International help for Nepal picks up

Nepal’s Covid-19 crisis has figured in a US Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in Washington on Wednesday, where members heard USAID officials, and urged a more urgent response.

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut said he was concerned that the situation in Nepal was even more serious, after India stopped the export of vaccines.

Meanwhile the first US legislator of Nepali-origin Harry Bhandari from Maryland has started a signature campaign calling on President Joe Biden to rush urgent medical aid to Nepal.

Responding to the queries from senators at the hearing, Jeremy Konyndyk of USAID admitted the situation in Nepal was serious, that the high positivity rate meant there was an urgent need for more testing.

Last week, the group The Covid Alliance for Nepal wrote to the US Ambassador to Nepal Randy Berry to urge him to help secure the AstraZeneca vaccine from the US stockpile. Nearly 1.3 million people in Nepal who have received the first dose of the AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine are waiting for the second dose, amidst uncertainty after India banned its export.

Meanwhile, US Indo-Pacific Command announced on Thursday that it is giving Nepal $2.85 million to acquire oxygen plants, cylinders and storage tanks, as well as PPE, isolation centre equipment and other gear. USAID also announced that it had given various agencies of the Nepal government nearly $51 million to fight the pandemic.

Also on Thursday, deputy Prime Minister Ishwar Pokhrel called US Ambassador Berry asking for urgent help with AstraZeneca vaccines. Pokhrel said Berry had assured him that he was also urging Washington about the need for vaccines, and that he would keep the Nepal government informed.

In return Berry also requested Pokhrel, who heads the Covid-19 Control and Management Committee (CCMC) to restore two flights a week from Kathmandu to evacuate its nationals stuck in Nepal to return to the United States. All international and domestic flights in Nepal have been grounded till 31 May, and the lockdown in Kathmandu has been extended till 27 May.

In a separate development, the European Union is also extending €2 million in humanitarian funding to Nepal that will be used to monitor home isolated cases through tele-medicine services and rapid referral to hospitals, national emergency medical teams deployment and international emergency medical teams mobilisation facilitation as well as procurement of oxygen equipment including oxygen concentrators, cylinders, home care kits, diagnostics including antigen test kits and PPE.

Nepal has also activated the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, and Finland is the first member to offer more than 2 million surgical masks, 350,000 FFP2 masks, 52,500 pairs of vinyl gloves and 30,000 isolation gowns.

"We stand in full solidarity with Nepal in its fight against the pandemic and are quickly mobilising emergency support with initial €2 million funding, and we stand ready to provide further assistance,”  said EU Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič.

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