Nepal and Coronavirus/Covid-19

Nepal and Coronavirus/Covid-19 [Nepali translation coming soon]

I flew into Kathmandu yesterday morning after my college gave me less than 24 hours to pack my bags and leave. The level of urgency that my college showed was a late response in the United States. It was only after the cases rose to more than 1500 individuals (around 500 in New York State where my college is) and after the World Health Organization declared it a pandemic that my college decided to take action. Following the declaration by WHO, other colleges, schools, businesses followed suit and either shut down completely or switched into remote-working.

As I flew into Kathmandu from Doha, my flight was filled with low-wage Nepali workers from Qatar and other Gulf nations. There were rumors circulating that some people were sent home because they were showing symptoms for COVID-19. While I cannot verify this information, it is indeed alarming as Qatar has recently shown a 10x increase of cases in a single day. Other countries where massive number of Nepalis work (South Korea, United States, etc.) also have had exponential increase of cases (South Korea seemingly has almost contained it while United States is playing around), and therefore, we have had Nepalis coming in from these countries. Similarly, before the foreign nationals ban by the Nepali government, Chinese tourists as well as tourists from other infected countries like Italy were also present in Nepal.

What did they do in the airport? We had to submit a self-declaration form declaring where we had traveled in the last 21 days and what symptoms we were having. The guy in front of me did not get the form/forgot it in the airplane and the police officer collecting it just let him go. Next, we did a temperature check where three health workers did a quick check of our temperature and let us go. Welcome home!

There is NO WAY covid-19 isn’t circulating in Nepal. I have some of my own hypotheses on why the numbers do not speak for the reality. Firstly, our state response sucks. The airport screening was just a small window into this. I will come back on this later. Secondly, the disease has as long as 24 days incubation period where the symptoms are not visible. A lot of people coming to Nepal are young and therefore, they are excellent agents for the virus to reside in and for the symptoms to either not show or be mild. Thirdly, there’s a “we’re immune” to the virus hypothesis. I deny that. There are immunocompromised individuals in Nepal and a lot of them. Even the low-wage Nepali foreign workers are oftentimes forced to work in harsh labor conditions whereby they get immunocompromised.

This brings me back to the preparedness of the state. Modi called a SAARC meeting on Friday and Oli showed up. Clearly, the SAARC countries are worried but the worry is not manifesting into action. It also brings into question what kind of state support should we expect given that there are a wide range of responses possible.

We know that Kathmandu cannot go into a complete lockdown. I am thinking of the street-entrepreneurs, daily-wage workers, and other low income workers who CANNOT not work. Their lives depend on their daily work. Similarly, I have seen silence among the richest of the rich. Where are they? What are they doing with the resources? Are they planning to use it in any way in this pandemic if things get worse? The answer is probably a no.

Who is the state going to support? We need to make sure that those of us most vulnerable will have the financial safety nets available if things get worse. We need to be vigilant as to if the government is going to bail out the rich in the name of ‘saving our economy’ or is it doing enough to support the most economically and health-wise vulnerable among us. We need to pressurize the government to think about safety nets for ALL OF US, in particularly economically marginalized groups, and not just the rich.

What should the state be doing? Encouraging physical distancing and social solidarity. The only way to lessen the body count (some studies have shown the death rate could be as high as 5% with more numbers skewing towards the elderly and immunocompromised individuals). Kathmandu is functioning normally. The country is functioning normally. This is BAD. The economy is going to take a hit if things get slow but we need to slow down. For the sake of human lives.

What should you and I be doing? I am in self-quarantine for 14 days (1 day down!). I am taking responsibility for the possibility of me being an agent of the virus during the 30 hour travel that I did. I am also writing this in light of public knowledge and information sharing. Depending on how things pan out, I might be doing more including sharing resources: material (wealth, space, etc.) and physical as well as emotional labor. I am reaching out to people that I care about. And if you are in need of any support, I am free to talk to. We should also be thinking about the people around us who are going to suffer the most from the pandemic. How do we create systems communally to support them and their most basic needs? How can we collaborate with already-existing organizations to do this? How do we force the government to do better?

Finally, here is a list of things to think about as we prepare for the pandemic to hit us.

1.What do we do to support those among us (esp those close to our communities) who are going to be the most vulnerable?

2.Talk to friends who are wealthy. Explain to them how they are going to be the least affected and how they can support those among us who are going to be in need of the basic of necessities.

  1. Pressurize the government. Talk about the pandemic. Tag folks on social media who work for the government. If your family and friends are in places of power, talk to them. We need to make use of digital infrastructure to do the best we can.

I am not willing to settle down in the hands of fate. The state can have a better response. The people in power can have a better response. The rich can have a better response. Our institutions can have a better response.

I have four immunocompromised grandparents, two of whom I live with, and I am fighting for them. Whom are you fighting for?