Nepal cannot afford to fail in quarantine and treatment measuresNepal cannot, and must not, fail in its duty towards all its citizens—even the ones stuck in China. At the same time, it cannot afford to fail in quarantine and treatment measures.
As a new strain of the coronavirus, named 2019-nCoV, ravages Hubei province and the rest of China, the effects of the disease are being felt in other countries too. While people affected by the virus have already been identified in many countries, 25 as of February 1, the Philippines has become the first country outside China to report a death from this virus strain. The countries affected face the added challenge of bringing citizens stuck in China back home. This is because states understand that it is their duty to protect all their citizens—even if the risk of importing more cases of the coronavirus is great. With the number of cases within China rising to 14,380, with 304 reported deaths, many countries now understand that leaving their citizens behind in China is too great of a risk.
It is in this context that Nepal has stepped up plans to remove Nepalis stuck in Hubei by means of a charter flight. This is important, and the only option available. Not only is Nepal acting on precedence—the United Kingdom, India and Germany have all evacuated their citizens, and Thailand and Russia are due to do so—but the high number of cases in China means that this is the only way to reduce the risk of more Nepalis in China getting infected. Yet, it is also true that Nepal is woefully underprepared to quarantine the incoming evacuees.
Nepal cannot, and must not, fail in its duty towards all its citizens—even the ones stuck in China. At the same time, it cannot afford to fail in quarantine and treatment measures. Therefore, it must have the necessary facilities up and running at the earliest—definitely before any evacuation flight actually occurs.
Nepal’s approach to preventative measures in public health has always been suspect. It is suspected that a lackadaisical approach to dengue in the 2000s brought the virus into the country through tourist carriers, since the health posts failed to catch carriers and quarantine measures were not implemented effectively, and the country has been struggling to keep a check on dengue outbreaks ever since. In 2019, dengue fever again became an epidemic in Nepal. It claimed more than six lives and got as many as 8,000 people across 56 districts hospitalised. This shows how ill-equipped Nepal is at handling communicable and deadly diseases once they are prevalent in the country.
Even after Nepal’s first confirmed case of a 2019-nCoV infection, health authorities failed to quarantine the patient and the people he came in contact with. Moreover, even after the infection was confirmed, authorities were slow to make health check-ups mandatory at the international airport. The country’s only infectious disease-centred hospital, Shukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Control Hospital, does not have a functioning isolation ward for patients—the World Health Organisation has already attested to this in its June 2019 report on the hospital. Similarly, the airport also lacks an isolation chamber and a way to transport suspected cases to quarantine facilities.
So far, it seems that Nepal has been very lucky to have avoided a 2019-nCoV outbreak, given how lax its approach to prevention and quarantine has been. But it only needs to look at how dengue has affected the country to understand the potential human and economic costs of not investing enough in prevention and isolation. Nepal simply cannot afford to take the evacuation—and the subsequent quarantine—as a joke. Further, as coronavirus cases have increased manifold all across China, especially in megacities like Beijing, the country’s evacuation efforts must not remain limited to Hubei province.
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