Coronavirus outbreak in Nepal could be even worse than India’s

Nepali authorities reported 8,227 new daily cases and 190 deaths, with the country’s total case tally approaching 488,700. The rate of 29 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in the last week has overtaken India’s 21.

“We are running out of oxygen and hospital beds, we have a huge lack of health workers,” says Dr. Samir Adhikari of the Ministry of Health and Population. “Nepal cannot handle this situation anymore.”

Even before the pandemic, it struggled to provide health care to its people. The latest available World Bank figures show that the country has less than one doctor per 1,000 people and only one hospital bed for every 3,000.

Only 26 of the country’s 185 hospitals had oxygen plants, local media reported at the end of April, and of those not all were in working order.

The situation is especially dire in remote areas, where isolated populations have very limited access to basic health care due to high cost and low availability.

Given the tragic lack of resources, people are now dying on the streets, in ambulances, at hospital gates, or at home after failing to find treatment, and the disease is spreading virtually unchecked.

Daily confirmed cases increased by over ten-fold from mid-April to mid-May, when more than 45% of tests conducted produced positive results.

Many Nepalis also believe the virus was spread by Indian workers transiting in Nepal en route to jobs in the Gulf states, when those states banned direct flights from India.

The government has been riven by factional strife and Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli lost a vote of confidence on May 10. Besides being preoccupied with political survival, he also reportedly placed too much store in what he saw as the country’s natural defenses against COVID-19.

According to local media, the prime minister believed coronavirus would not make much headway in Nepal because of the “strong” immune systems of Nepali people and the country’s “rich Ayurvedic traditions.” He has since walked back his position.

Only 7% of Nepal’s 30 million people have been jabbed. Two million doses were ordered from India’s Serum Institute, the world’s largest producer of vaccines. But because of the crisis in India, New Delhi ordered a halt to vaccine exports, leaving Nepal a million doses short.

The disastrous outbreak has meanwhile put any thought of economic recovery on hold. With eight of the ten highest mountains in the world, Nepal has long been an irresistible destination for serious mountaineers, rock climbers, and trekkers.

Tourism is the largest industry, employing 800,000 people, and is the country’s main source of foreign exchange. In 2019, Nepal welcomed 2 million visitors, who parted with $724 million.

Small wonder that the government began making strenuous attempts to reopen to adventurers at the end of last year, approving a record number of 408 Everest expeditions for 2021. Climbing permits have generated nearly $4.2 million this year.

With the coronavirus now rampaging through Nepal, many expeditions have decided to pull out.