COVID-19 spreads closer to Nepal’s ruling circle

Given how unconcerned rulers in Kathmandu have historically been to the plight of underserved Nepalis in the rest of the country, it was perhaps inevitable that the current government would finally start taking the COVID-19 pandemic seriously after the case load increased in the capital.

On Thursday, the government sealed off Kathmandu Valley -- no one can come in or out. This sense of urgency after one minister, five MPs, one head of a constitutional body, a provincial attorney general and other elected officials tested positive for the virus in the past week. 

Nepal Communist Party co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal is in self-isolation at his home in Khumaltar after a driver of his secretariat was infected. In Baluwatar, Prime Minister Oli, who has had a double kidney transplant, has also restricted visitors. 

However, as we went to press on Thursday at noon, Dahal drove to Baluwatar to meet Oli -- breaking his own self-isolation. The two had not met for 10 days.  

For the past week, it seemed the struggle for supremacy between Dahal and Oli had been put on hold, as their factions could not physically meet to plan and plot their next moves against each other. Because of this, the media has got a respite from the blow-by-blow daily reporting of who from one faction or the other secretly met whom, and where.

Two justices of the Supreme Court, Ishwar Prasad Khatiwada and Hari Phuyal are in self-isolation after one of his security guards tested positive. Opposition Nepali Congress leader Mohan Basnet is in home quarantine after his father died of COVID-19, and the NCP’s Amrit Bohara and Sher Bahadur Tamang are also in self-isolation after travel.

In Kathmandu, the Police Headquarters in Naxal and the Traffic Police Centre at Singha Darbar have both been sealed off after at least 200 police officers tested positive. The head of the Commission for the Control of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) Nabin Ghimire tested positive on Tuesday, and the office of the corruption watchdog has been closed.

The spokesperson of the Federal Parliament Rojnath Pandey also tested positive last week. He had joined MP Pradip Yadav and a parliamentary team on a tour of the flood and virus affected districts of the Tarai. MP Yadav had tested positive, but has now recovered. Also recovered is Karnali provincial assembly member Jivan Shahi.

Similarly, Province 1 lawmaker Kusum Shrestha announced on Facebook this week that she had tested positive. Province 5 member of the legislative assembly Krishna KC also took to Facebook to inform that she had tested positive, was at Bheri Hosptial and also said she was ready to donate her blood plasma once she recovered.

In Province 2, which is now a hotspot for the virus because of its proximity to Bihar, Law Minister Gyanendra Yadav and assembly member Rina Yadav have tested positive. Yadav says she has no travel history and no symptoms, and is now in self-isolation at home. “I only took the test because I wanted to go to Kathmandu to meet my family,” she added.

Birganj Mayor Vijay Sarawagi is in a hospital in Kathmandu after testing positive, and will be tested again this weekend, according to doctors.  

As of Thursday, Kathmandu Valley had 111 new COVID-19 cases – the seventh day in a row with more than 100 new infections. There were 4 more fatalities, and 89 patients in ICU across Nepal, as the total confirmed cases hit 24,957 with 525 more infections. There are 14,769 people in isolation nationwide and coronavirus treatment centres are filling up with patients, especially in Tarai cities.

This week, the government instructed private hospitals to set aside 20% of their capacity for COVID-19 cases. The surge followed the partial lifting of the lockdown on 21 July after which people started streaming in to the Tarai from India, and many from there travelled unrestricted to Kathmandu Valley. The government has extended the ban on regular flights and long-distances buses till 31 August, and once more shut down restaurants and closed district administration offices.

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