Coronavirus coordination committee doesn’t coordinate

At a time when close coordination between government ministries and various agencies under the Health Ministry is of the utmost importance to manage the pandemic, the committee set up to coordinate is itself working at cross-purposes with them.

The Covid-19 Crisis Management Committee (CCMC) and the Ministry of Health are at loggerheads, consumed by turf battles, questions of responsibility, and lately blaming each other for the dramatic spread of Covid-19 across Nepal, especially in Kathmandu Valley.

On Friday, the country recorded 4,499 new infections, taking the total confirmed cases to 153,008. Of these, 2,720 were in Kathmandu Valley. With 17 more deaths, the total fatalities now stands at 829. There are nearly 50,000 active cases, and the numbers needing ICU treatment and ventilators continue to rise.

Patients in ambulances have been turned back because hospitals in Kathmandu have run out of space. Meanwhile, the CCMC is in limbo after its head Ishwar Pokhrel was transferred out of the defence ministry. No one is clear about who is in charge. 

Pokhrel had a public run-in with the Nepal Army chief Purna Chandra Thapa over the CCMC dragging the military into controversy over questionable contracts for the import of medical equipment and kits.

The CCMC’s communication with the Health Ministry is now non-existent, and this is sowing confusion about pandemic response at a time when the country is in a health emergency as medical facilities are overwhelmed. 

"The Health Ministry has stopped consulting or taking orders from the CCMC,” said a ministry source. 

Nepal’s capital has now become its coronavirus capital as well, and the ministry has not been doing evidence-based planning to manage hospital facilities to handle the growing number of cases. It ignored data on hotspots within Kathmandu and to order testing and tracing there. 

According to the maps released by the CCMC large clusters of cases have been detected in Chabahil, Maitidevi, Bansbari, Sinamangal, New Baneswor, Naya Bazaar, Narayan Toll, Kalanki, Bagbazar and Balaju in Kathmandu. 

Map: CCMC

Similarly, Sanepa, Lagankhel, Jawalakhel, Khumaltar and Khadkagaun in Lalitpur have been found to be affected by coronavirus, so are Bhaktapur’s Kageswor Manohara, Vyasi, Ghalate, Bungal, Patan and Devdol areas.

All the areas reporting high cases of Covid-19 are the Valley’s business centres with high population density and higher movement of people, many of them coming in from the Tarai. 

Local governments in coordination with the Health Ministry should have sealed those sites, and increased testing. But this has not been the case. In fact, despite the CCMC’s data at its disposal, the Ministry and the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division have not been utilised to better control and prevent the crisis – especially with the risks associated with the festival season. 

The lack of coordination can also be seen in the contradictory statements issued by the Health Ministry spokesperson Jageswar Gautam in his daily briefing. Last week, his remarks that patients who test positive should not go to hospital unless they are “about to faint” evoked widespread ridicule on social media.

Then this week, the government first said people had to pay for their own tests, and that the government could not bear the cost of treatment of Covid-19 treatment anymore. After more media outrage, the government has been backpedalling furiously, claiming that it has been handling the pandemic well. 

Public health experts say that Nepal’s coronavirus response has actually exposed serious failure of leadership and governance, as a political power struggle in the ruling party distracts everyone.

Said the Health Ministry source: “At a time when there should be close coordination between all agencies of the government to reduce the impact of the pandemic, we see no coordination at all.”

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