Those on the frontlinesMedics should be kept informed and issued protective gear.
On March 25, the National Public Health Laboratory reported that a third person had tested positive for the novel coronavirus in the country. With this news, bringing the total number of known active cases to two within a few days, Nepal remains on high alert. The lockdown has been enforced on a stricter bearing all over the country. Some cases of police aggression and brutality have also been reported and shared on social media. In light of such moves, many have been lauding the federal government for a successful clampdown.
But the celebrations are a bit premature. For one, Nepal lacks the necessary resources to successfully test all the people that may have been exposed to the virus via the two active vectors. While much had been touted of the over 500 tests administered by the government initially, with zero testing positive then, it has come to light that the government has not even tested all the passengers who had flown in on the two flights that brought in the two confirmed cases. In fact, over the two days since the first case was confirmed, the government had only tested a further 77 samples; whereas the first and second patients came on flights from France (via Qatar) and the UAE, along with hundreds of other passengers.
For another, the government has not been able to provide enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to all medical workers that are expected to fight against the disease. Let alone all provincial hospitals being equipped with the necessary PPE so that health workers may carry out their duties without fear, it seems that Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital in Teku—the hospital with the most resources and ability to handle infectious disease cases—also does not seem to have the necessary protective equipment in enough numbers.
Added to this, and perhaps the most damaging of all, is the knowledge that the federal Health Ministry seems to have held back information on the confirmed cases from medical workers and public health officials. Specifically, even Shukraraj’s director and doctors, and officials with the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, seem to have been informed of the second case being confirmed positive only 14 hours after the Health Minister was informed. In fact, doctors at Shukraraj vented how they found out about the second case through the media before the news came in through official government channels.
This is a travesty. That the people leading the frontlines against Covid-19 are kept in the dark and left unprotected does not spell well for the efforts to fight a viral disaster. The need of the hour is complete protection of the people working in healthcare and public health; if such people succumb to the disease or become incapacitated, there won’t be anyone left to treat the rest of us. Moreover, medical workers have a high chance of becoming in contact with the disease. Even if they do not develop any symptoms, medical workers may transfer the virus to their loved ones, who in turn may spread it further.
To successfully protect the whole of society, medical workers need to be protected with the necessary equipment. They also need to be kept informed of all developments—any misinformation or lack of information may have disastrous consequences. What is not needed, however, are ill-informed remarks such as those made by Health Minister Bhanubhakta Dhakal at the press conference announcing the second case to the public. Not only was the physical conference entirely unnecessary, given the current circumstances, but Dhakal’s illogical remarks against medical workers is definitely not helpful.
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Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of May 27, 2020
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease, is an illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How contagious is Covid-19?
Covid-19 can spread easily from person to person, especially in enclosed spaces. The virus can travel through the air in respiratory droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. As the virus can also survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours, any contact with such surfaces can also spread the virus. Symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear, during which time the carrier is believed to be contagious.
Where did the virus come from?
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December. The coronavirus is a large family of viruses that is responsible for everything from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). After an initial outbreak in Wuhan that spread across Hubei province, eventually infecting over 80,000 and killing more than 3,000, new infection rates in mainland China have dropped. However, the disease has since spread across the world at an alarming rate.
What is the current status of Covid-19?
The World Health Organisation has called the ongoing outbreak a “pandemic” and urged countries across the world to take precautionary measures. Covid-19 had spread to 210 countries and infected more than 5,684,795 people with 352,225 deaths. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 150,793 with 4,344 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 57,705 confirmed cases with 1,197 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 772 cases with four deaths.
How dangerous is the disease?
The mortality rate for Covid-19 is estimated to be 3.6 percent, but new studies have put the rate slightly higher at 5.7 percent. Although Covid-19 is not too dangerous to young healthy people, older individuals and those with immune-compromised systems are at greater risk of death. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, or those who’ve recently undergone serious medical procedures, are also at risk.
How do I keep myself safe?
The WHO advises that the most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like your computers and phones. Avoid large crowds of people. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist for longer than a few days.
Is it time to panic?
No. The government has imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus. There is no need to begin stockpiling food, cooking gas or hand sanitizers. However, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions like the ones identified above.