Timing is criticalTests must be conducted in other parts of the country too.
After the coronavirus took the form of a pandemic, Nepal introduced travel restrictions and decided to put the country under lockdown to ensure that the disease was restricted to those with a travel history and their immediate contacts. But with the first case of local transmission seen on April 4 in Kanchanpur, Nepal is now at the second stage of the coronavirus outbreak.
According to the Health Ministry, three more cases of COVID-19 have surfaced, taking the total number of cases to nine. Of those testing positive on April 4, one was a 34-year-old woman from Kailali who is a relative of a person who had earlier tested positive for the virus. Keeping up with the recent developments, a Cabinet meeting on Saturday decided to conduct mass tests in three districts—two in Sudurpaschim province and one in Gandaki province—where the majority of COVID-19 cases have been reported.
There are usually four stages in the spread of the coronavirus. Stage 1 is where only those who have travelled to virus-hit countries test positive. Stage 2 is where there are cases of local transmission. At this stage, fewer people are infected and the source of the virus is known, making it easier to trace and contain the disease by means of self-quarantining like in the case above. Once community transmission begins, countries are known to enter Stage 3. This is where things escalate quickly as it's difficult to track the source and the disease spreads exponentially. Ultimately, when the infection takes the form of an epidemic with no clear endpoint, countries will have entered the final stage, which is Stage 4.
COVID-19 is a newly identified pathogen, and there is no known pre-existing immunity in humans. Also, some infected people do not show signs even for two-three weeks. It is these factors that make COVID-19 so dangerous as it has already spread to 205 countries and territories.
If the experience of other countries is anything to go by, one thing is very clear: Timing is critical. As we are already in the second stage, if we do not nip cases in the bud, Nepal will enter the phase of what experts have been warning about—Stage 3 where community transmissions begin and the country’s health care system will ultimately buckle. Italy and Spain are in Stage 3 right now. The situation there worsened because the governments failed to take proactive steps when initial cases were being reported.
The fact that we are still under lockdown with limited mobility will prove positive to help prevent the spread of the disease. As of now, India is in the phase of ‘local transmission’ with ‘limited community transmission’. At this stage, relentless testing and communicating the information is of utmost importance. While the government has plans to expedite testing in the districts where most cases of COVID-19 have been seen, it must do so in all other parts of the country too.