Risk Governance during any disaster is considered to be the role of government agencies. The COVID-19 pandemic, is a major crisis with the number of cases rising alarmingly throughout the world. Up until March 31st 2020, Coronavirus has infected 802,556, with 39,012 deaths and 172,319 recovered based on COVID-19 monitor data.
As a response to the COVID-19 outbreak, most countries have taken several bold measures targeted towards health recovery and virus containment. These interventions vary from country to country. Some of the significant measures witnessed include: travel bans on immigration and emigration to prevent transboundary transmission, screening at ports of entry, closures of schools and other public places, nation-wide lockdown and restrictions on gatherings, amongst many others.
In this blog we bring brief overview of Policy Actions taken by the Government in two of the South Asian countries: India and Nepal.
Case of India
The first advisory regarding Novel coronavirus was issued by the Government of India on 17th January’20, even when there was little evidence on human to human transfer and it was stated by WHO that the risk of global spread is low. A basic public health advisory was issued by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MoHFW) to travellers visiting China. MoHFW also instructed thermal screening of travelers from China at Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata airport.
The first case of COVID-19 in India was reported on 30th January’20 from the state of Kerala. On 2nd February’20, the second case from Kerala was reported of a person with a travel history of China. Travel advisories were revised to refrain people from traveling to China along with the temporary suspension of the e-Visa facility.As the third positive case from Kerala was reported, a high-level meeting of the Group of Ministers was conducted on February 3, 2020. India proactively traced each patient’s travel history, and the people they came in contact with.
As the number of cases were increasing steadily, the Government of India (GOI) was keeping a close eye on the situation. Indian citizens from Wuhan were soon airlifted to India and quarantine facilities were set up in a speedy manner with the support of defense forces. Mass awareness programs were taken up by the local government as well as various non-governmental organisations. Telecom operators came forward with an amazing idea of putting awareness messages as caller tunes of their subscribers, which in turn reached to millions on a daily basis.
Eventually India witnessed the transition from Stage I to Stage II in the mid of March. The authorities took several bold steps to combat the transmission. Schools were directed to be closed, followed by Universities, gymnasiums, shopping complexes and other public places. The GoI invoked the Disaster Management Act, 2005 on 13 March’20 and various states invoked the Epidemic Disease Act, 1897 around the same time. GoI also directed remote or virtual operation of businesses and offices. Only people with essential work were advised to venture out.
On the clarion call of the Hon’ble Prime Minister, Janta Curfew was observed nationwide on 22nd March 2020 as the ‘beginning of a long battle’. Soon a complete 21 days Nation-wide Lockdown was declared by PM Modi on 25th March 2020. During this on-going lockdown, the government made exceptions for the people engaged in essential services to move out of their houses. However, they too require essential service passes approved by the central government. In certain States like Delhi, an online pass distribution portal has been created for inter-and intra-district movement so that people don't queue up at the government offices.
While the nation-wide lockdown was an essential step towards preventing community transmission, it also was and is a financial burden on most of the general populace. As a remedy to the same, the Finance Minister of India announced a Relief package of INR 1.70 lakh crore for providing aid to the poor people on 26 March’20. Furthermore, the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PM CARES) Fund has been institutionalised as a Public Charitable Trust to deal with the never-before challenge posed by COVID-19 pandemic. The World Bank on 1st of April’20 has granted 1 billion USD as loan to the Indian government for a proposed emergency response and health systems preparedness project.
Indeed, the country is facing many challenges owing to its huge population, vast territory, limited resources and severity of situation. The government agencies are working their level best to contain the spread of COVID-19 pandemic. At this point, the onus is not only on the government but also on all-of-the-society to understand that these apparent draconian measures are for the greater good!
Case of Nepal
The first case in Nepal was reported in January 2020. Following the suspicion of four cases in the first week of March’20, health workers were deployed for screening of international passengers at the airport.
On 7th March’20, fearing the possible spread of the virus, on-arrival visas for passengers from China, South Korea, Japan, Iran, and Oman were suspended temporarily. Further, on 18th March 2020, Nepal’s Deputy Prime Minister took the decision to ban passengers from coming in or going out, both Nepalese and foreigners from 20th March to 15th April 2020. The government ordered closure of schools, colleges, cinema halls, gyms, clubs, and museums as well as gathering of more than 25 people & socio-religious activities until April 30.
However, after identifying the possibility of increase in the number of cases, the Government ordered nationwide lockdown from 24th March till 31st March initially that has now been extended till April 7, allowing the movements of the essential services only.
Fig 1: First case of COVID-19 in Nepal travelled from Wuhan, China
The outbreak has taken a huge toll on the economy of Nepal, severely affected industries include the tourism industry, aviation sector, international trade & remittance inflow. The Visit Nepal 2020 event has been cancelled too.
The government has been taking suitable measures to cushion the impact. The Ministry of Finance (MoF) is willing to review the subsidy policy for exports-oriented industry as well as industries that are affected by the pandemic. Banks are directed to ascertain the impacted borrowers and be flexible, based on recovery plans submitted by the borrowers. Relief packages including discounts on electricity, internet, voice call packages, food supplies for daily wagers have also been announced?. Food aid for the deprived with special priority for expecting mothers, orphans, the disabled or those with chronic diseases have been arranged.
In addition, many companies especially those in the tourism sector have been asked to pay salaries for March-April to employees, the landlords to not demand one-month rent from daily wage earners and private schools not to charge one-month fee from students. Nepal Tourism Board has been taking care of tourists stuck in Nepal with efforts of providing free accomodation and food services and is also planning to send them back to their respective countries in close coordination with their embassies. The Coronavirus Control High-level Task Force has also passed a law to imprison those who do not stay in 14 days quarantine after returning from abroad with the penalty of up to six months in jail.
Presently there have been 1060 tests done and only 5 have been tested positive and are now in isolation. Although, the past week has witnessed a rapid escalation of cases. The government is in the process of taking necessary steps along with the nationwide lockdown and shutdown of flight operation that is already in place.
This article is contributed by: Ms. Garima Khera and Ms. Disha Dwivedi from India; Ms. Ankita Shah & Ms. Sriya Gajurel from Nepal
Special mentions to our reviewers: Dr. Ranit Chatterjee, Dr. Repaul Kanji & Ms. Ambika Dabral from India