In order to contain the COVID-19 pandemic across the country, the government is involved in prevention, control and treatment. The stay-at-home order issued on March 24 is still in force and the government has widened the scope of COVID-19 tests in the districts.
However, the ongoing lockdown order has hit the overall economic activities and the working class people, especially the daily wagers are at the receiving end. Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has announced that no one will die of hunger and for lack of treatment in the country. Against this backdrop, Editor-In-Chief Shyam Rimal and Senior Reporter Prakash Silwal of RSS along with representatives of the state-owned media houses recently talked to Prime Minister Oli at the latter’s official residence. Excerpts:
Q. The situation of coronavirus in Nepal is under control in compared to many countries across the world. However there has lately been a rise in the number of infected peopl. This has also raised concerns whether we carried out tests on time. What is your assessment on it?
Ans: Coronavirus is serious adversity the humankind is facing in the world today. This dreadful pandemic is raging across the whole world. This is a serious challenge that we have faced after centuries. To remain safe from its infection, Nepal adopted some measures on time. We would have prevented the arrival of foreigners from air routes quite before but there was no situation where we can move alone or separately from the global system.
There could emerge questions why only Nepal suspended the international flights at a time other countries were not doing so. The disease has not taken the pandemic form in Nepal, thanks to suspension of the international border points and health precautions. Whatsoever, we issued the lockdown order. Health security, implementation of the World Health Organization’s standards, advancement in our own learning and promptness in the treatment of the infected are ongoing by maintaining social distancing along with other precautions.
The testing system of COVID-19 has now been expanded to all the 77 districts. Medical supplies and human resources have been deployed to all sites and the RDT and PRC tests are expedited by identifying the infected and tracing the possible cases. It may be noted that the first case was confirmed after tests in Hong Kong. Only after the second case, we started to take tests in Nepal.
Q. Are you thinking to change the modality of lockdown as it is affecting the normal life of public though it is important and other developed countries have also opted for the same modality?
PM: We are working to reduce the impact of the pandemic. We are launching awareness campaigns to combat possible outbreak and fatal effects. We have extended the testing bids by searching for suspected ones. International borders have been sealed off. We have prioritized the human lives, which cannot be compared in terms of economic loss and gain. Lockdown has been issued to secure the lives of the people, which is aimed at containing the virus from further spreading.
Q: Are you thinking any alternate to the lockdown order or how long will it go?
PM: It’s an effective way to control the deadly COVID-19pandemic. It was not the will of the government as it was for the betterment of the people. We have adopted other methodologies including maintaining social distancing, using the preventing measures and many more. Gradually, economic activities could resume after analyzing the gravity of its effect and the threat of coronavirus should be brought to an end. It should not be interpreted as a political issue because it is only the way to save the life of people and it is adopted across the globe.
It may be noted that the rate of damage is seen more where there is no effective lockdown order therefore it could not be interlinked with any political ideology and governance system. I want to recall the UN Secretary General’s appeal. We further want to urge the world community to support the common appeal of Non-Alignment Movement (NAM) to be called on coming May 5 to fight against the common enemy of the world.
Meanwhile, the issue of loosening is not as big as it could be ended but control of COVID-19 matters first. I want to highlight that the health system of the country and infrastructure development regarding the health sectors in each district would be revamped.
Q: How do you interpret the issue of effective management of PPE and other medical stuffs and controversy surrounding procurement of medical supplies?
PM: I want to repeat my commitment to corruption control. I never compromise on it. I am here for developing the nation and not to make money and let others to do so. However, some issues are distorted and manipulated that all corruption cases were made by this government, but the reality is that the previous cases of corruption made by the erstwhile governments were disclosed by this government. One thing is for sure that the journey towards good governance is long.
The Prime Minister does not involve himself in the procurement process like previous ones (prime ministers). Those who did those things in the past now have been spreading the rumor. Making agreements related to the health equipment and scrapping them is the responsibility of the concerned department of Health Ministry. I knew about the decision to scrap the agreement from a press briefing. Making publicity by linking Prime Minister and Council and Ministers in this issue is ludicrous.
It is encouraged with a mentality to spread illusion among the people and making the government failure. Action would be taken against those involved in irregularities. The authorized bodies and persons should use it in an appropriate manner. Action will be taken if anyone is found involved in wrongdoings but we should not discourage the people working in an unfavorable situation by suspecting them.
Q: There are mechanisms like cabinet, High-Level Coordination Committee and CCMC for the Prevention and Treatment of COVID-19. How is the coordination, work division and implementation among such bodies? Who is responsible?
PM: It is the responsibility of all of us. Each individual is a warrior in this fight. The cabinet makes policy-level decision and issues directives. The high-level committee is responsible for coordination. The CCMC makes arrangement for materials, determines priorities and exchanges information. Nepal Army, Nepal Police and the private doctors will be mobilized. We have prepared necessary human resources. It is not right to say that the government did not make any preparation or became failure. It is not true.
Q: Most of labourers, workers inside the country as well as Nepali citizens in India have started their painful long-distance journey towards their destinations due to the lockdown. How is the government thinking of dealing with this situation?
PM: Let’s inform the bodies concerned immediately if workers, labourers and other unemployed are found heading on a painful journey towards their hometown from Kathmandu as well as returning home from India following the extension of lockdown. There is ‘Hello Sarkar’ and there are 20 people standby round-the-clock. Inform them. We all should involve to resolve this situation in a constructive way. The media could also inform by uploading information immediately rather than next day in this situation. We have also been feeling that the general people have been facing problem in this complex situation. First of all, we all should be united to save life from coronavirus infection.
Q: How have arrangements been made to ensure regular supplies of daily essentials during the lockdown?
PM: To ensure supply of daily essentials, shopping centres have been opened at various locations. Inflation has not taken place and use of induction ovens has been encouraged. The country is not under starvation. Action has been taken against those selling adulterated food items. The government is for the poor and helpless people. There is a situation in the country where all can live. If not, why the government has brought the people’s housing programme?
Q: Many Nepalis in India are calling for help to return home. Some have been stranded at Nepal’s border with India. Situation of Nepali migrant workers in the Gulf countries is worsening. What do you think about it?
PM: They must be brought back home. We want to bring them back home when coronavirus is wiped out. We have asked concerned authorities to quarantine those who have been stranded at Nepal’s borders or let them stay at hotels at per their wish. It has been found that some of them refused the direction to be quarantined or stay at hotels, but stayed in the no man’s lands instead.
We have held talks with respective governments to manage food and accommodation for Nepalis who have been stranded across Nepal’s borders. We will open the borders after viewing India’s infection situation. We won’t let Sudur Paschim State become the epicentre of coronavirus. At this time of emergency, we should not seek rights to mobility as guaranteed by the Constitution of Nepal, but be safe from the infection. I have held series of talks with my counterparts of the countries where Nepalis are living.
In this regard, I have held dialogues with heads of the governments of various countries including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. And other mechanisms in Nepal have engaged in talks with concerned authorities in foreign countries. Governments in the respective countries have told that they would make necessary arrangements for Nepali migrant workers and students there. So there is no situation where we should be much worried.
Q: There are talks about providing immediate reliefs to workers and working class people. But this will have long term impact on the country’s economy. Are preparations in place to address this situation in the government’s upcoming policies, programmes and budget?
PM: We will manage food and accommodation for all Nepalis. The situation would have been different had coronavirus not occurred. Our goals of development and prosperity would have taken pace. The aspiration of ‘Prosperous Nepali, Happy Nepalis’ continues to exist. But the country free of coronavirus would become prosperous. First priority is people’s life at this point of time. People’s life should be saved at this difficult situation. We must make people who have not contributed to country’s economy feel that they have right to live. Everyone including the poor, industrialists, business persons are affected by this crisis. All workers, farmers, industrialists and business persons have right to live. Appropriate policies and programmes would be brought in view of this crisis.
Q: Though government is working, talks have taken place about the formation of a high level mechanism to deal with coronavirus. But why did you reject this proposal?
PM: I want to ask this question to those who have put forward this proposal: which country has formed such mechanism to fight the infection? There have been support and cooperation from all political parties, sectors and people for the steps the government has taken against coronavirus. The government is ready to accept appropriate suggestions from all sides. The government is coordinating in an appropriate way. The government will fulfill its responsibilities as per the constitution and laws.
Q: It seems the government and the political parties are divided at a time when the government and party leadership should unite and coordinate at this serious situation. It seems there have been disputes between former groups and other camps in the party after the unification.
PM: The government is united. It is moving ahead in the same rhythm and pace. There might be a delay in becoming adapted to our pace as we have the structure of an old bureaucracy mechanism. However, I won’t blame the civil servants. They may have taken time to come up with this new spirit. Party is also united. There have been supports of all to the government. RSS