The coronavirus outbreak in India has spread across the border into Nepal, where health officials have warned hospital beds are unavailable, vaccines are running out and new infections are rising faster than overwhelmed clinics can record.
In Nepal, the situation is so dire that the Himalayan Ministry of Health issued a statement on Friday in which it actually threw up its hands.
“As coronavirus cases have risen beyond the capacity of the health system and the hospitals run out of beds, the situation is no longer manageable,” the ministry said after the government recorded 5,657 new infections on Friday, the highest daily total since then October.
And with more than a third of the tests giving a positive result, officials fear the actual number of cases is much higher. Nepalis who are infected but have minor symptoms have been advised to stay at home to keep hospital admissions down.
Experts believe the outbreak is fueled by Nepalese migrant workers who have returned home from India in recent weeks when lockdowns were imposed there. The 1,100-mile border between countries is permeable, and hardly any of the returnees have been tested for the coronavirus or have been quarantined.
Many of them got sick within a few weeks.
“Just days after I returned from India, one of my relatives died in an ambulance,” said Narendra Singh, a local guide from Bajhang, a western district near the Indian border. “More and more people who return from India are getting sick. And the virus is spreading here. We have no quarantine or isolation facilities in the villages. “
Nepal has since closed its border crossings with India, but the virus is already spreading. In early March, Nepal was recording fewer than 100 cases a day. The daily average currently exceeds 4,000 reported cases, according to a database from the New York Times.
At the same time, Nepal’s vaccination campaign has slowed down. India donated a million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and Nepal signed an agreement to purchase two million more from an Indian manufacturer, the Serum Institute of India. But India cut exports of vaccines last month after the outbreak worsened, and Nepalese officials say the company only shipped half the amount.
After 1.7 million people out of a population of nearly 30 million received the first dose of the vaccine, only 380,000 received a second shot.
At the end of March, China donated 800,000 doses of its Sinopharm vaccine. Nepalis flocked to vaccination centers, causing some officials to worry that the crowd could spread the virus. This week the government imposed a new two-week lockdown that brought vaccinations to a halt.
“We vaccinated people when the vaccination centers were overcrowded,” said Dr. Jhalak Sharma Gautam, head of the national vaccination program. “But we stopped when the government announced the lockdown.”
Many Nepalis are now wondering if they will ever be vaccinated. Ram Kumar Nepali, a sanitation worker in the capital, Kathmandu, continued his early morning shift collecting rubbish during the lockdown, usually without protective gear.
“I often think that I’ll never get a chance to get vaccinated,” said Nepali, 43. “We have to get around the capital to collect waste even during this terrible pandemic.” It’s risky. “