NEW DELHI: With the pandemic situation in Nepal deteriorating fast, the next few months are likely to test its ties with India which is faced with its own difficulties in battling the deadly second wave of Covid-19.
As the minority KP Oli government remains positively inclined towards India, it’s hoping India will work in the next few weeks – from ramping up supply of liquid oxygen to providing ventilators and setting up ICU beds – to extricate Nepal from its predicament, a senior leader of the ruling party and Oli’s foreign policy advisor, Rajan Bhattarai, told TOI.
After losing the trust vote last week, Oli was back in the saddle in days as the opposition couldn’t cobble up a majority to form a government. While Oli was invited to take oath as the leader of the single largest party, Nepal is likely to go to polls if he fails to prove majority. Despite his pro-China image, Oli had worked hard to improve ties with India since late last year with his rival PK Dahal Prachanda even accusing him of dissolving the lower house of Parliament at India’s behest.
Even as support arrives from China in the form of medical supplies, including vaccines, Bhattarai said only India can help meet Nepal’s most urgent requirement which is liquid oxygen.
“The oxygen shortage is a matter of concern and while regular supplies have continued, the demand here has increased by 10 times. We are looking at additional supplies from India and our government is in touch with India for this,” said Bhattarai. Nepal is currently seeing around 8000 fresh Covid infections every day, with daily deaths anywhere between 150 and 200, and this has already strained the country’s health infrastructure.
A member of the central committee of the ruling party, Bhattarai said Nepal was also seeking India’s support for ensuring hospital bed availability with ventilators and ICU facilities. With India having stopped all vaccine export citing the domestic surge in infections, Nepal too is reeling under a vaccine shortage.
While Beijing has stepped in by donating 800000 doses of Chinese vaccines, it’s unlikely to keep Nepal’s vaccination programme going for long. “We understand the problem India is facing but we are only hoping Serum Institute of India will release the remaining consignment of 1 million doses for which we had signed a commercial agreement,. Many who had been inoculated with the Covishield vaccine are now waiting for their second dose” said Bhattarai. Nepal had signed a contract for 2 million doses with Serum, out of which only a million were delivered.
While exporting vaccines is out of question for the next several months, given India’s own situation, the government may have to quickly look for ways to help India as China uses the crisis to enhance its influence in Nepal. Even civil society groups in Nepal are now appealing to China for assistance in the form of oxygen and vaccines.