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COVID-19 Omicron: How prepared is Nepal?

Nepal's preparation to contain the possible spread of COVID-19's Omicron variant has been minimal so far.


Nepalnews
2021 Nov 29, 16:15, Kathmandu

While governments around the world are preparing to close borders in hopes of preventing the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron, from spreading among their people, the Nepalese government still seems unprepared despite all the warning signs and prior knowledge of dealing with a new variant’s surge.

Following the CCMC meeting, the Ministry of Home Affairs decided to ban all land and air travel from the African continent. However, many health experts had already warned before the meeting that it may be too late already. Not only was the meeting late, which came several days after South Africa informed about their new discovery, the decision to close travel between Africa and Nepal came even later.

The variant Omicron (B.1.1.529) first reported in South Africa could spread to Nepal. So the government has intensified caution, said Dr. Samir Kumar Adhikari, joint spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Population. 

Although the variant has not yet been reported in Nepal, risks still prevail, he said. "There is a high probability of the variant transporting to Nepal. But we are all prepared for preventing its spread here." 

As part of the drive to prevent the variant as classed by the World Health Organisation as 'of concern', help desks at the border areas with neighboring India and Tribhuvan International Airport, the country’s sole international airport, have increased a vigil, according to him.

Likewise, visiting Nepal through countries reporting the variant must stay in a quarantine facility and there would be surveillance on them taking place, he said. South African flights do not have a direct route to Nepal directly. However, there are still quite a few who travel from there.

Several countries including the UK, Australia, Germany, Japan, Singapore, USA had banned travels from several African nations before Nepal. For a country that started 2020’s first coronavirus lockdown before most others, it is a shame that it cannot live up to the standards it set itself so early.

Nepal has largely remained unprepared and lacked resources for vaccinating its citizens. Out of 50 Million vaccines needed for nearly 30 Million people, only 8.3 Million have been fully vaccinated and 9.5 Million have received the first of two required doses.

The Assistant Spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Population, Samir Kumar Adhikari informed that the government is targeting to vaccinate 23 Million people above 12 years of age by mid-April, 2022. He also added that the government intended to provide booster shots to the fully vaccinated, but full details on that are still very unclear. According to him, the government has also considered vaccinating children aged 12 and below, however they are presently waiting for the results of inoculation of children in other countries before starting their own.

69 Million vaccines are required to fulfill the goals of vaccinating everyone above the age of 12 and providing booster shots. That number is a far cry from what Nepal is capable of administering at the moment.

Only 25 million doses have been administered so far. There is still a requirement of nearly 40 million doses which will take a while to be received, which means greater health risks of rising infections and deaths will keep persisting.

With no Omicron variant discovered in Nepal yet, we are not at risk at the moment, but as observed during the surge of the delta variant, COVID-19 mutations can spread to new countries without much difficulty unless everyone does their part in its containment. Therefore, it is imperative that citizens adopt precautious measures which they adopted during the first coronavirus wave – wear masks, wash hands, sanitize, avoid crowds and isolate themselves if any symptoms are seen.

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