The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic was confirmed in Nepal with an exponential rise in the number of cases in April 2021. On April 1, 152 cases were recorded which jumped to 4,897 on April 28, 2021. In May, the positivity rate, which was amongst the highest globally, was hovering around 45% nationally, with a transmission rate of 1.8%. The events and timeline of the second wave have been subdivided into the following themes and illustrated as following:
With the second wave of the novel coronavirus being confirmed from April 2021, the country was swift in implementing lockdown measures to tackle the pandemic. In Kathmandu valley, the District Administration Office (DAO) imposed a complete lockdown from April 29, 2021, which extended till June 21. After June 21, the lockdown was gradually lifted, with certain fortnightly relaxations. Similarly, other districts with a spike in cases also followed the prohibitory orders and as of May 12, 72 out of 77 districts in Nepal were under a lockdown. Currently, the country is following a modality of “smart lockdown” till July 16th, with minimal restrictions like restrictions on mass gatherings, dine-in at restaurants, the opening of gyms and schools. Additionally, to ensure adequate medical supplies to fight the virus, the government also waived customs duty, VAT, and excise duty for medical goods including oxygen cylinders, oxygen concentrators, and oxygen plants.
The first week of the prohibitory order saw a gradual rise in the number of infections. A total of 13,560 tests were conducted across the country of which 4,831 were confirmed positive on the first day while 8,605 came out positive of 21,372 tests done on the seventh day. With infections rising on an unprecedented scale, national testing efforts were also ramped up, especially along the borders and major cities. In about a week, the infection rate peaked causing a severe shortage of essential medical supplies including supplement oxygen and even hospital beds. A total of 9,317 cases were confirmed out of 21,316 tests administered on May 11 making this the highest recorded infection in a single day throughout the second wave. Simultaneously, the Nepal government confirmed the detection of the B.1.617.2 variant of coronavirus, which is a mutated variant of the B.1.1.7 variant detected earlier in January. With the onset of this variant, the number of cases in children and the younger population started to go up. The number of infections recorded in children aged 0-9 years on May 11 was 246, 10-19 was 686 and 20-29 was 2010 whereas that just a month earlier on April 14 was 22, 48, and 138 for the young population aged 0-9, 10-19 and 20-29 simultaneously. On May 19, the death toll peaked at 246 in twenty-four hours making this the highest recorded number of deaths in the second wave to date. Thereafter, on June 21 the Ministry of Health and Population confirmed the presence of highly infectious K417N (Delta variant), a sub-lineage of B.1.617.2 variant of coronavirus in Nepal. As of 27 July 2021, the total infections of COVID-19 stands at 742,817, the number of people recovered from stands at 647,079 and the number of deaths at 9,758.
The provincial breakdown of RT-PCR positive cases is shown in the Figure below:
Bagmati province was the most affected region with Kathmandu Valley being the hub of infections but the Terai districts bordering India showed signs of the second wave on a much more extensive scale compared to the first wave. October 21, 2020, witnessed the highest daily cases recorded with 5,743 new infections when the positivity rate in females was 32% whereas that of males was 68%. On that day, the cases recorded in Kathmandu, Lalitpur, and Bhaktapur stood at 3,107 while those in Bake and Rupandehi were 109 and 241 respectively. In the same way, on May 11, the infection spread rate in females had increased to 37.64% whereas that of males had decreased to 62.36% since last year. The new infections recorded in Kathmandu, Lalitpur, and Bhaktapur stood at 3,927 while those in Bake and Rupandehi were 506 and 709 respectively. A comparison of daily new cases is shown in the chart below:
Nepal was one of the first few countries in the world that initiated the inoculation drive. Nepal started its vaccine drive on January 27, 2021, after receiving 1 million doses of the Covishield vaccine as a grant from India. 500,000 people were given the first dose under the first phase, which included health workers, government employees, sanitary workers, journalists, diplomats, and bank personnel. The government purchased an additional 2 million doses of Covishield from the Serum Institute of India. In February, the Serum Institute supplied 1 million doses but stopped shipment of additional doses, citing the coronavirus crisis in India. The remaining 1 million doses have not arrived yet, due to the shortage of vaccines in India and export restrictions on the vaccine as the cases surged during the devastating second wave.
Additionally, the government has also decided to administer the Astrazeneca vaccine as the booster dose for the elderly population waiting for their second dose of the Covishield vaccine, as procurement of Covishield is not possible for the time being.
At the end of March, 800,000 doses of Vero Cell were brought in from China, which Beijing had provided under grant assistance. The second phase of Nepal’s vaccine drive started on April 7, 2021. The government began administering the second dose of the Vero Cell from May 16 to May 25. An additional 1 million doses of Vero Cell under Chinese grant then arrived again in June for which the inoculation drive commenced from June 8. However, the vaccination drive came to halt as the allotted number of jabs finished earlier than expected. However, the drive was resumed on June 14, with four hospitals designated to provide the services.
Nepal is also set to receive 4 million doses of Sinopharm vaccine, under a non-disclosure agreement, as proposed by Sinopharm. The cost price of the vaccine remains unknown; however, it is said to be around USD 20 for two doses. The first consignment of the total purchase, around 800,000 doses, arrived in Nepal on July 9.
On July 12, Nepal received 1.5 million doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The vaccine was provided by the United States through the COVAX facility. The country is also set to receive 1.6 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine as a grant from Japan from the same facility.
As of July 28, 2021, of the total number of people vaccinated, 3.46 million have received their first dose while only 1.46 million have received both doses.
Table: Details of Vaccines Procured
|Vero Cell||4 million|
|Received as Grants|
|Vero Cell||1 million|
|Johnson & Johnson||1.5 million|
Timeline of the vaccination drive
|January 27 – March 5||Covishield First Dose|
|March 7- March 15||Covishield Second Dose|
|April 7||Vero Cell First Dose|
|May 16- May 25||Vero Cell Second Dose|
|June 8- June 11||Vero Cell|
|June 14||Vero Cell (at limited hospitals)|
|July 6||Vero Cell|
|July 11||Vero Cell and Johnson & Johnson|
Relief Measures from the world
As the country saw nationwide prohibitory orders in almost all parts of the country, international help started pouring in. Nepal saw an influx of medical supplies from China, Tibet Autonomous Region, Switzerland, South Korea, Japan, France, Thailand, the United Kingdom, EU member states, United Arab Emirates, Australia among several other international partners, as grants that were distributed all across the country.
On May 4, the United States Embassy in Nepal issued a press release stating assistance of USD 36.8 million and USD 3.1 million from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the US Department of Defense (DOD) for USD for fighting COVID-19. Additionally, USD 8.5 million was pledged for COVID-19 assistance. As of June 11, the total financial assistance from USAID and DOD was USD 56 million used for building medical capacity, scaling up community testing, and procurement of essential medical equipment among others. Similarly, according to the Embassy of Japan in Kathmandu, an extension of grant assistance of up to JPY 996 million (about NPR 1,096 million) was provided to the Government of Nepal to improve medical equipment and services to eight public hospitals in Nepal around mid-May.
Likewise, the Government of Nepal and the World Bank signed a USD 150 million (NPR 17.78 billion) concessional loan agreement to support Nepal’s resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The loan was directed at protecting the most vulnerable and supporting business growth by speeding ongoing large development projects to create jobs, accelerate markets and support green recovery.
Assistance provided during May and June to Nepal
|European Union (EU)||NPR 282 million|
|Finland (through EU humanitarian funding)||2 million surgical facemasks, 350,000 FFP2 masks, 52,500 pairs of vinyl gloves, and 30,000 isolation gowns|
|Finland||2,498,540 surgical masks, 349,920 KN95 masks, 164,500 vinyl gloves, 26,000 isolation gowns and 288,000 face shields|
|China||400 Oxygen cylinders, 10 ventilators, and other medical supplies|
|Non-Resident Nepali Association in collaboration with Middle East National Coordinating Councils and Nepali Embassy in Oman||560 Oxygen cylinders|
|Thailand||1 million surgical masks, 4,520 personal protective equipment, 10,000 surgical caps, and leg covers each, 5,000 face shields, 20,000 Rapid Antigen tests, 600 finger pulse oximeter, 1,500 digital thermometers, 1,000 body bags, 30 nasal cannulas, 8 automatic oxygen concentrators|
|Spain||Medical equipment worth 1 million Euros|
|Japan||JPY 996 million (NPR 1,096 million)|
|Switzerland||40 ventilators, oxygen concentrators, 1.1 million rapid antigen test kits and protective equipment including 110,000 KN95 masks, 50,000 gloves and 15,000 suits|
|South Korea||Medical supplies worth NPR 23.29 million (USD 200 thousand)|
|Non-Resident Nepali Association||560 regulators for oxygen cylinders|
|Temasek Foundation International (Singapore)||123,000 PCR test kits, 4,000 pulse oximeters, 2560 RNA extraction kit, 15 Tele ventilators, 50 Bi PAP Machine, 255,750 swab kits, 2 RNA extraction machine, 6 ventilators|
|United Kingdom||130 units CPaP (Vantura), 130 units BiPaP (Lumis), 19,200 Assorted Consumables, Eye Protector/ Face Shield (Visor) and 10 units of 10L oxygen Concentrators, 260 ventilators, and 19,200 face-shields|
|France||504,000 FFP2 Masks, 20,225 Antigenic tests, 12,000 Protection Glasses, 9 Osiris III respirators, and consumables, 5 Sirius-50 respirators, and consumables|
|Belgium||1 million surgical masks, 2,000 nasal oxygen cannulas|
|Korea||17,760 RT-PCR test kits|
|Germany||62 ventilators, 27,500 FFP2 masks, 30,000 surgical masks, 100 pairs of gumboots, 200 body bags, 5 isolation center tents, 25,000 L disinfectant|
|UNDP||200 units of biomedical oxygen concentrators 5L and 200 units of biomedical oxygen concentrators 10L|
|United Arab Emirates||243,600 mask, 75,000 face masks, 9,000 coverall, 15,000 gown , 20,000 goggles, 150 ventilator BiPAP, 150 trolleys|
|United Kingdom||19,000 units of medical gear and 10 oxygen concentrators|
|EU Member States – Slovenia, Austria and Malta||30,000 face masks, 100,000 gloves, 12,500 protective goggles, 100,000 protective masks, 600,000 non-sterile medical masks, 50,000 FFP2 masks, 1,000 pulse oximeters, 2,400 antigen tests, 130 infrared thermometers and 5,000 face shields|
|Italy (through EU Civil Protection Mechanism)||20 ventilators, 6,000 isolation gowns, and 10,000 protective overalls|
|Shanghai Jade Buddha Temple, China (representing the Shangpa Foundation)||500 oxygen concentrators, 5,000 disposable oxygen masks, 23,475 units of N99 and N95 surgical masks, 125,000 units of surgical and medical gloves, 2,180 goggles, 8,398 disinfectants, and 1,200 PPEs amounted to NPR 51.28 million.|
|World Bank||concessional loan amounting to USD 150 million (NPR 17.78 billion)|
|United States||On-going assistance from the beginning of the pandemic till date USD 70 million|
Amidst the second wave, the government of Nepal unveiled the annual budget for FY 2021/22 on May 29, with a total budget size of NPR 1647.57 billion. NPR 37.53 billion was allocated for the control and treatment of COVID-19, NPR 26.75 billion for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines, and NPR 4 billion for the procurement of medical equipment and testing kits. Soon after, provincial budgets for the upcoming year were unveiled amounting to NPR 261.82 billion with Bagmati Province allocating the highest budget of NPR 57.72 billion followed by Lumbini Province with NPR 40.95 billion, Karnali Province with NPR 36.54 billion, Province 2 with NPR 33.79 billion, Province 1 with NPR 32.46 billion Sudurpashchim Province with NPR 30.33 billion and lastly, Gandaki Province with NPR 30.03 billion. Health sector development was given one of the topmost priorities in their respective provincial budgets.
With the pandemic raging havoc on the country’s economy, the government introduced several relief measures in the budget. A 20% discount on daily groceries purchased from the Food Management and Trading Company and Salt Trading Company, a 100% waiver on the consumption of up to 20,000 liters of water, and 20 units of electricity per month during the lockdown period was announced. Likewise, license and renewal fees for highly affected businesses such as travel & tourism, public transport, entertainment businesses, handicraft businesses, health clubs, beauty parlors, and such are to be waived for the upcoming fiscal year.
The new budget includes NPR 13 billion for refinancing and concessional loans for SMEs affected by the pandemic. Businesses that were highly affected are to be levied only 1% income tax, and the loss can be carried up to 10 years. Similarly, businesses can obtain 50%-90% income tax relief based on their annual turnover. The budget has allocated NPR 1 billion for funding startups with provisions of loan grants of up to NPR 2.5 million at a rate of 1%. Startups can also leverage income tax waivers for up to five years.
On July 27, 2020, Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB) issued a circular categorizing different sectors based on the impact of COVID-19 in the Nepali economy.
- Highly affected sectors: Tourism industry (hotels, restaurants, trekking/travel agencies, homestays, and resorts), aviation and transportation, entertainment hubs, poultry farming, bee-keeping, and livestock farming, and foreign employment recruiting agencies
- Semi-affected sectors: Plastic and home appliances manufacturers/traders, educational institutions and child-care centers, beauty parlors and hair salons, consultancy service providers, hospitals and clinics, construction sector, pharmaceutical producers, under-construction hydropower, and renewable energy projects
- Least-affected sectors: Hydro projects that are already connected to the national electricity grid, e-commerce businesses, essential goods producers, importing trade, petroleum industry, advertising services, internet and telecommunication service providers, liquor and tobacco business, and gold and other jewelry business
Read more on why certain industries were hit harder than others by COVID-19.
During the period, different relief packages were announced by the government and the central bank for sectors most affected by the pandemic. NRB’s circular included the extension of the loan repayment period by a year for highly affected sectors; sectors moderately and least affected would get extensions of nine months and six months respectively. For hotels, the loan repayment period could be extended by two years. Amending its Unified Directive-2019, NRB has disclosed purpose compulsory on overdraft loans of up to NPR 5 million. Before this, banks and financial institutions (BFI) were allowed to disburse overdraft loans under the ‘personal purpose’ heading, within the limit set by NRB.
Similarly, on May 24, 2021, NRB released a survey highlighting the impacts of COVID-19 on Nepali businesses during the first wave. Highlights of the report:
- The economy had contracted by 1.9% in the fiscal year 2019/20 compared to the same period last year.
- In June 2020, only 4.1% of the businesses were completely operational which increased to 54% in November 2020 and reached 81.2% in April 2021.
- Initially, industries/ businesses limited their production/trade to 29% of their capacity, which increased to 50.5% as of November 2020 before finally increasing their production/ turnover to 61.4% of their capacity.
- Employment rates slowly geared up post-lifting the first lockdown. In November 2020, the enterprises provided 87.5% employment while paying 70.4% of their salaries and wages. This rate had increased by 93.8% and 88.5% by April 2021.
- The employment provided by the cottage, micro, and small enterprises increased to over 90%.
A study conducted by the International Labour Organization (ILO), Nepal, titled ‘Rapid assessment of the impact of COVID-19 on private recruitment agencies in Nepal’ covering a survey done during July-September 2020 was released on June 9. It revealed that 84.4% of the Nepal-based recruitment agencies had fully stopped their operation while 15.6% were partially operating. It also showed that although most of the agencies in Nepal had reported an increase in the demand for migrant workers, they were unable to supply workers due to the suspension of labor permits and international flights. They had borne huge losses and it would take more than six months to fully restore normal operations.
Human Rights Watch, on 26 May, unveiled a report stating that the economic impact coupled with school closures and insufficient government assistance fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic is pushing children into exploitative child labor in Nepal along with Ghana and Uganda. The researchers focused on said countries because they had shown significant progress in reducing poverty and child labor in line with the United Nation’s efforts to eradicate child labor by 2025.
Nepalis all over the world played their parts in sending help whether it was monetary or technical from performing live music shows for raising money or simply hosting mental health conferences. Several independent organizations and volunteers stepped up to feed the hungry, raise money for medical treatments, aid oxygen supply, ease transportation services and increase inter-border mobility of essential supplies. The efforts to combat the seen and unseen effects of the pandemic are still ongoing, both within and outside the borders of Nepal.
 Anil Giri, “Nepal to purchase 4 million doses of Sinopharm vaccine from China”, The Kathmandu Post, June 16, 2021. Retrieved from: https://tkpo.st/3pYu9Be