As government plans to evacuate Nepalis from Hubei, experts stress preparedness at homeNepali embassy in Beijing has asked Nepalis wishing to return from the virus-hit Chinese province to fill out forms and contact it.
The coronavirus outbreak, which now has been declared a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organisation, has claimed 259 lives in China and affected 11,791 globally.
After several countries launched measures to evacuate their citizens, the Nepal government, too, is now planning to rescue Nepalis, especially from Hubei Province, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
The Foreign Ministry on Saturday held a meeting with concerned authorities to plan Nepalis’ evacuation from Hubei, Foreign Secretary Shanker Das Bairagi told the Post.
Meanwhile, the Embassy of Nepal in Beijing also issued a notice, saying that the Nepal government is making an all-out effort to rescue Nepalis from Hubei.
“Plans for a special chartered flight are being worked out and details will be shared as soon as they are available,” the embassy said in the notice.
The government plan follows requests from Nepalis in Hubei to rescue them from the province which has been put under lockdown for weeks in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
Experts, however, called for coordinated efforts and preparedness back at home before evacuating Nepalis from China. There are no dedicated isolation wards and there’s a lack of expertise and technology to deal with cases, according to them.
“Safely handling cases is tougher than taking a political decision of bringing back the Nepalis who are stuck in the virus-hit Hubei Province,” Dr Baburam Marasini, former director of the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, told the Post. “The deadly disease could spread to masses if not handled properly in transition—at the airport and quarantine facilities.
The announcements from the Foreign Ministry and the Nepali embassy in Beijing follow a statement from the Embassy of China in Kathmandu on Saturday in which it said lives and medical care of Nepali citizens, including students, who are in Wuhan are guaranteed.
“China will continue to take proactive measures to protect their legitimate rights and interests,” reads the Chinese embassy statement. “The Nepali side can communicate with the Chinese Embassy in Nepal or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China in a timely manner.”
Nepal so far has reported one confirmed case of the new strain of coronavirus, but it continues to be a mystery with conflicting statements from the patient and doctors involved in his treatment.
Experts said they appreciate the government’s plan to bring back Nepalis from the virus-hit Chinese city but urged prudence. Nepal’s lack of preparedness to deal with outbreaks has been exposed in the past as well, said Marasini.
“Arranging a chartered flight won’t be that difficult, but we need to have proper quarantine facilities here at home,” Marasini told the Post. “We should not forget that a South Korean, who had visited the Middle East, was diagnosed with MERS coronavirus in 2015 and the first imported case had sparked an outbreak that spread through hospitals.” The virus had sickened as many as 186. “It does not mean that we should not rescue our fellow citizens, but the government needs to work on a war-footing to prepare quarantine facilities,” said Marasini.
The Nepali embassy, however, has already apprised Nepalis of its plan to evacuate them.
“All Nepali nationals currently residing in Hubei Province are requested to fill a form available on the embassy website and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org,” the embassy said in the notice. The embassy has said only those who intend to return to Nepal on the chartered flight should fill the form.
“Please be advised that if you fail to fulfil this requirement, except as a result of pre-embarkment health check-up at the airport, the applicant will face consequences as per law,” reads the notice. “The particulars of the chartered flight will be arranged on the basis of submissions made by Nepali nationals willing to go back to Nepal.”
The embassy has asked all those Nepalis who want to return home to submit the form no later than 9am Sunday, February 2.
“Late submissions will not be entertained. Every passport holder should fill a separate form. The forms for minors should be filled by one of the parents and sent together in one package,” reads the notice.
Bairagi said the government will hold consultations with all the concerned agencies first and finalise the place for setting up quarantines facilities before starting the evacuation of Nepalis.
According to Health Ministry officials, as many as 177 Nepalis from Hubei Province are in touch with the Nepali embassy in Beijing.
“Those returning from China need to be kept for two weeks in incubation, and we need quarantine centres,” said Mahendra Shrestha, spokersperson for the Health Ministry. “Army barracks, police training centres and the staff college could be some options where we can keep those returning from China.”
At the time of the Ebola epidemic, the Nepal Army had used its Shivapuri barracks to quarantine its personnel who had returned from the peacekeeping mission in the disease-hit countries. The Armed Police Force had used its training centre to quarantine its personnel.
The Nepal Army said as of Saturday it had not received any communication or request regarding setting up quarantine centres.
“Anyway, our existing isolation ward is too small, and a new one that is being built is yet to be completed,” Brigadier General Bigyan Dev Pandey, spokesperson for the Nepal Army, told the Post.
The one facility that can be used to quarantine Nepalis from China is Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, said Dr Basudev Pandey, director at the hospital.
“The conference hall of Ayurvedic Hospital in Kritipur and training centres of the Nepal Electricity Authority are other options. But the government needs to fix the required beds, equipment and other facilities fast,” Pandey told the Post.
"Definitely, the risk will increase, but we cannot say we should not bring Nepalis back just because we lack facilities. We need to set up facilities here and evacuate Nepalis from the disease-hit country.”
Nepal embassy email: email@example.com
Phone number: 1570 12857 63
Anil Giri contributed reporting.