Banke, Dang and Rupandehi in Lumbini Province were all hotspots of Covid-19 till two weeks ago with hospitals overwhelmed with patients begging for beds and oxygen. This week, the infection rates are down and the virus has now moved to the province’s more northern districts. Rolpa had only 7 new cases on 17 May, but on Thursday it recorded 56.
However, despite the drop in cases in the plains, hospitals in the Tarai cities are still full because of critical patients in need of ICU and oxygen being referred from the mountain districts to the north.
Some of the increase in the mountains could be explained by the fact that more tests are being done there now, but public health experts say the positivity rate is also very high in west Nepal hinterland. In one village in Rolpa, 23 of the 25 people tested last week came out Covid positive.
Gandaki Province had only 293 new cases on 17 May, but ten days later the province recorded 1,159 infections. Gorkha district has seen a big spike in cases, from 23 ten days ago to 500 on Thursday.
The most dramatic example of how serious the situation has become is the village of Barpak, which was the epicentre of the 2015 earthquake that destroyed 90% of its homes and killed 72 people. In the past two weeks, 12 people, mostly elderly, have died in the densely-packed village at an elevation of 1,900m.
Locals say there are multiple funerals every day, and there is a danger that these burial processions themselves become spreader events. Most of those who have died were not tested, but had Covid-19 symptoms. The local health post in Barpak does not have oxygen or an isolation centre, and the seriously sick have no option since hospitals in Gorkha are also full. Locals are locked up in their homes, and reports say, many are refusing to be tested.
In Karnali Province, those who can afford it are borrowing money to airlift seriously ill relatives to hospitals in Jumla or Surkhet after their oxygen saturation levels fall dangerously low. None of the district hospitals in Mugu, Dolpo or Humla have ICUs or oxygen supply. As the virus spreads in those communities, families of critical patients can only hope and pray.