Government has banned gatherings of over 25 people, but its own agencies and House panel are ignoring the fiat

    The federal parliament has been postponed indefinitely and most of the government offices have been closed to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Similarly, the government has barred gatherings of more than 25 people.

    However, state agencies themselves are ignoring the order.

    The Parliamentary Hearing Committee on Monday held its meeting twice to approve the recommendation of Mahendra Pandey as the ambassador to China. The hearing committee, through its first meeting, finalised the modality to question Pandey and approved his recommendation from the second meeting.

    Officials at the Parliament Secretariat said the meeting was conducted because chances of having more than 25 people were minimal given the size of the committee.

    The committee has 15 members and 12 of them were present during the hearing. However, against the claim of the officials, more than 25 people were present in the meeting, including officials from the secretariat, security people and journalists, according to a lawmaker.

    “On Sunday, I had asked to postpone the hearing process but no one took my advice,” Bhimsen Das Pradhan, a member of the committee, told the Post. “Though there were only 12 lawmakers, the total presence was over 25.”

    According to Pradhan, deferring the hearing for some days wouldn’t have made much of a difference.

    Officials, however, say as it is uncertain how long the present crisis lasts, they decided to complete the hearing process.

    “Also, the ambassador’s appointment in Beijing is very necessary at this point,” Gopal Nath Yogi, acting general secretary at the federal parliament, told the Post.

    The position has been vacant after the government recalled Leela Mani Paudyal from China.

    The meeting unanimously endorsed the recommendation of Pandey, a former foreign minister and a professor.

    There are many instances that ambassadorial positions in different countries have been vacant for months. The ambassadorial berth in New Delhi remained vacant for over a year after Deep Kumar Upadhyay in October 2017 resigned to join politics. It was only in January last year the government appointed Nilambar Acharya, a former law minister, as the country’s ambassador to India.

    Pradhan says Parliament and the government that should be setting the examples haven’t refrained from holding the gatherings. He also criticised the press meet by the Health Ministry where dozens of people were present to listen to Bhanu Bhakta Dhakal, health minister.

    “As we are least equipped, maintaining social distancing is the only way to keep ourselves safe,” said Pradhan.

    Dhakal’s press meet, too, received a lot of flak, with many taking to social media to question if it was necessary and pointing at the irony that Dhakal held a press conference to share information of a new Covid-19 case in Nepal, to control which the government has banned people’s gatherings.

    “Was this crowd necessary? The information could have been disseminated through the state media and social media platform. Please let us avoid such practice,” a user wrote on Twitter.

    “This is insane.... why can't government hold these conferences live through Facebook, one national television channel? Editors must ensure the safety of the journos/staff,” wrote another user.

    Even on Sunday night, Communication Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada, also the finance minister, held a press conference to share the decisions taken by the Cabinet meeting earlier in the evening.

    Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak

    UPDATED as of March 24, 2020

    What is Covid-19?
    Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease, is an illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death. 

    How contagious is Covid-19?
    Covid-19 can spread easily from person to person, especially in enclosed spaces. The virus can travel through the air in respiratory droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. As the virus can also survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours, any contact with such surfaces can also spread the virus. Symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear, during which time the carrier is believed to be contagious.

    Where did the virus come from?
    The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December. The coronavirus is a large family of viruses that is responsible for everything from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). After an initial outbreak in Wuhan that spread across Hubei province, eventually infecting over 80,000 and killing more than 3,000, new infection rates in mainland China have dropped. However, the disease has since spread across the world at an alarming rate.   

    What is the current status of Covid-19?

    The World Health Organisation has called the ongoing outbreak a “pandemic” and urged countries across the world to take precautionary measures. As of Tuesday, Covid-19 had spread to 196 countries and infected more than 383,011 people with 16,585 deaths. In South Asia, Pakistan has reported the highest number of infections at 892, with six deaths. Nepal has so far reported two cases, in which one patient recovered.

    How dangerous is the disease?

    The mortality rate for Covid-19 is estimated to be 3.6 percent, but new studies have put the rate slightly higher at 5.7 percent. Although Covid-19 is not too dangerous to young healthy people, older individuals and those with immune-compromised systems are at greater risk of death. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, or those who’ve recently undergone serious medical procedures, are also at risk. 

    How do I keep myself safe?
    The WHO advises that the most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like your computers and phones. Avoid large crowds of people. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist for longer than a few days.

    Is it time to panic?

    No. The government has imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus. There is no need to begin stockpiling food, cooking gas or hand sanitizers. However, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions like the ones identified above.