To make matters worse, there are only about 3,000 PCR tests being done, and contact tracing has been all but abandoned. Nepal was pinning its hopes on its early vaccination drive but after 1.6 million people had been inoculated, there is uncertainty even for second doses because of the Indian ban on export of Covishield.
Nepal has 500,000 doses of Covidshield in the stock, just sufficient to provide a second dose for individuals who inoculated in the first phase. Nepal Army has additional 100,000 doses gifted by the Indian Army. There is another 800,000 doses of Sinopharm from the Chinese government.
Says Sherpa: “We sound like a broken record now, but we have to keep reminding people to wear a mask, wash hands and maintain physical distance. Vaccinate if possible, continue contact tracing and testing, particularly at the border.”
Public health experts agree that there have to be tests at the Indian border, and those testing positive or with symptoms should be quarantined. However, they also admit that the border is open and returnees could easily bypass the official border checkpoints, as was the case last year.
“We saw how Nepalis desperate to get home swam across the border river to cross over from India, that is why local governments must monitor those who have returned from India and strictly enforce a 10-day quarantine on them, and allow them out only after PCR tests,” says epidemiologist Sher Bahadur Pun. “If local governments act now, we can control the second wave.”
Sameer Mani Dixit of the Centre for Molecular Dynamics agrees, but says everyone coming form India should be tested and be under mandatory five-day monitored quarantine.
“Since cases are rising rapidly in India, I see the possibility of a surge in the Tarai first, but as it is not possible to test everyone at the border, it should be the responsibility of local governments to keep returnees under observation for five days,” he says.
Read also: Nepal relaxes entry for tourists, Nepali Times