With three more Covid-19 deaths in Nepal on Saturday, the total fatalities have crossed 102, and public health experts have said the country now needs to focus as much on treatment as prevention of new infections.
The number of fatalities has gone up in one month from 38 on 15 July to 102 on 15 August – and it has doubled in the past 15 days.
The total number of confirmed cases so far is 26,019 and this is mainly because the government has increase PCR testing to more than 10,000 every day in the past week. However, the number active cases is also creeping up in the past month and is now at over 8,000.
Aside from the figures, there has also been a qualitative change in those testing positive. Whereas till mid-July, most of those infected were asymptomatic and mainly returnees from India, in the past month most cases – especially in the Tarai cities – have symptoms are serious enough to need ICU admission.
Faced with this growing crisis, the government has decided to re-impose partial lockdown rules, sealing off districts and neighbourhoods with clusters, shutting down restaurants again, and postponing the resumption of inter-district buses and regular flights.
Besides the Tarai, Kathmandu Valley has also become a hotspot with at least 100 new cases detected every day, with 750 new cases in the past week alone. The total number of active cases in the Valley is now 1,600, with most of them Kathmandu City.
On Saturday, the Ministry of Health also warned that the ICU and isolation wards in designated Covid-19 facilities were getting filled up with patients, and asked private hospitals to step in by setting aside 20% of their bed capacity for Covid-19 patients.
“There are now more patients with symptoms, and the challenge now is to increase treatment capacity in hospitals, not just with equipment but also human resources.”
Crossing the 100 fatality milestone seems to have belatedly woken up Nepal’s health authorities to the seriousness of the crisis, and has exposed lapses in preparedness. There have not been enough ICU beds, oxygen generators, ventilators and other treatment equipment.
“There is now an urgent need to set aside a whole hospital just for coronavirus patients, it was because we packed Covid-19 patients with others that the virus has spread,” says public health expert Sujan Babu Marhatta. “Setting aside 20% beds for corona patients in private hospitals will not solve the problem, it may make it worse.”
The former director of the government’s Epidemiology and Disease Control Department Baburam Marasini says the steep rise in fatalities in the past two weeks is an indication that the government’s Covid-19 management has been a failure.
“The main entry point of the virus was the Indian border, the government failed to regulate people coming in,” explained Marasini. “The mistaken notion that Covid-19 entered Nepal only by plane is the main reason for this surge.”
He recommends that the government set up health infrastructure with isolation wards dedicated for Covid-19 patients, and launch a massive campaign not just for awareness but to enforce rules on behaviour change during the festival season, like distancing, masks and hand-washing.