China senses opportunity in Nepal's devastating COVID-19 wave

New Delhi, IndiaEdited By: Gravitas deskUpdated: May 13, 2021, 10:30 AM IST

Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli Photograph:(ANI)

Story highlights

The country is reporting 20 cases per 100,000 people a day

Nepal has sent out an SOS call. Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has appealed for help through a newspaper writeup as his country witnesses a surge in COVID-19 cases. The prime minister wrote an opinion piece for a British daily and said that Nepal is being overwhelmed by Covid.

He said that it is in need of urgent assistance to combat the deadly second wave. Oli lost a vote of confidence on Monday. With the government in crisis, the Himalayan republic is battling a resurgent virus. The country which has a population of just 30 million was reporting around 100 cases a day last month.

This month, the figure is nearing the 10,000 mark. On May 1, Nepal reported more than 5,000 new cases. The figure increased to 7,000 on May 4, followed by 8,000 on May 6. On May 11, it had reached 9,000. Now, the country is reporting 20 cases per 100,000 people a day.

Nepal is on the verge of a crisis that is as devastating as India if not worse. The prime minister of Nepal has appealed for help in an opinion piece published by The Guardian. KP Sharma Oli said, “As I write this, my country is battling a new and brutal wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The rise in the number of infections poses a serious challenge to our brave doctors, nurses, citizen volunteers and the entire health service system... I have, therefore, appealed to the international community to help us with vaccines, diagnostic tools, oxygen kits, critical care medicines and equipment, to support our efforts to save lives.”

Nepal is not ready for a second wave and the country's fragile healthcare system is already under immense pressure. According to the Oli government's COVID-19 response plan, Nepal has just 1,595 intensive care beds and 480 ventilators for 30 million people. There's also a shortage of doctors with just 0.7 physicians per 100,000 people according to World Bank data.

As of May 8, there were hospital bed shortages in 22 of the country's 77 districts and the vaccination rate is also abysmally low. As of last month, only 7.2 per cent of the population had received the first dose.

Nepal's health ministry has conceded that it is losing control of the situation. Critics blame the government for peddling unverified cures. Last month, the prime minister said the virus could be treated by gargling with guava and mango leaves. Earlier, he'd claimed that Nepalis had a very strong immunity because they consume a lot of spices.

With the wrong messaging from the top, people violated social distancing norms.

Many travelled to India to take part in the Kumbh Mela. This included Nepal's former King Gyanendra Shah and Queen Komal Shah who tested positive for the virus. Around the same time, thousands in Nepal celebrated festivals with placards that read “Our festival is dearer to us than our lives”.

Today, such is the crisis that even climbers at Everest base camp are testing positive.

The situation is indeed alarming and China has already sensed an opportunity.

Chinese planes have been flying to Kathmandu with medical assistance.

As the Chinese media pushes its propaganda with headlines like these - “COVID-19 epidemic shows who Nepal's good neighbour is”.