Coronavirus South Asia

Nepal govt throws up its hands as virus overwhelms health system

KATHMANDU • The coronavirus outbreak in India has spilled across the border into Nepal, where health officials have warned that hospital beds are unavailable, vaccines are running short and the number of new infections is rising faster than overwhelmed clinics can record them.

The situation is so dire in Nepal that the Health Ministry in the Himalayan nation issued a statement last Friday in which, in effect, it threw up its hands.

"Since coronavirus cases have spiked beyond the capacity of the health system and hospitals have run out of beds, the situation is unmanageable," the ministry said after the government recorded 5,657 new infections last Friday, the highest daily total since last October.

Nepal has so far recorded 328,893 Covid-19 cases in total and 3,298 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

With more than one-third of tests returning a positive result, officials worry that the actual number of cases is much higher.

Nepalis who are infected but have only minor symptoms have been told to stay home to keep hospitalisations down. Experts believe the outbreak is being fuelled by Nepali migrant workers who returned home in recent weeks from India as lockdowns were imposed there.

The 1,770km border between the countries is porous, and hardly any of the returnees were tested for the coronavirus or placed into quarantine. Nepal has since closed its border crossings with India, but the virus is already spreading.

In early March, Nepal was recording fewer than 100 cases a day. Now the daily average exceeds 4,000 reported cases, according to a New York Times database.

At the same time, Nepal's vaccination drive has slowed.

India donated one million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and Nepal signed a deal to purchase two million more from an Indian manufacturer, the Serum Institute of India. But India curtailed vaccine exports last month after its outbreak worsened, and Nepali officials say the company has shipped only half the amount.

As a result, after 1.7 million people out of a population of nearly 30 million received the first dose of the vaccine, only 380,000 have received a second shot.

In late March, China donated 800,000 doses of its Sinopharm vaccine. Nepalis flocked to vaccination centres, prompting officials to worry that the crowds could spread the virus.

This week, the government imposed a new two-week lockdown, bringing vaccinations to a halt.

Meanwhile, Pakistan will cut the number of international flights into and out of its airports by 80 per cent to help curb rising Covid-19 cases, the government said on Saturday.

The restrictions will come into effect on Wednesday and run until May 20, the country's Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement, though it did not specify which flights or destinations would be affected by the measure.

The controls will be reviewed on May 18, the government said in a statement endorsed by the National Command Operation Centre, which oversees Pakistan's response to the pandemic.

The restrictions will be applied to chartered and private flights as well as scheduled services.

Pakistan reported 4,696 new Covid-19 cases and 146 deaths over a 24-hour period into Saturday. It has seen 829,933 cases and 18,070 deaths so far.

NYTIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2021, with the headline 'Nepal govt throws up its hands as virus overwhelms health system'. Subscribe