Political rallies complicating the fight against Coronavirus

Purushottam Poudel

February 21, 2021

8 MIN READ

Political rallies complicating the fight against Coronavirus
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Combatting against the coronavirus seems to be tricky in Nepal as the government itself is involved in organizing demonstrations and mass meetings throughout the country.

The dissident faction of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and the civil society members have hit the streets to protest the dissolution of the House of Representatives (HoR). Interestingly, the government, too, has followed suit to justify its decision.

A total of 456 new coronavirus cases were recorded this week (as of Friday) in Nepal taking the tally to ….. with as many as 2,055 COVID-relate deaths so far. Although the level of infection is quite low of late, it has yet to be subsided as crowds have started thronging to marketplaces besides participating in regular political demonstrations.

Following President Bidya Devi Bhandari’s to dissolve the HoR on the recommendation of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli on 20 December, protests have been held every day in Nepal since then labeling the government’s move as “unconstitutional and undemocratic”.

On the other hand, the government has already announced the dates for the election on 30 April and 10 May.

Dr. Jageshwar Gautam, Spokesperson at the Ministry of Health and Population, emphasizes maintaining physical distance along with the proper use of masks and sanitizers, and following the health protocols. “Or else, the possibility of increasing the number of infected people cannot be ruled out.”

Fortunately, the vaccination drive against the coronavirus in the country has come as a piece of good news to the populace.

The vaccine (1 million) provided by the Government of India is being administered in the second phase. Likewise, the Nepal government has also decided to procure 500,000 vaccines from China in case of emergency.

Public health experts warn that the risk persists, even though the vaccine is used, as the virus has not been eradicated. Caution is always a must, experts claim.

Following the first case of COVID-19 in the country on 13 January, the Government of Nepal announced the first phase of the nationwide lockdown from 24 March onwards. The 120-day lockdown ended on July 21, 2020.

People are in the streets as two factions of the NCP are involved in a “war of words” after the dissolution of the parliament. On the other hand, they seem to have sought to use the assembled audience as a way of proving their legitimacy.

The government then announced the second phase of the lockdown, effective August 20, which lasted until September 16, stating that the corona infection had not subsided.

The first lockdown phase was imposed nationwide while the second phase was imposed in areas with high rates of infection. Overall, last year, there were 148 lockdown days in Nepal.

The only purpose of holding the nation in lockdown for a long time was to break the chain of contact. Although the lockdown succeeded in breaking the chain, it led to several economic, social and mental problems among the people having a long-term effect.

Health experts fear that the recent demonstrations held in different parts of the country could spread the coronavirus yet again.

The risk of corona infection, however, has increased as civil society and the government itself have been organizing frequent protests alongside the dissident faction of the NCP.

The government, meanwhile, seems to be not very serious about the protests. The Ministry of Health, on the other hand, has said that its job is to spread public health awareness and not stop the demonstrations.

Dr. Gautam said that the crowds at the demonstration could spread the corona infection, adding that appropriate measures should be taken by the home ministry to avoid it. Ministry officials complain that when the government itself called for a demonstration, the Home Ministry had to be the frontrunner.

Sameer Mani Dixit, a public health scientist, says that the ruling party, the opposition and civil society are all guilty in this instance. Civil society is in the streets, alongside the opposition parties, against the dissolution of the parliament.

A civil society leader, Archana Thapa, has a different view of the demonstrations as she says that the “threat of coronavirus is no greater than the threat to democracy.”

As she puts it: “When the government dissolved the parliament, the country’s constitution and democracy are challenged, which is why people are in the streets.”

On the other side, public health scientist Dixit says that street protests are irresponsible to the common man. “The coronavirus has not completely subsided”, says Dixit.

People are in the streets as two factions of the NCP are involved in a “war of words” after the dissolution of the parliament. On the other hand, they seem to have sought to use the assembled audience as a way of proving their legitimacy.

There is a dispute over the NCP’s legitimacy between the two factions before the Elections Commission – yet to be settled. The case against the dissolution of parliament is, meanwhile, is sub-judice at the Supreme Court.

Narayan Kaji Shrestha, the Spokesperson of the Prachanda-Nepal faction, said they are compelled to organize the rallies. Although they were unable to maintain physical distance, Shrestha claimed that people who participate in the protest use their masks properly.

While the case was still being considered, on February 4, the Prachanda-Nepal faction organized a general strike to protest the appointments made by the caretaker government to the Constitutional Bodies. A public demonstration in Kathmandu was organized by the Oli group on February 5.

Earlier, on January 22 and February 10, the Prachanda-Nepal group organized demonstrations in Kathmandu.

Similarly, both the factions of the NCP, the Nepali Congress, and even the civil society are holding nationwide demonstrations. Individuals participating in these demonstrations are not necessarily wearing masks and are not aware of maintaining a physical distance.

Narayan Kaji Shrestha, the Spokesperson of the Prachanda-Nepal faction, said they are compelled to organize the rallies. Although they were unable to maintain physical distance, Shrestha claimed that people who participate in the protest use their masks properly.

Experts opine that since the government, too, has been organizing protests and rallies, it needs to take responsibility if the infection spreads.

Foreign Minister Pradip Gyawali, who is also the spokesperson for the Oli faction, says, on the other hand, that they have been reaching out to the people following all health measures as the elections were approaching.

“Corona’s influence has diminished, but the risk remains,” Gyawali said, “The government is adhering to the health protocol. Going to the polls should not be misinterpreted while vaccinating people from high-risk groups.”

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