Outrage is growing against India and Britain, despite Nepal’s long association with their militaries, for not responding to the country’s desperate pleas for vaccines as the second wave of Covid-19 ravages the country.
Critics on social media and press commentators have reminded India and Britain that Nepal’s nationals have shed their blood to defend them through wars in the past two centuries, and Nepal’s Rana rulers had been particularly generous in donating money to institutions in British India and the UK itself.
On 15 June, Gurkha veterans in kilts and blowing bagpipes staged a demonstration in the heart of London, with family members carrying banners that read ‘We fight for you. Help us fight Covid-19 in Nepal’, and ‘Gurkha Lives Matter’.
In May, British celebrities, war veterans, mountaineers, public health specialists and vaccine researchers wrote an open letter to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab appealing for emergency medical equipment and vaccines to Nepal. They included Sir Jeremy Farrar, Sarah Gilbert, Andrew Pollard, Sir Chris Bonington, Joanna Lumley, Michael Palin, Gen Sir Sam Cowan, and many others. Gurkha veteran Capt Ram Bahadur Limbu, one of only five living recipients of the Victoria Cross, signed the letter from his home in Kathmandu. A similar appeal was made to the US government through the Covid Alliance for Nepal as far back as early May.
Although Britain, the United States, and other European countries continue to fly in oxygen generators, PPEs and medical equipment to Kathmandu on relief flights, they have not sent what is most needed now: vaccines.
China, on the other hand, has donated 2 million doses of its Sinopharm VeroCell vaccines, and Nepal is poised to order another 4 million jabs from Beijing.
To be sure, Nepal was gifted 1 million doses of the Covishield AstraZeneca by India as early as March as a part of its ‘neighbourhood first’ policy, and the government paid an advance to the Serum Institute India for another 2 million doses. Only 1 million were delivered.
Britain also co-funded 2.268 million Covishield vaccine doses to Nepal via the COVAX facility, but only 348,000 were delivered in April before India stopped its export.
Kathmandu has repeatedly made special appeals to New Delhi to at least send the remaining 1 million Covishield doses it paid for, and to Britain to rush supplies so that 1.4 million elderly Nepalis who have been waiting for their second doses now for more than 12 weeks get their jabs before their immunity runs out.
Even though some individual European countries are willing to donate their surplus or unused AstraZeneca vaccines directly to Nepal, the EU has has insisted that it go through the COVAX channel which has pledged 100 million doses by the end of the year. But that would be too late for those waiting for second doses.
Last month, US President Joe Biden announced that 7 million doses will be given to countries in South and Southeast Asia, but there is no mention of when and how many are for Nepal. The G-7 leaders last week pledged another 1 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines, half of it to be delivered by end-2021. But there are no signs of actual vaccines being readied for shipment to Nepal.
Most Nepalis blame their government for being too busy with internal power struggles to secure adequate vaccines in time. Nepal’s embassies, especially in New Delhi, London and Washington DC have come under special criticism for not being able to convey Nepal’s urgency. However, there is also deep hurt that Nepal is being treated so shabbily in its time of great need, especially by India and Britain.