Across the border from a devastating surge in India, doctors in Nepal on Friday warned of a major crisis as daily coronavirus cases hit a record and hospitals were running out of beds and oxygen.
Nepal reported 9,070 new confirmed cases on Thursday, compared with 298 a month ago. More than 3,500 people have died since the pandemic began, 400 of them in the last two weeks alone, according to official figures.
“Right now there are no beds available today in any hospital that is treating COVID patients,”Jyotindra Sharma, chief of the Hospital for Advanced Medicine & Surgery in Kathmandu, told The Associated Press.
“Even if any beds were made available, there is a huge scarcity of oxygen and we are not at the peak of this crisis.”
At the hospital, one of the leading facilities in Nepal for treating COVID-19 patients, extra beds were crammed in to accommodate more people. They have all been taken and the only way to get admitted is through a waiting list.
“In the extreme situation, people could be dying in the streets,” Sharma said, adding it is “just not possible to immediately increase the capacity of the hospitals”.
At the government-run Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, several COVID-19 patients were lying in beds set up on the veranda and hooked to an oxygen cylinder. Others were turned away because there is not enough space or equipment.
“We are under-prepared, under-resourced, and under-capacitated to perform anything that is expected,” Bishal Dhakal, who has been working with coronavirus patients since the beginning of the pandemic, told the AP.
A lockdown was imposed last month in major cities and towns, and Nepal this week stopped both domestic and international flights.
“We are calling for the international community to act fast to avoid a human catastrophe,” Azmat Ullah of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies told Al Jazeera.
“Nobody is safe unless everybody is safe,” he added.
Appeal for international aid
Earlier this week Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli appealed to the international community to ensure the supply of vaccinations and medical supplies to help Nepal fight the virus.
Nepal’s vaccination campaign, which began in January, has faced uncertainty after only half of the ordered supplies from India were delivered.
In a country of 30 million, only 2.4 million shots from India and China have been administered, and only a small fraction of people have received both doses.
Even as cases rose in neighbouring India, mass gatherings including religious festivals, political meetings and weddings continued in the country.
Many Nepalis were also at India’s Kumbh Mela attended by millions of Hindu devotees, including the former king, Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah, and his queen, who have been hospitalised after testing positive.
Meanwhile, Al Jazeera’s Ramyata Limbu, reporting from Kathmandu, said Nepali workers were returning in huge numbers from India from places like Uttar Pradesh – yet there was a lack of quarantine and isolation centres.
“The health ministry did repeatedly warn the government about what would happen … but I guess it’s like the similar case in India where there was lull … in early January, February, when the cases were quite low. So we felt we were probably protected,” she said.
Last week, Nepal banned Indians from using Kathmandu as a transit point after Indian nationals increasingly flew out of Kathmandu following flight restrictions from India.