Death by negligenceQuarantines and isolation centres are turning into Covid-19 death traps.
That a majority of the 14 persons who died of Covid-19 in Nepal have tested positive posthumously should wake us up to the fact that the pandemic is greater in magnitude than we’ve imagined, and that it’s only a matter of time before it explodes. The very objective of setting up quarantines and isolation centres was to prevent a mass-scale transmission of the virus in the community. But ironically, they have themselves turned into Covid-19 hotspots, exposing the inefficacy of our fight against the pandemic.
In Kapilvastu’s Yasodhara Rural Municipality, for instance, 151 infected patients staying in isolation centres have failed to receive medical attention and are in unrestrained contact with the outside world. Quarantines and isolation centres that devoid of medicare and standard safety measures remain Covid-19 breeding grounds, putting over 167,000 persons currently quarantined across the country at risk of transmission.
As if that was not enough, the infected have been sent home even before their PCR test results came in, essentially translocating the quarantine and isolation centre hotspots to the community. In Dailekh, 87 infected persons were sent home and allowed to integrate into the community before their test results came in and were called back to the isolation centres.
It’s not that the authorities are not privy to the fact that quarantines and isolation centres are turning into death traps. But they continue to get away with claiming that their hands are tied for want of resources even to conduct contact tracing, let alone employing doctors, nurses and counsellors. Swab tests are not taken in time, and even when they are finally taken, the results take up to 12 days to arrive, by which time the infected are either already dead for as long as a week or are roaming free in the community, transmitting the virus to others indiscriminately.
The transformation of what were supposed to be safe houses against the pandemic into the very hotspots of the pandemic lays bare the height of ineptitude on the part of all three levels of the government. The very question as to what exactly they had been doing all these months towards preparation against the pandemic has hence become redundant. And with no concrete plan to ameliorate the situation, we're bound to see things spiral out of hands if it hasn’t already. Still, a concerted fight against an even greater cycle of transmission looming large is the only option we’re left with. Even as the ground beneath our feet already seems to be shifting, our focus must be on stepping up our defence: equipping quarantine and isolation centres with medical staff and maintaining safety procedures; tracing contacts aggressively and diligently; and amplifying the number of timely tests to ensure that the infected are diagnosed when alive rather than when they're long dead.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of July 4, 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 213 countries and infected more than 11,190,680 people with 529,113 deaths. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 649,889 with 18,669 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 221,896 confirmed cases with 4,551 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 15,419 cases with 34 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.