Scientists now predict that a more lethal and more transmissible virus means that globally we are in for a protracted series of ‘waves’. We might as well get used to frequent local lockdowns, temporary restrictions, curfews, sporadic stoppage of public transport and flights, closures of restaurants and bars. We are not heading for a ‘New Normal, we are in a ‘No Normal’.
The virus fire has already spread from India to Nepal, but just like the wildfires that have engulfed Nepal in smoke for a month now, the government appears to have taken a come-what-may attitude. It does not have the stomach to order another lockdown for fear of its economic impact, there is no contact tracing anymore—just cosmetic antibody tests and perfunctory isolation for positives.
Public health specialists we spoke to for this editorial say that just as in India, there are several reasons for this new outbreak: weariness about health protocols, complacency because of vaccines, and the ‘immune escape’ due to new variants.
What is happening in Nepal now is a re-enactment of last year. The ‘health desk’ at the border is a joke, the Tarai districts of Banke, Parsa, and Kanchanpur have become hotspots once more, and hospitals are filling up again. The virus has already spread to the mountains as the carriers head home. We never learnt our lessons from 2020.
This crisis has been a perfect storm of multiple disasters. Covid-19 emerged because of human-induced ecological damage, and the virus crossed from bats and pangolins to humans. The destruction of nature and forests have intensified the climate crisis, which in turn has lead to an unprecedented drought that sparked the worst wildfires in living memory along the Himalayan foothills this year.
The air quality across the region has been in the hazardous zone for weeks as the smoke added to the smog. Since the coronavirus affects the respiratory system, air pollution has increased the risk to Covid-19 patients. As we go into the second year of this crisis, it is clear that human health is intricately linked to the natural world, and vice versa. We ignore that at our own peril.