As the festive season is just round the corner, with Ghatasthapana, the first day of Dashain, five days away, Kathmandu and other cities are seeing an increased mobility of people. Almost everything has reopened since September 1 and people are in a festive mood. With a steady decline in Covid-19 cases of late, complacency seems to have taken hold. Authorities have cautioned people to strictly follow health protocols, but there is a lack of implementation. Public health experts say increased mobility and festive gatherings could lead to a sudden spike in coronavirus cases. And the major culprit can be the Delta variant.
The Health Ministry has already warned people of the presence of the Delta variant circulating in society. Though there has not been any genome sequencing on new samples of late, of the 42 swab samples of the infected people, collected between mid-August and September, the Delta variant was detected in 41.
Reuters reported on Friday that unvaccinated people were particularly exposed to the Delta variant. Worldwide deaths related to Covid-19 have surpassed 5 million, according to Reuters. “More than half of all global deaths reported on a seven-day average were in the United States, Russia, Brazil, Mexico and India,” it said.
That India is still reporting a high number of cases and that the Delta variant continues to sweep the world should be a major cause for concern in Nepal, say experts. Nepal shares a long porous border with India and thousands of people cross into each other’s territories every day. It is estimated that around 100,000 people enter the country during Dashain from India through various border points and officials say it is impossible to keep records of those entering from hundreds of illegal land crossings. The influx of people into the country during the festival means an increased risk of outbreaks of various diseases, not just Covid-19. In the past, outbreaks of diseases including malaria, kala-azar, and dengue have been reported immediately after Dashain in many districts.
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India has so far reported 448,605 deaths. It reported 23,910 new cases on Friday.
“The Delta variant that caused the second wave in our country is still dominant,” said Dr Runa Jha, director at the National Public Health Laboratory. “The virus spreads rapidly and can infect a lot of people in a short period of time.”
The number of deaths due to Covid-19 too has drastically come down in Nepal in recent days, which doctors call a sign of improvement but they warn against complacency. According to the Health Ministry, nine people died from complications related to coronavirus infections in the last 24 hours. The number of Covid-19 fatalities over a 24-hour period has remained somewhat the same over the last two weeks.
So far, 11,157 people have died of Covid-19 in Nepal.
Reports suggest the global death rate has been slowing in recent weeks but an average of 8,000 people are dying daily across the world over the last week—or around five deaths every minute.
The Delta variant’s penetration and a huge chunk of unvaccinated people around the world, including in Nepal, hence put a spotlight on the need to scale up the vaccination drive. Despite facing a hitch after launching the campaign to inoculate people early this year, Nepal has managed to secure vaccine doses in recent months. But the number of people fully vaccinated in the country leaves a lot to be desired.
As of Saturday, 6,348,279 people were fully vaccinated, which makes up over 21 percent of the total 30 million population. Nepal is likely to receive around 2 million doses of Covishield from India this week. China has promised some 1.6 million doses under grant assistance, but delivery date is yet to be fixed.If the doses fail to arrive on time, the vaccination campaign could hit a snag again.
There is no exact data on the number of doses in stock but officials say vaccines are available in storage facilities across the country. There also has been some data discrepancy, as the Health Ministry has been providing confusing numbers on vaccination. So far, Nepal has received 17,858,710 doses from various countries and sources.
Experts say Nepal’s total vaccine coverage is yet to reach a level to prevent new outbreaks. According to them, there could be a new
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