As India suspends vaccine exports, Nepal is confronted with its own Covid crisis.

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Parasuram Maurya defined frantically running from one hospital to another to save his father from Covid-19 in a choked voice.

Sundar Maurya, a farmer from the south-western town of Narainapur, complained of breathing problems and tested positive on May 3rd. Within a few days, his health had deteriorated.

Mr Maurya took his father, who is in his mid-50s, to three medical facilities in the Banke district, but all declined to admit him due to a lack of beds and oxygen. By the time he found a bed, it was too late.

“We are devastated, he was the main breadwinner of the family,” Mr Maurya told the BBC. “Now I have to take care of my own family and three younger brothers. My mother has been crying inconsolably.”

Thousands of people like Mr Maurya have lost their loved ones in Nepal, a nation now reeling from a second wave of the virus.

“If we don’t manage this right now, the situation will become catastrophic,” said Dr Samir Kumar Adhikari, the chief of the government’s Health Emergency Operation Centre.

“In Kathmandu valley, almost all of the intensive care beds and ventilators are full,” he said. “Even in hospitals where beds are available, they cannot admit patients due to a lack of oxygen. We have also run out of vaccines.”

A man infected with Covid-19 arrives at hospital in Kathmanduimage copyrightGetty Images
image captionOfficials in Nepal warn that the country could fall desperately short on medical supplies

Nepal, a Himalayan nation of about 30 million people, is one of the least developed countries in the world. Landlocked and sandwiched between China in the north and India in the south, it depends on India for most of its supplies, especially medical equipment and liquid oxygen. With India stopping exports of oxygen due to the worsening situation there, Kathmandu is now struggling to find alternative supplies.

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Nepal, like many other Asian countries, managed to survive the first wave relatively unscathed. The second surge, on the other hand, has been catastrophic. Daily infections were about 150 at the start of April, but in a month, the number had risen to over 9,000. About 4,000 people have died as a result of the disaster.

According to Nepali health authorities, the current daily positivity rate is approximately 50%, implying that one in every two people tests positive for Covid. An approximate 80,000 people are in home confinement, and authorities predict that hundreds more will die in the coming weeks.

“We rank Nepal 9th among the 10 top countries in terms of daily increase in Covid-19 cases. Of all those countries, Nepal has the smallest population but it has the highest case positivity rate,” Sara Beysolow Nyanti, the UN resident co-ordinator in Nepal told the BBC.

Antigen tests at Nepal's border with Indiaimage copyrightUnicef
image captionThere are fears that migrant workers returning through the land border could be carrying the virus

Normal life had resumed a few months ago in neighbouring India, when regular cases dropped below 100. The government was eager to return to normalcy in order to rebound economically from the effects of the lockdowns. Masks, hygiene, and psychological isolation were all neglected.

Nepal was still experiencing a diplomatic crisis at the time. Faced with a revolt within his own government, Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli dissolved parliament and called for a snap election last December. However, in February of this year, the Supreme Court recalled parliament.

Mr Oli was also facing criticism from the opposition and civil society over the government’s handling of the coronavirus. There have been pro- and anti-Oli protests in Kathmandu and other parts of the country.

Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli lost the vote of confidence in parliament on Monday. It’s not clear who will form the next government, with no party having a clear majority.

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Experts blame the political wrangling and infighting for the sharp turn for the worse in the pandemic.

“The politicians were busy trying to hold on to power, their attention was not on the health of the people but on retaining power,” said Dr Rajan Pandey, chief consultant physician at Bheri hospital, in Nepalgunj city.

Chaitee Rawat gets the Covid vaccineimage copyrightUnicef
image captionNepal has suspended its vaccination programme after it ran out of doses

Nepalgunj, near the border with India, is one of the worst hit areas in Nepal. Every day, hundreds of migrant workers from India cross the border, raising concerns that some of them might be infected with the virus. Fearing quarantine, many people enter the country illegally and return to their villages. Any of the returnees have reportedly been ill.

However, migrant labourers should not be blamed solely for the second surge, according to Dr. Pandey.

“Two months ago, the government and the opposition held huge rallies all over the country. People celebrated religious festivals and organised marriage ceremonies – all contributing to this second wave,” he said.

The situation has been exacerbated by the fact that Nepal has now suspended its vaccination programme after it ran out of doses. Initially, India donated about a million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine, and Nepal secured doses from the global vaccine sharing programme Covax and from China.

Officials in Nepal say altogether 2.1 million people have had the vaccine and out of that number 400,000 have received both doses.

But with Delhi abruptly suspending the export of vaccines, Nepal is in limbo, alongside Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, increasingly looking to China and Russia to meet their demands.

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“Nepal has not been able to secure vaccines for even 20% of those who need to be vaccinated. So, Nepal should be prioritised at the top,” the UN official Ms Nyanti said. “I appeal to the countries which can spare vaccine to send them to Nepal immediately.”


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