Traffic jams and soaring pollution levels are back. Political leaders are organising mass rallies, far more focused on fighting each other than any virus. If poorer Nepalis are struggling with the dire economic fallout from Covid-19, on the surface, at least, it appears daily life in the capital, Kathmandu, is back to normal.
“It’s as if nothing has happened. The nightclubs are crowded. Schools and colleges are reopening. Sports venues are full. It doesn’t seem like there is any Covid,” says Sameer Mani Dixit, a public health specialist. “It defies logic.”
With a weak public health system, families of several generations sharing crowded accommodation and a vast migrant workforce returning from India, the coronavirus looked likely to take a serious toll in Nepal, one of Asia’s poorest countries.
Instead, the infection rate has fallen steadily, from an average of 3,000 daily cases in October to about 300 in January. Last week, Nepal recorded its first day since August without a Covid-related death. In total, just over 2,000 people have died since the beginning of the outbreak, in a population of nearly 30 million.
“The number of cases is definitely going down. The hospital admission rate is very low … Overall, it seems the virus has been contained at this stage,” says Basu Dev Pandey, a former director of the government’s Epidemiology and Disease Control Division.
Experts say it is difficult to pinpoint the reasons behind the country’s apparently low rate of infection, owing to a lack of reliable data, but Dr Anup Subedi, an infectious disease physician, points out that there has been limited testing and warns that the country is still vulnerable to new strains. “If new variants come, herd immunity doesn’t matter. Everyone becomes vulnerable again. My big fear is that this thing can explode again and we don’t have the measures in place to respond,” he says.