Psycho-social Impact of COVID-19 and Related Policy Provisions in Nepal 


On 23 January 2020, the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Nepal which was an imported case from China. With the local transmission reported in April 2020, the first wave of COVID-19 started in the country. After about 15 months, in March 2021 the country came under the sway of a second surge. The number of positive cases spiked dramatically with a significant number of serious illnesses and deaths since then. As of 26 June 2021, 663,857 COVID-19 positive cases have been confirmed in Nepal. So far, 8,975 people have died of the coronavirus.3 The delta variants of coronavirus were mainly responsible for the second surge. The new variants proved to be much infectious, fatal and highly transmissible. The government data shows that daily death rates during the second surge went as high as 246 a day on May 19. The lockdown started on 29 April aimed at slowing down the infection. Figure 1 shows the district-wise distribution of the cumulative numbers of COVID-19 positive cases as of 4 July 2021. The data shows a variation in the number of cases in different districts. However, it is clear that all districts are impacted by the pandemic.

District-wise Distribution of the Cumulative Number of COVID-19
Positive Cases in Nepal (as of 4 July 2021)

Source: Ministry of Health and Population COVID-19 Dashboard

Affects in Many Sectors

Nepal has been hit twice by the COVID-19 pandemic with significant effects on economic, educational, social and even political aspects of society. The pandemic has impacted not only individuals’ physical health but the society has witnessed various problems of psychosocial health. Previously acclaimed aspects of socially harmonious, mutually cooperative and societally integrative relationships in society seemed to be abruptly replaced by the activities that are indicative of mutual suspicion, non-cooperation and social tension (Adhikari, et al., 2021; Poudel & Subedi, 2020; Tamang, 2020). The pandemic disrupted both the processes of economic prosperity and the social well-being of the country (Sharma, et al. 2021).

Poor and Informal Workers Hit Hard

The hardest hit by COVID-19 in Nepal were the poor workers involved in the informal economic sector in Kathmandu valley and urban areas elsewhere in the country. Hundreds of thousands of workers abruptly lost their jobs as soon as the government announced the lockdown (bandabandi) of the country in March 2020 during the first surge of the pandemic. The closing of construction sites, hotels, restaurants and factories forced hundreds of thousands of workers into a state of despair of having lost the source of making their everyday living. The weakest section of Nepali society who made their living on daily wages were literally abandoned in the street.

Photo credits : UN Nepal

Those workers who immigrated to Kathmandu valley or elsewhere from different districts of the country in search of work were left with confusion about how the situation would unfold in terms of lifting of lockdown and going back to work. When it became apparent after a week or two that government continue to extend the lockdown, they realized that they should go back to their homes. The workers started their journey back home on foot on the highway. The scenes of dozens of workers walking from Kathmandu valley and other working sites to their homes were witnessed in all forms of media reports. Those heart-wrenching scenes of the workers walking on foot home with their children who often endured hunger during the hot days and dark nights exposed a lack of planning to deal with the crisis on the part of the government. Other hard-hit sectors in the economy were the entrepreneurs and investors alike when they were forced to close their businesses, many of them have faced severe consequences of their enterprises collapsing. In a nutshell, the Nepali economy seems to have taken a hard hit like many of the economies around the world.

Education Sectors Severely Affected

The education sector was the second hardest hit by the lockdown following the pandemic in Nepal (Dawadi, Giri, & Simkhada, 2020; K.R. Devkota, 2021). Education system; schools, colleges, and universities were all abruptly closed abiding by the government’s announcement of lockdown thereby suspending all in-person classes and exams. As a consequence, many teachers teaching at private schools lost their jobs during the lockdown period. Most of the teachers either did not get paid or had to start teaching online with only a half-paid salary on the other. This disruption gave rise to conflicting relationships between the management of private schools and students’ guardians. Many of the guardians were not ready to pay the school tuition fees for the online classes while the schools also complained that they could not pay their teachers without the tuition fees from their students. Those hit by this embroilment were the teachers who either lost their jobs or got to work on half pay despite adapting to a new (online) teaching practice that was quite demanding. The adaptation that has compelled them to adopt unfamiliar techniques created pressure on teachers (Dawadi, et al. 2020). The situation of the employees in the tourism sector and private hospitals as well as for small enterprises was the same as in the education sector (Dangol, et al., 2020).

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Social Norms Undermined

Individuals and society are integrally interrelated in making the social system as a whole in which harmonious, integrative and cooperative relationships are desired for continuity of social structure, system and order. The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed Nepali society into a new social relationship called ‘New Normal’ as is the case with people of other countries. The new social norms and new ways of everyday life, such as maintaining social distance in public, getting together only in small groups, and wearing masks in public places are gradually becoming the new way of everyday life. Such an adaptation to the ‘New Normal’ seems to be setting the individuals and society apart, meaning that new forms of relationships are to emerge owing to the pandemic.

Trauma and Lack of Adequate Information

In fact, the Nepali people had already gone through traumatic experiences during the earthquake in 2015 as well as victims of floods and landslides. But the COVID-19 caused yet another hurt causing mental health at the individual as well as at the collective/societal level. Responses to these disasters required different approaches. During that earthquake, people had to be outside their houses for their own safety. But during COVID-19 infection surge, people have to hide inside to keep themselves safe from the pandemic.

Access to digital information was helpful to those who have access but it also reduced the possibilities of in-person contacts amongst fellow members of society. It is to be noted that “humans need frequent contacts, and crisis events further stimulate a need for affiliation and intimacy” …therefore, “prolonged isolation and separation from families and their community can have profound effects on individuals even if they are not directly affected by the disease” (Saha et al., 2020:11).

A student from Mahottari who was about to complete her Bachelor’s degree describes her experience of how the younger people gradually fell into depression. She said, “I myself was depressed for quite some time. I would have completed my Bachelor’s level but due to this pandemic, my final year is on hold. It has been 1.5 years now and I am still in the same year. I have planned to apply for the job after
this. But my classes are halted. I am not sure when this all is going to end.”

Besides, another difference the people witnessed was, during the earthquake, all the Nepalese people in diaspora, and international donors/agencies could come forward offering humanitarian support. A sense of solidarity was promoted. But during the pandemic, the whole world was crippled by COVID-19. The international community as well as the Nepalese in Diaspora couldn’t come forward to provide philanthropic support as they had done during the earthquake disaster.

Women Hit Hard Than Men

Likewise, women were more vulnerable than men in terms of facing gender-based violence, job loss and the increased workload in the domestic sphere. In terms of death, men outnumbered women, however, women experienced greater risk inadvertently in terms of social, cultural and sexual violence (Dahal et al. 2020; Paudel, et al. 2020). In terms of restricted mobility outside, women especially those women working in formal sectors had problems. As the resources are inadequate, they were under great pressure. But their situation has been overshadowed and overlooked in the larger picture of the pandemic. As Nepali society is characterized by patriarchy and existing structural inequalities across health, economy, education, and social and political relationships, the COVID-19 crisis has exposed women to a higher level of vulnerability.

Government Immediate Interventions

Amidst the growing public health crisis from the pandemic, the Government of Nepal formed the COVID-19 Crisis Management Centre – Operation (CCMCOps) in March 2020. The centre was launched to fight the pandemic, ensure control over the situation and deliver immediate relief in an effective and well-managed way. This high-level committee, however, was dissolved in June 2020 and the government formed a COVID-19 Crisis Management Centre (CCMC) under the coordination of the then Deputy- Prime Minister. The CCMC is comprised of four different branches; Medical Operations, Logistic Operations, Security Operations and Media and Information Technology (IT) Operations to execute their activities immediately and effectively.

The second surge of the COVID-19 pandemic has created even more shock in the people. The government system was overstretched to tackle the second hit of the pandemic. Lockdown turned out to be a major solution for controlling the spread. Amidst this ongoing pandemic, Nepal was also facing shortages of essential medical supplies like personal protective equipment, testing kits, ventilators, oxygen cylinders, and most importantly the vaccine. It was heart-wrenching to witness the members of one’s own family or community dying of not getting the oxygen supply when needed.

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