The leader of a nation of 30 million people could be toppled as cases rise 1200 percent and both beds and oxygen run out in a “devastating” unfolding crisis. The COVID-19 crisis engulfing the mountainous nation of Nepal probably started somewhere like the border town of Birgunj.
The “Gateway to Nepal”, bustling Birgunj, is the main link between Kathmandu and Kolkata, India’s third-largest city with 14 million residents. The two countries share an open border; no passports are needed, and citizens of each country walk or drive freely across the frontier every day.
It’s likely that a few weeks ago, the new and more contagious Indian variant of COVID-19 hitched a ride over the border and sunk its spike proteins into the nation of 30 million.
“One of my best friends has COVID; my relatives in Kathmandu have COVID; almost every household has one or two people with COVID,” Sydneysider Shamim Anwar, whose parents live in Birgunj, told news.com.au.
“By population, the situation is worse than India. Most people I know in Nepal have COVID. It’s devastating”.
Nepal ‘staring into the abyss.’
On Sunday, Nepal recorded 8777 new cases of coronavirus. That might not seem much compared to India’s 400,000 daily infections, but India’s 1.3 billion inhabitants are far more than its Himalayan neighbor’s 29 million.
ICU beds have run out, oxygen is running out, and the Prime Minister’s time may soon be up too, with leader KP Sharma Oli facing a no-confidence motion in the country’s parliament today.
He has been compared to Emperor Nero, of “fiddling when Rome burned”.
Earlier in the crisis, he recommended the Nepalese gargle with guava leaves to ward off infection. It didn’t work.
In March, fewer than 100 people a day were being diagnosed in Nepal. In late April, daily cases broke the 1000 mark. The current seven-day rolling average is 8100. Bodies are being cremated en masse.
“Nepal is staring into the COVID abyss with cases skyrocketing by 1200 percent in weeks,” thundered the Indian Express newspaper. “Experts believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg as the high positivity rate shows that Nepal isn’t detecting nearly enough cases,” the paper reported.
Around 500 kilometers to the west of Birgunj is Nepalgunj. Another border town, it’s now the country’s second COVID-19 epicenter outside Kathmandu. “The hospital is overloaded; we are treating patients at each and every corner of the building,” said Badri Chapagain, a doctor at the hospital.