KP Sharma Oli – who touted unproven coronavirus cures and witnessed crowded events even as cases rose – was removed from office after losing a vote of confidence on Monday.
Just a month ago, the Himalayan nation of 31 million people was reporting around 100 cases of Covid-19 per day. On Tuesday, it reported 9,483 new cases and 225 deaths linked to the virus, according to its health ministry – the highest number of deaths in a day since the start of the pandemic.
Scenes in India, of funeral pyres and people lining up outside hospitals, recur in Nepal, where hospitals lack oxygen and refuse patients.
As the crisis developed, the government’s main coalition partner, the Maoist Center, withdrew its support, prompting Oli to demand a parliamentary vote to prove he had enough support to stay in power.
Oli needed at least 136 votes in the 275-member House of Representatives to secure a majority and save his government. But he only received 93 votes – 124 members voted against him.
Given Oli’s inability to secure a vote of confidence, Nepal’s President and Ceremonial Head of State Bidhya Devi Bhandari will now appeal to form a new government.
Coronavirus cases in Nepal started to increase in early April, but the government has been slow to take action, allowing mass religious festivals, large weddings and other public gatherings to continue.
On April 8, when new daily cases had already tripled, Oli said Covid-19 could be treated by gargling with guava leaves – adding to his ridiculed comments last year that Nepalese had stronger immune systems. strong due to their daily consumption of spices.
It wasn’t until April 29, when daily cases rose to over 4,800, that the government imposed a two-week lockdown in the capital, Kathmandu.
In May, authorities closed borders, ordered oxygen cylinders from abroad, built new healthcare facilities and banned all international flights. But by then it was too late.
Messages from Oli and his administration have at times been unclear and contradictory.
On May 8, Oli told CNN that the Covid-19 situation in Nepal was “under control”, insisting the government was taking appropriate action. “We are taking very serious measures to control the situation in order to provide oxygen, to provide beds, to provide intensive care beds,” he said.
Asked about the big events that have unfolded in the country in recent weeks, he admitted that “some mistakes” had been made, but said: “it should not be a political issue”.
His claim that the situation was under control angered those struggling to survive.
“People don’t have beds, people don’t get oxygen, people are asking for help,” said Suraj Raj Pandey, a volunteer at Covid Connect Nepal, a volunteer-run website that connects patients with supplies and beds. “And the chief executive of this country comes and says to the international community, ‘Yeah, everything is fine, Nepal is normal, everything is under control’, as people are dying in the streets. “
Oli took a radically different tone two days later, in an opinion piece published in The Guardian newspaper on May 10, ahead of the vote of no confidence.
“The history of Nepal is a story of hardships and struggles, but this pandemic is pushing us even to our limits,” he wrote. “The number of infections is straining the health care system; it has become difficult to provide patients with the hospital beds they need.
Despite the government’s efforts, “due to resource and infrastructure constraints, the pandemic is proving to be an overwhelming burden,” he wrote. “So I appealed to the international community to help us with vaccines, diagnostic tools, oxygen kits, drugs and critical care equipment, to support our efforts to save lives. . Our urgent goal is to stop preventable deaths. “
Later that day he was removed from his post.
The Covid Crisis Intensifies
All the while, as Oli and his administration fell into chaos, Nepal continued to drown in Covid-19 cases.
Photos and videos from the ground show Covid patients lining up outside hospitals, asking for oxygen or an intensive care bed. But as supplies run out, health facilities – including at least six private hospitals in Kathmandu – have stopped admitting Covid patients.
“It’s a humanitarian crisis right now,” said Eeda Rijal of the group of volunteers Covid Connect Nepal. “And we, working on the front lines, have seen this surge, and we don’t understand why the government hasn’t been able to see it. “
Desperate families and Covid patients advocate for supplies on social media. Surajan KC is one of them. Both parents are hospitalized for Covid-19; her father, whose oxygen levels are unstable, is now in intensive care.
“We’re just waiting and seeing if he’ll recover soon,” he said. “It’s still pretty scary, especially when it comes to oxygen, because even though you find beds in hospitals, I’ve heard that so many hospitals tell patients they need to find oxygen. … by themselves. “
Doctors also say they have been pushed to their limits.
“The past seven days have been sleepless nights… I barely slept two hours,” said Saugat Poudyal, the medical director of Karuna Hospital in Kathmandu. “I think the world community must now move forward. It is the lack of oxygen that is going to cause a huge disaster here. “
In an interim order on Tuesday, Nepal’s Supreme Court urged the government to set up a task force to lead the distribution of oxygen cylinders and other life-saving equipment. The court said that no Nepalese should be deprived of medical treatment due to oxygen shortages and that it is the government’s responsibility to ensure supplies and save lives.
A lockdown in the Kathmandu Valley – home to around 2.5 million people – has been extended until May 27, with residents being urged not to go out unless necessary. Gatherings have been banned in party venues and gatherings in private homes are limited to 10 people.
The ban on international flights has also been extended until May 31 – although two flights per week are allowed between Kathmandu and the Indian capital, New Delhi, as part of a “travel bubble” program, according to the Nepal Civil Aviation Authority.
CNN’s Julia Hollingsworth, Nishant Khanal, Kosh Raj Koirala and Sugam Pokharel contributed to this report.