Kathmandu-The government has issued a stay at home order- lockdown till April 2 in order to contain coronavirus. There is no other effective option than the lockdown at present to protect people.
Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ishwor Pokhrel is heading the high level committee on prevention and control of COVID-19. The National News Agency (RSS) had taken a special interview with DPM and coordinator Pokhrel on how the government was working to cope up this crisis and what preparedness was. RSS Chairman Harihar Adhikari Shyamal and reporter Ramesh Lamshal took the interview at DPM's office in Sinha Durbar on Tuesday. Here is the excerpt:
After the government enforced lockdown, many Nepalis have crowded at border demanding entry. What's the government doing to address their problems when it allowed entry for once?
We initially banned the people's movement via Nepal-India and Nepal-China borders. It is effective only for people's movement not for transport of goods and surveillance. The decision is not for the sake of certain section of society nor for the party in the government but for the entire people. Decisions are directed by need, not sentiment. It is for everyone's protection.
Although our people's demand to enter Nepal from India at a time of crisis must be respected, only sentiment does not work here. It is also taken positively by the Indian side too. We had decided to close the border before India imposed lockdown. They were allowed entry once in view of the pandemic, but on condition of quarantine stay. However it was not fully implemented in some areas.
We later urged those (Indians) in Nepal and Nepalis in India to stay in respective places. Arrangement of food and shelter to them is managed by both countries- India to Nepalis and Nepal to Indians. If the Indian government or its Embassy wants their people back, we allow it. If not, we don't ask them to leave citing safety, but provide facility within Nepal. The government has made it clear with Indian government.
As you are saying it, it is not fully implemented in practice. What's your response to it?
Now on wards, it will be practically implemented. It might not have been communicated well. It works well once the talk is held at higher level.
In terms of addressing people's sentiment too, it may sound illogical to now allow them enter home?
Here, being sentimental does not work. Present situation is different- safety of entire nation and the people. Making a decision in haste can be disastrous. Clear decision is needed not the vacillation with 'if', 'but'. After the agreement on high level leaderships between Nepal and India, those beyond border would be provided food and shelter by the Indian side and Nepal government to the Indians here.
Some Nepalis have entered the country all swimming in the Mahakali River and many are crowded at border in Kaiali. What about them?
As I stated earlier, the disaster has befallen all of us. One becomes quickly emotional seeing the situation- swimming the river to enter homeland, and homeland bans the entry. But, it warrants further seriousness. We both countries have ensured necessary arrangement for the people stranded in both sides.
Isn't it the Nepal government's responsibility- preparedness to crises?They have been demanding further help from government, saying they had no place to stay. Can't Nepal government address such sensitivity?
It is natural to have adversity in crisis. They might have been chased away. But, they must stay where they are now. We'd already issued notice of lockdown here. They may have come thinking they could be allowed. I respect their aspiration. Awareness and precaution is essential at such stage. Citizen's alertness helps make situation better.
As the COVID-19 risk is growing, those in the frontline- health and medical workers, Nepal Army, Nepal Police, Armed Police and volunteers need adequate safety. And it is said the safety is in dearth. Citing this, they have said it’s difficult to work. And, some have made provocative comments too. What’s your say on this?
This is not only the issue of question-answer. Today, doctors and health workers are in the frontline to combat the infection and face this crisis. Driving ambulances and taking patients in the hospital is also alike. They have been working with full commitment. Their jobs should be respected. By considering this very fact, the government has ensured 100 per cent allowance to them as long as they are involved in this job. Same provision is applicable to those remaining in the second layer too. Insurance of Rs 2.5 million is ensured. We all are ready for sacrifices.
We had not materials for excellent management. Amid such crisis, we brought equipment from China and dispatched them in five states. We even had no laboratory in Sudur Paschim, Karnali, Gandaki and Stata-2. We only had a single lab at Teku, Kathmandu.
In the first phase, we set up labs in Nepalpajung, Dharan and Pokhara by bringing in PCR machine from China. Also, we send personal protective equipment (PPE) and kits as well. Though insufficient, the works have started there and the materials are being supplied again. We will send highly-essential goods in all places.
This is the time of crisis. During the crisis period, normal things won’t be sufficient and we need to get mentally and physically prepared. State should play its role in the same manner. We will let no one die of hunger- untimely.
Despite the initiatives and efforts of the local levels for the implementation of the federal government, reports have been released about their insufficiency. What managements are expected to make them further systematic?
The Cabinet meeting held on 29 March took exclusive decisions on relief packages with the purpose to dole out support where needed. We have set up COVID-19 Management Centre (CMC), which is in my own leadership and different ministers are its members.
We have to seriously test the individuals, ensure contact tracing and bring them to the labs for tests. They need to be taken to the dedicated hospital for the critical treatment process. Balambu-based hospital of Armed Police Force is designated as a dedicated hospital and hospitals have been set up with the efforts of the state governments. Nepal Army’s hospital at Chhauni is fixed as the CMC and now work will begin from there.
Some pharmacies have shut down in Kathmandu Valley in the ongoing lockdown and a situation has been created where people are not getting even the basic drugs. Is government paying attention towards this?
We had low quantity of production. The stocks could have run out after the crisis. There are also problems for lack of normal situation of transportation. On the other hand, we can’t deny the presence of wrongdoers. Now, we have forwarded the G2G process to bring materials from any country through CMC for supplies management.
Did the government talk to the drugs suppliers and retailers? Here lies the concern of commoners. Is this not a serious issue- not getting basic drugs?
After the formation of high-level committee, we held consultations by inviting leaders of all political parties with the determination of national consensus and commitment. Also, we talked to the Chief Ministers and Social Development Ministers of the States. Likewise, we held talks with drugs producers. As gaps were witnessed, we now have thought to talk with the retailers too.
Is there any realization for the revitalization of state-owned Nepal Drugs Limited?
We will do many things in the long-term but now we have to focus on troubleshooting current problems. It was unfortunate that we missed that despite possibilities from the perspective of long-term works. Maybe the medicines produced by the private sector are not availed. There may be some role of fear during the time of crisis. But, these all will be resolved soon.
Private hospitals are not admitting even the normal patient as fever affected children in this critical hour while they import equipments of millions rupees seeking custom exemption. Isn't it their duty at such situation to treat patients? Aren't they disobeying the state?
The fact is different. We have the attitude to seek only negative side. Some of the hospitals including Grande, HAMS, Norvic International have established isolation wards for the treatment of COVID-19 positive patients. Some medical colleges have proposed their college buildings for quarantine and isolation wards but the media only see negative aspect.
Are you meant it is only due to lack of proper dissemination of factual news?
There might be a problem in disseminating the news in well managed way. The Armed Police Force’s Hospital is developed as a dedicated health facility to treat the patients in case of possible deadly outbreak of epidemic. State hospitals are also alert. As the coordinator of the committee, I want to you assure that private hospitals and medical colleges buildings would be developed as isolation and quarantine centre if needed.
The government has announced some relief package to the daily wage earners and poor and needy ones. What is the plan of government in implementing it in practical way?
The local governments are in direct touch of the people and elected representatives are more concerned and accountable in this matter. The local and State level relief funds are established in each State and local levels for the purpose. If such funds were not enough, the federal government would assist them. The fund will be fully utilized for the targeted people in this critical situation and federal government is coordinating with them.
Government has recently purchased medical equipments to fight against possible outbreak of deadly COVID-19. However, some people are raising question on the way it is purchased questioning transparency. Do you clarify it from government side?
It’s time to save people's life. The government had announced bidding to purchase these equipments issuing a three-day timeframe but none came in the process. Therefore it was given to those who came meeting requirement. We have followed due process maintaining the transparency but some middlemen are creating baseless rumor.
I just want to condemn such baseless matter. Such men were making the mockery of the government, saying it cannot import the medical equipment. Whenever the equipments are brought here then they started creating rumour in the name of irregularity. But the fact is different. We are working honestly to save the nation in this critical hour. The Director General of Health Service Division of the Ministry of Health and Population has further clarified the matter. Therefore, there is not any confusion regarding the equipment purchasing process.
Some Nepalis abroad as well as the NRNA have expressed their willingness to bring medical appliances including test-kits for COVID-19 to Nepal. Is government aware of it?
Thanks to all those who have contributed to this cause. The test-kits for COVID-19 are in Guangzhou, China. Whoever is willing to fly them to Nepal, we are willing to support them on the part of cargo facility. Whoever says that they have already arranged medical equipment but need the government’s support to bring them Nepal, we are ready to facilitate to fly those stuffs to Nepal.
But is there anyone who have stepped forwarded and said so? Hence, (clarifying) let's not just talk. Let's walk the talk. The government flew the medical appliances from China to Nepal with whatever possible means it had. The government also called for support from the private sector but to no avail.
When no one was coming forth for this task, we sprang into action and brought the medical appliances from China without sparing any time.
We did not mull about monitory aspect nor others for we did not want any Nepali citizens die of COVID-19. Medical test and treatment was needed on time to put in place. We have, however, followed all the procedure to procure these goods from China.
How confident are you that if we step into prompt action at the time of medical crisis like this, it would help dawn a new dimension and set up a new base for development of the country?
Crisis is certainly not a good thing but having said that there’s always an opportunity with crisis too. The crisis this time taught us early preparedness, plans and how to respond to this kind of epidemic in future. (Explaining further) We’ve learned what kind of human resources and physical infrastructures and mindset we should build if epidemic and pandemic like this hit us in future again.
There’s Disasters Relief and Rescue Committee under the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Committee must be working in the crisis like this. Any attention paid towards its mobilization?
This Committee generally deals with natural disasters like flood, landslide and arson among others. The latest situation is a different scenario. COVID-19 outbreak is a global health threat now. It is a pandemic hitting hard to almost all countries and people across the world, not specifically to any caste, community and groups.
Of course, the human civilization has incurred so much of loss by this pandemic but it has also taught some new lessons. The current coronavirus turned out to be the most dangerous and different type of infection.
As a coordinator of the high level committee on prevention and control of COVID-19, what would you like to say to all the Nepalis to assure them of government’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak?
The current infection is jeopardizing human civilization, culture and prosperity achieved so far. Our fight is to safeguard the human civilization. We should not take sides of this or that political parties, rather we all should be untied in the fight against this deadly virus.
The way our health workers are providing services at such a crisis is very commendable. The security personnel are also providing services consistently risking their own lives. The media have also disseminated news and analysis with the positive viewpoint towards the government’s actions against COVID-19. It is also equally commendable.
Together we can win this fight. The victory depends upon our level of unity. The government is playing the part of guardian and leading the efforts to prevent and control the infection.
You are holding public post. You may have to be publicly accountable and furnish clarity. What's your view on it?
Whoever is assigned for whatever post, duties should fulfill those responsibilities. Some people ask me why I am taking such a risk. I don’t have time to oversee other activities beyond my jurisdiction and duties. One should diligently get the activities done he/she is assigned.
This is not a fight of a particular government or political parties. It’s a common agenda. We are in it together and if we win, we all win, if we lose, we all lose. That’s why we should fight this battle in unison.
I urge citizens to wash hands properly, stay indoors and comply with the code recommended by the government at this juncture of the time. We can save ourselves and so many lives by doing so.