The nation is staring at the likely COVID-19 third wave, though the government has brought forth a slew of measures to stop the advance of the dreaded coronavirus. This time the new variant of contagion - Omicron, which, according to experts, can infect communities - has given headaches to the authorities as the infection rate has spiked in a short span. After the country reported its first Omicron infection in December last year, our plight has only got worse. People belonging to almost every field - from health workers, media persons, employees, bankers to players, among others - are found afflicted. The sharp increase in disease compelled the government to impose smart lockdowns and other restrictions.
According to reports, the infection rate per 15,000 tests has touched over 4,000 in a single day on Sunday. Active virus cases have now crossed 25,000. If the current increase rate persists, the situation may spiral out of control. Our health centres, suffering from a dearth of essential equipment and professional hands, may face trouble treating many patients. The influx of infected ones can overwhelm these facilities, which may increase the fatality rate.
When the nation saw the outbreak of the second wave of the pandemic in April last year, hospitals failed to handle the condition, as sufferers died due to a shortage of oxygen supply and beds in several hospitals. Had the authority equipped health centres with enough life-saving oxygen in time, they could have saved numerous patients. During then, a large number of patients, who went through a sudden drop in their oxygen levels, needed a significant level of oxygen flow, but the hospitals could not provide the required amount of oxygen to the several needy ones, which led to the death of unlucky sufferers.
Paucity of facilities The past two pandemic waves have wreaked havoc on Nepali society. Hospitals and health centres suffered a lot owing to an absence of timely supply of essential apparatus and items necessary for the health institutions and workers. The paucity of dedicated hospitals also played its part in creating an undesirable condition for us in our battle against the dreaded virus, which has an uncanny ability to mutate now and then. The mutation poses greater difficulty to the ministry responsible for curbing the bug. One never knows which mutant causes failure to the existing treatment methods.
In Nepal, the exponential growth in coronavirus afflictions takes place whenever our closest neighbour, India, experiences a sudden upswing in ailments. Many Nepalis residing in India make a beeline to return to their hometowns. As infected Nepali migrant workers reach their hometowns and villages, they become spreaders of the disease. As per some reports, the far western entry places along the Nepal-India border have been witnessing around 700 to 800 returnees entering Nepal per day. The same goes for the major border crossing points near the cities of Nepalgunj, Bhairahawa, Birgunj, Biratnagar, Kakarbhitta and so on.
People cross small entry points along the 1,700-km long border without any restriction. Despite detecting many infected returnees at border checkpoints, our health experts remained incapacitated to treat them or keep them in quarantine for a required period because of the lack of holding centres in nearby areas. Most infected travel from passenger buses to their villages and towns, which is another reason behind the virus's fast transmission.
In the meantime, the detection of the new fast advancing variant has fuelled fears it might infect around one-third of our population. First detected in South Africa, the mutant is spreading like wildfire, forcing the concerned bodies to introduce quick lockdowns and restrictive orders. The authority has shut down schools, colleges, restaurants, cinemas, gyms and put restrictions on large gatherings and has asked the concerned ones to undergo tests before attending works, seminars and ceremonies. They also need to follow health safety protocols. Shops and malls must not allow over 25 to 50 people to visit their places at a time.
Besides these, the authorities must undertake other immediate measures to fight the fast transmission of the deadly bug. The authorities should immunise all Nepalis at the earliest. In recent times, the Health Ministry has received bulks of vaccines. The vaccine supply has been smooth. Our authority requires us to streamline the immunisation drive. To carry out rapid inoculation of the people without a single vaccine shot is essential to keep the disease to the lowest possible degree.
Meanwhile, they should give the second jabs to the masses who received the first jab, while they need to administer booster doses to the individuals living with co-morbidities and elderly ones as soon as possible. Since vaccine storage has posed a problem to our health authorities, providing vaccines to the targeted populations in quick succession. Since COVID vaccines possess a short lifespan, rapid vaccination of needy people is necessary so that the shots would not go to waste owing to their expiry of dates.
Lower fatality rate Despite all the recent troubles created by a high surge in ailments, our authorities can take solace from the fact that one-third of our population has already been inoculated, at least with a lone shot. A considerable number has received double shots. This situation has given us much relief. Also, the report that Omicron is a mutant that does not cause severe infections as compared to the Delta mutant. As a result, the fatality and hospitalisation rate will be nominal. However, the positive report must not make the health administration complacent to deal with the virus's spread.
No one can say for sure when the microbe will mutate to cause another round of plight on us. We must remain on guard about lurking predicaments and pull our socks up to take on the coronavirus and all its mutants, which would help stave off the third COVID wave.