test could have coronavirus even if they show no significant symptoms. This fact is backed by the World Health Organization which states that there are two possible natures of infection: symptomatic and asymptomatic. Thus the decision to free those who spend 14 days of quarantine without PCR test isn’t a wise step. The protestors are against this step and are demanding more PCR tests. Again, their concern is not irrelevant.
Few people among the protestors are yelling against the trivial comments of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli on serious issues. While everyone has their own style of giving speeches and dialogues, responsible person must be cautious about his/her words. Because people understand the PM’s stance and intention through his words, the cursory remark over serious subjects doesn’t suit the head of government.
While almost every demand of protestors sound reasonable a question still needs to be asked: Is it the right way of protesting?
The only way to bring the pandemic to an end is by stopping the spreading of infection through social distancing until the vaccine becomes available. Health experts, the government, and the WHO officials have been frequently advocating this. In the meantime when the lockdown is loosened by Nepal Government, it is still risky to violate social distancing measures. And the gathering of persons in the streets isn’t recommended either.
During the protest, people are less likely to maintain social distancing. People who wear mask also remove them while chanting, thereby making the transmission through droplets possible. At a time when Nepal is recording exponential rise in infection rate, the protest will aggravate the situation. The unstoppable spike of infection will also lead the mounting death rate unless medicine or vaccine is available.
Admittedly, people could think that gathering in the streets for protest while maintaining social distance is still possible. Carrying sanitizers, wearing masks and standing with no physical contacts with others may also work at present times. We have seen few such demonstrations following these precautions as well. Still there are greater chances of infections if they fail to maintain all those safety measures. For instance, it is more likely that they may cross the limit and the police may interfere. It will only accelerate the spreading of virus if there is an infected person in the crowd.
Virtual protest is less risky. In the digital age, people can use powerful online tools like Facebook, Twitter, and other digital platforms to express their discontent. However, some people may be reluctant to this approach too. This is because few people were arrested recently for writing against the government in social media.
The health of democracy is better maintained when people’s rights are respected by the government even during the crisis. Because of pathetic quarantines, continuous lockdown without considering poor people’s condition, failing to extend the tests, government seems not serious towards public health. In a democracy, people are free to object even the government if they feel something dubious and inappropriate in government deeds. Therefore the youths used their right and protested against the government.
Increasing the PCR tests and cancelling the unverified RDT tests doesn’t sound arduous tasks. The proper management of quarantine sites as per the standard of WHO will quell the protestors’ anger. Addressing the difficulties about the Nepalese abroad will reflect government accountability. Continuous lockdown has wrecked the lives of poor peoples who are craving for food. Government should think about them seriously. If government succeeds in doing these few things, people won’t come to the streets risking their life. This will strengthen the health of democracy as well.
The writer is Head/Lecturer at Department of Electrical Engineering, Kathmandu Engineering College.
Published on 15 June 2020