Nepali billionaire says the country underestimated its second Covid wave


Health workers wearing protective suits spray disinfectant on children during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the Covid-19 coronavirus, on a deserted road in Kathmandu on May 3, 2020.
Prakash Mathema | AFP | Getty Images

Nepal underestimated its second wave of Covid-19 infections and needs to step up its efforts to address the crisis, Nepali billionaire Binod Chaudhary said last week. The country also should not hold its elections until the situation stabilizes, he said.

“I must admit, we probably underestimated, as a nation, the intensity of the second wave,” he told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” on Friday.

The South Asian country’s Covid cases surged in April and continued to hit new record highs in May.

As of May 30, Nepal has reported 557,124 coronavirus infections and 7,272 deaths, according to data from local health authorities.

The situation is similar to what’s playing out in neighboring India, which has the second highest number of cases in the world.

Chaudhary, chairman of Nepal-based CG Corp Global, said the first wave was bad enough and the country was “crippled” for around three months, though it managed to recover.

“This time, it’s worse,” he said.

Health-care system

Nepal’s medical system is under immense pressure, with a lack of oxygen, ventilators and intensive care beds, he said.

World Bank data shows that in 2018, Nepal only had 0.749 physicians per 1,000 people. That’s lower than 0.857 in India and 2.812 in the U.K. in the same year.

Inoculations in Nepal have been hampered by supply, and only around 2.25% of the country’s 29 million residents are fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data.

“We were counting on India,” Chaudhary said.

India is a manufacturing hub for vaccines and has donated shots to neighboring countries. Nepal also purchased doses, but India stopped exports in February to prioritize domestic demand.

“We’re looking for other sources of supply,” he said. “We need to step up all our efforts rapidly.”

This country needs to be kept safe and protected.
Binod Chaudhary
CG Corp Global

He added that CG Corp Global has mobilized its network and is helping to bring oxygen and ventilators into Nepal. The company’s nonprofit arm has donated around $1 million to help deal with the health emergency.

Chaudhary called on the world to “give special emphasis to countries such as Nepal” when it comes to vaccines.

“This country needs to be kept safe and protected,” he said. Nepal shares a border with both India and China, and is “strategically located, yet small,” he said, predicting that the problem could be solved “pretty quickly.”

Various nations have sent aid in the form of medical supplies and personal protective equipment. China has reportedly donated 800,000 doses of its Sinopharm-developed vaccine to Nepal.

General elections in November

Chaudhary, who is an opposition member of parliament, said he wishes that all parties would put Covid-related challenges first and try to make Nepal safe.

“Sadly, that’s not the case,” he said. Nepal’s parliament was dissolved in December, but the move was reversed after the Supreme Court deemed it unconstitutional.

On May 22, however, President Bidya Devi Bhandari dissolved the parliament and called for an election in November. Reuters reported that opposition Nepali Congress party said it will launch a political and legal fight against the dissolution.

Most opposition parties find the timing unacceptable, Chaudhary said. It should be held when the country’s health and economic situation is back on track, he said.

That could happen in less than six months, but only if vaccines and medical equipment are secured for Nepal, he predicted.

As cases continue to rise, Chaudhary said calling for an election is ironic and unfortunate.

“While the house is on fire, we are still fighting (over) who’s going to sleep in the master bedroom.”

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