Government’s incompetence in COVID management is worrying
The establishment of a federal democratic state with a great revolution and various sacrifices from citizens brought the hope of new prosperous Nepal but unfortunately the hope and dreams of citizens have shattered into pieces due to incompetent, corrupt, and visionless politicians. The evidence for failure and incompetence of the government is reflected in its inability to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
From the inception period of the pandemic, the government took inappropriate decisions and indulged in corruption. Where all the world is fighting against the pandemic and praying for humankind, our government and politicians wallowed in corruption medical kits, quarantine stuffs, and other necessary equipment to tackle the pandemic.
Demographics offered the Nepal government considerable breathing room, but Nepal now faces two challenges at the same time — a medical infrastructure already under strain in the very places where cases are rising most alarmingly and a population stretched to the limit by economic hardship, with many facing the threat of malnutrition and hunger. The first case of COVID-19 in Nepal was confirmed on 23 January 2020 whereas the first case of local transmission was confirmed on 4 April 2020.
Nepal had adequate time to break the chain of corona and restrict it from getting locally transmtted but the Nepal government failed to do much. The government, more specifically Ministry of Health and Population, has completely failed in tackling coronavirus, and is negligent towards the health of the people. The government has miserably failed in preventing the pandemic, in identifying people affected by the virus, in quarantining them, and in taking important steps to stem the transmission.
Despite long period of lockdown, the danger of the virus is increasing and the government did not utilize the lockdown period to upgrade health infrastructure. Experts say that lockdown is not a solution to the pandemic; rather it only helps to break the transmission chains and provides an opportunity to build COVID-dedicated health insfrastrure, setting up quarantine and isolation facilities, providing training to health workers and expanding tests.
Experts also argue that the government cannot alone fight with the pandemic and the citizens are equally responsible. However, the stakeholder and government failed to sensitize the citizens to make them aware about possible risks as there is a very tiny investment in awareness campaigns except for coming up with rules, including the one which allows authorities to fine those not wearing masks. Government failed to manage borders appropriately for the Nepalis returning from India. Due to the unmanaged and long lockdown, the poor are dying due to hunger, the shopkeepers are not able to pay the rents, and the daily wage workers have nothing to eat.
Lockdown has three purposes: stopping community transmission, setting-up the COVID dedicated infrastructure; and sensitizing the citizens. But Nepal government took the lockdown as an opportunity to stifle dissenting voices that have risen against corruption. Indeed, it is an undebatable truth that corruption has long been a problem in Nepal but it continued even amidst the pandemic after a healthcare procurement-related scandal emerged in early April. The health minister was accused of corruption while purchasing Chinese personal protective equipment (PPE) and other equipment, resulting in delays and the delivery of testing machines that did not even work.
The increasing cases of coronavirus indeed confirm that the government has made tremendous mistakes. It also raises the question how far our health minister is competent to understand health policies, pandemic laws, and medico-legal nuances. It would be better if a person with medical background held health ministry at this vital time. Due to the lack of competent personality holding the ministry, till date, Nepal has neither built COVID-dedicated health infrastructure nor upgraded any health infrastructure to handle COVID cases.
Nepal has neither adequate Intensive Care Unit nor proper ventilator service. Most of the hospitals are already running out of beds as the number of cases is increasing. Most of the public hospitals were already full and some of the private hospitals are trying to exploit the pandemic by fleecing the patients.
Even the law is not up to date in Nepal. The current epidemic law, “Infectious Disease Act 1964 ”, the 56 years old monarchial law is not updated. It empowers the power only to central government as well the Chief District Officers. The epidemic law regime doesn’t give a mandate to the state to establish common forum lab comprising a virologist, microbiologist, bacteriologist, biochemist, and medical doctors to develop anti-bodies. In the social welfare state, the state per se is liable to compensate the persons affected by the pandemic. Compensatory jurisprudence should be established to compensate the persons (natural or juristic) who suffer due to COVID-19.
The corruption in the procurement of health supplies, failure to provide adequate health supplies, lack of well-managed quarantine, lack of kits, and delay in the report of tests are some major reasons for the failure of the government. It needs to rectify all the mistakes made so far, otherwise people’s rage will sweep it away from power.
The writer is pursuing BALLB (Hons) at National Law School of India University, Bangalore, India.
Published on 23 August 2020