While the world’s eyes are focused on the pandemic catastrophe in India, neighbouring Nepal is plunging into the same morass. “What is happening in India right now is a horrifying preview of Nepal’s future if we cannot contain this latest Covid surge that is claiming more lives by the minute,” said the chair of the Nepal Red Cross.
Hospitals are already overwhelmed. Nepal has only 0.7 doctors per 100,000 people (a lower figure than India) and fewer than 600 ventilators for its population of 30 million. The mountains and dirt roads of this landlocked country make the logistics very challenging.
A strict two-week lockdown due to end on 12 May has been extended for a further 15 days in and around the capital Kathmandu. But Nepal’s long and porous border with India, crossed frequently by Nepali migrant workers, and a haphazard vaccination programme mean that the coronavirus is virtually impossible to hold back.
For poor Christians, the situation is disastrous. They cannot afford medical care, let alone quarantining in hotels as is now being done for wealthier Covid patients in Nepal. More than 15,000 churches are closed, leaving thousands of pastors penniless and struggling to feed their families, because there are no offerings collected in church meetings. Yet their church members, who have lost their jobs due to lockdown or persecution, continue to look to their pastors for practical help as well as spiritual care.
There is an issue with the burial of Christians dying of Covid. The government has refused to give land for their burial in Kathmandu and the bodies have to be taken 600 km to Nepalgunj, which, like the capital, is a Covid hotspot.