New Delhi, May 4: Nepal on Monday night announced that it was closing its borders to arrest the surge of Covid-19 infections that are threatening to go into free fall.
While nationwide self-isolation at this time may be necessary to contain the second wave of the pandemic, a durable solution, to prevent a third deadly surge which could happen, lies only in mass vaccinations.
That is where international solidarity would have to come into play to ensure that affordable and plentiful vaccines are available to a vast multitude in the emerging economies and the Global South. It is here that the big question arises: Will Big pharma play ball and yield to the clamour for waiving patent restrictions so that millions of lives across the global can be saved? Or will Vaccine Apartheid ride roughshod and block humanity's triumph over the genocidal disease?
On Monday, Nepal's Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli announced the closure of all domestic and international flights till the middle of May as the grim numbers of the Covid infected began to surge.
According to Oli, all domestic flights would be closed from midnight Monday. But international flights would be suspended from midnight Thursday, apparently to enable trapped foreigners from exiting the country. Nevertheless, two to and fro flights to India will continue to operate every week. Oli declared that these measures would be enforced till the middle of May.
While movement of foreigners from the land borders has been halted, Nepali nationals can enter the country from the 13 border crossings between that operate between India and Nepal. However, the entrants would have gone through antigen tests to be carried out at border health desks, before they can step on Nepali soil.
It is obvious that the Nepal Prime Minister has taken stringent measures considering the rapid spread of the deadly disease. Nepal reported 7,388 cases of COVID-19 from across the country on Monday. With this, the total nationwide infection count has advanced to 343,418.
Unsurprisingly, Oli appealed for massive international support to tide over a huge health crisis that is already knocking on Kathmandu's door.
Speaking directly to the world community in English, Oli specially sought help from neighbouring and other "friendly countries".
"Since we are living in an interconnected and interlinked world, a pandemic like this spares no one and no one is safe. I would like to request our neighbours, friendly countries and international organisations to help us with vaccines, diagnostic equipment and kits, oxygen therapy, critical care medicines and critical care furniture to support our ongoing efforts to combat the pandemic," he said.
Analysts point out that while containment measures can retard the disease, Oli's real challenge will lie in carrying out mass inoculations as the availability of jabs for the countries belonging to the Global South is extremely scarce, at least in the short term.
India, the largest vaccine producer in the world is battling a massive second wave of the disease. Consequently, its capacity to cater to the demand of neighbouring countries has sharply dwindled. China also finds that its export supplies are stretched as the demand in the Global South surges.
Consequently, the World Health Organisation has appealed to the Big Pharma companies to waive off their patent rights to massively upscale vaccine production to meet the stratospheric rise in demand.
But so far, big multinational companies appear uninclined to budge, prioritising profits over human lives. Big Pharma icon, Bill Gates stunned that world when he told Sky News recently that patents for Covid 19 vaccines must be kept in-tact and that the formula of the drugs need to be protected.
When asked whether the patent law for Covid 19 vaccines needs to be changed in a bid to augment production, his curt reply, "no", has horrified the world.
"There's only so many vaccine factories in the world and people are very serious about the safety of vaccines. And so, moving something that had never been done, moving a vaccine, say, from a (Johnson & Johnson) factory into a factory in India, it's novel, it's only because of our grants and expertise that can happen at all," he said.
Nepal's Oli and other developing countries can legitimately appeal for help, but their exhortations may fall on deaf early unless the world comes together and collectively shakes up the global vaccine tree.
(This content is being carried under an arrangement with indianarrative.com)