There is no way to sugarcoat this – Nepal is being hammered by Covid-19. Just as in its giant neighbour, places such as the capital Kathmandu and cities bordering India have run out of intensive-care hospital beds and oxygen, extra cremation sites have been set up on the banks of rivers and fewer than 5% of people have been vaccinated, with no new jabs in sight.
Yet, as I’ve written before and talked about on the Nepal Now podcast, it is ordinary people who have stepped up to stop things from getting much much worse, while the politicians turned away from the dead and dying to engage in political power plays, as reported by Nepali Times.
Here are just a few examples of the self-help efforts:
- An immuno-compromised individual who cannot be vaccinated is again leading a drive to feed the homeless and others in need on the streets of Kathmandu
- 160 volunteers are running a website, Covid Connect Nepal, where people can seek hospital beds, oxygen, rides and more (pictured above). To date they have fulfilled nearly 1,000 requests.
- Medical professionals representing a range of specialties are providing free online counseling
- Nepali migrant workers in Oman and other Middle Eastern countries raised enough funds to buy and send 600 oxygen cylinders to their homeland.
Much of the country has been under lockdown for some weeks. There were are signs that the situation could be stabilizing — the Covid-19 test positivity rate had fallen under 40% and the total number of infections declined for five days in a row —until today (Monday), when it rose again.
Local wards are starting to give a second dose to those who received VeroCell vaccines from China and media reports show the centres looking organized, in contrast with the serpentine, tightly-packed lines that formed outside of hospitals a few weeks ago when the doses first appeared.
On 13 May, Kathmandu Valley’s lockdown was tightened and extended for two more weeks, with only essential services permitted and food shops able to open just 7am-10am. But as usual, the rules are not airtight. The well-connected easily procure special vehicle permits and come and go with regularity, and owners of non-food shops sit on their stoops or linger nearby, ready to raise their shutters for a customer.
Weddings and other ceremonies continue, many of them attracting more than the 10-person limit, in the same places where a Covid death was reported the week before. On Monday, we asked a fruit seller in our neighbourhood why he had closed his shop to go to a family wedding on the Nepal-India border in the middle of a pandemic. “God will protect me,” he answered.
Arriving home from a now once-a-week shopping trip, to our tiny street where red strobe lights have announced the arrivals of two ambulances in recent weeks, we threw away our disposable outer masks, quarantined our groceries for tomorrow, and scrubbed our hands.