Despite the government ban on public gatherings following the second wave in neighbouring India, there have been political rallies and public gathering with people behaving as if the pandemic is over. Kathmandu’s bars, restaurants and malls are packed to the brim. Offices and schools have reopened, and there is little physical distancing.
On Saturday, with 62,714 new Covid-19 cases, India registered the highest daily rise in 2021 with Maharashtra, Chandigarh, Punjab, Goa, Puducherry, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana recording the highest positivity rates. Bihar state neighbouring India is also seeing a surge as workers travel back.
Anticipating another lockdown like last year, Nepali migrants from India have also started returning home. Checkpoints in Karnali, Far-West and Province 2 are overwhelmed with a steady rise in positive cases among returnees, who are being asked to self-isolate at homes.
“We now have a year-long experience of managing Covid-19 and it is time to learn from our previous mistakes and limitations,” says Sher Bahadur Pun, a virologist at Teku Hospital.
Sameer Dixit of Centre for Molecular Dynamics Nepal agrees. “While the second wave in India has been limited to fewer states so far and hasn’t resulted in as high a mortality rate as the first time, local governments here must take charge: monitor returnees, their tests and quarantines,” he says.
Despite being one of the first Asian countries to start a Covid-19 vaccination drive in late January, Nepal now has only about 500,000 doses of AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine in stock, just sufficient for second doses starting 20 April for those who had inoculated in the first phase.
Following the Indian ban on the export of Covishield vaccine before domestic demand is met, Nepal is yet to receive another million doses it purchased from Serum Institute of India. The ban has also delayed the next batch of Covishield shots under the COVAX initiative, which is not expected until May.
A Nepal Airlines plane is finally flying to Beijing on Monday to bring back 800,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine gifted by China, but it will not be sufficient to begin the next phase of vaccination targeted at the age group 55-64.
But if it comes down to it, experts are recommending vaccinating as many individuals in the risk group as possible, even if that means bypassing the second dose for those already inoculated with the first.