4 MIN READ
For all instances, the Covid-19 pandemic seems all but over. Daily new Covid-19 cases are currently at an all-time low in Nepal. On Sunday, there were 23 new cases (15 RT-PCR), just eight on Saturday, and 18 (12 RT-PCR) on Friday, according to the Health Ministry. Active cases have fallen sharply to 1,558 and no deaths have been reported in the past week. In cities across the country, administrations have lifted all precautions. Cafes, restaurants, and theaters have reopened and the Nepali public is out in full force, ready to revel after two years of living in the shadow of the coronavirus.
But with daily cases once again rising in countries like China, public health experts say that it is not time to celebrate yet.
“The third wave is almost over in Nepal. We cannot predict the situation but I am hopeful we won’t have a situation like that of the second wave where hospitals were overflowing with patients and there was a scarcity of beds,” said Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, chief of the Clinical Research Unit at the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital in Teku.
Dr Pun attributes Nepal’s sharp decrease in daily cases and deaths to the ongoing vaccination campaign. According to government data, as of Sunday, almost 65 percent of Nepal’s total population was fully vaccinated with both doses while over 75 percent had received at least one dose.
Nepal’s vaccination campaign had initially fumbled. It had failed to prioritize vulnerable groups and the vaccine rollout was chaotic and mired in mismanagement. But over a year later, the campaign has managed to iron out its wrinkles and is progressing slowly but steadily. Local governments have been assigned the responsibility of giving out vaccines and booster doses, simplifying the process. Nepal now also has a glut of a variety of vaccines, after an initial scramble for purchase. On Saturday alone, Nepal received over 3.4 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine from China.
Public health experts also attribute Nepal’s rising vaccination rate to the much lower hospitalization rate seen during the third wave of the pandemic earlier this year, when daily cases had risen to the thousands.
“It may seem like cases have gone down but the risk has not. The virus is unpredictable,” said Dr Amrit Pokhrel, chief of the Emergency and Outbreak Management Section at the Health Ministry’s Epidemiology and Disease Control Division.
Governments might have lifted precautions but Dr Pokhrel advises that citizens must continue to observe proper handwashing, wearing masks in public, and getting vaccinated. For those who are already fully vaccinated, doctors recommend a booster dose, which is now easily available through the local ward offices.
Nepal’s vaccination rate might be high but the booster rate is not. So far, only 2 million booster doses have been administered. As immunity can wane over time, booster doses help the body produce more neutralizing antibodies so that an infection can be fought off more easily. For fully vaccinated and boosted individuals, any possible infections will usually be mild and will not necessitate hospitalization.
“Those who missed the vaccination can go and get it from a nearby government hospital or clinic,” said Sunita Nepal, spokesperson for the Covid-19 Coordination and Management Committee (CCMC). “The [federal] government has even issued a directive stating that it is safe to get a vaccine from another company as a booster dose.”
With vaccination rates across the world rising, the World Health Organization had said last month that the pandemic’s ‘acute phase’ could be over by mid-year. But that still doesn’t mean that the virus will have gone away, only that it will lead to less hospitalizations. It is likely that Covid-19 will become endemic and the world will simply get used to ‘living with the virus’.
For now, individuals must get vaccinated with both doses and booster doses and continue to observe safety precautions.
“Detection has certainly gone down but that doesn’t mean we are not still vulnerable,” said Nepal. “People need to be careful and continue to follow safety protocols.”
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