Doctors released two more patients suspected of having coronavirus without waiting for test resultsThe tests, which can now be conducted at the National Public Health Laboratory, showed no presence of the coronavirus but experts say doctors should have waited for the results.
After releasing one Nepali who later tested positive for the new coronavirus, the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital in Teku on Monday morning discharged two others without waiting for their test results.
A 28-year-old Nepali patient, who returned from Shanghai on January 19, was admitted to the hospital on January 21 with respiratory complications. He was discharged despite being suspected of harbouring the new strain of coronavirus that is currently wreaking havoc across the world.
Another patient, a Nepali-American man, was also released on Monday, after being admitted on Sunday evening.
On Monday evening, a press statement from the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division said that coronavirus had not been detected in any new patients.
Blood samples and throat swabs from both patients had been sent to the National Public Health Laboratory, which operates under the Department of Health Services, for testing. The results were due back later on Monday but the patients were discharged without waiting for the results, according to doctors at the hospital.
“The men were discharged after no additional signs suggested that they were infected with the new strain of coronavirus,” Mahendra Prasad Shrestha, spokesperson for the Health Ministry, told the Post.
The National Public Health Laboratory began testing for the coronavirus from Monday, after receiving test kits via the World Health Organization. Previously, all test samples had to be sent to the WHO’s Collaboration Centre in Hong Kong.
Earlier on January 17, doctors at the Teku hospital had discharged a Nepali doctoral student who had returned from Wuhan with respiratory complications. His specimens had been sent to Hong Kong for testing but he too was released before the results came in. The specimens ultimately tested positive for the coronavirus.
The Health Ministry on Friday had claimed that the man was under observation, but according to officials at the ministry’s Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, officials only spoke to the man via telephone, inquiring after his health. When the man replied that he was in good health, officials did not ask him to come in for a check-up. No one is monitoring his activity, they said.
According to public health experts, the authorities do not appear to be serious about the coronavirus outbreak, which has already killed 81 people in China and infected thousands across the globe.
Their decision to discharge multiple individuals without waiting for the results to come in shows their negligence, said Dr Baburam Marasini, former director of the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division.
“By the time the report came in, the patients could have met and infected several people, including family members, relatives, neighbours and others," said Marasini. “The decision to discharge patients before confirming whether they are free of the virus shows sheer carelessness on the part of the authorities.”
Despite six major disease outbreaks in the past 17 years, Nepal’s health authorities have failed to adapt and learn, placing the lives of hundreds of thousands of people at risk, said Marasini.
In 2002, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a highly contagious disease spread to 26 countries, infected over 8,000 and killed hundreds. In 2007, the highly pathogenic H5N1, known as bird flu, also spread to several countries and killed hundreds. In 2013, the Ebola virus outbreak claimed hundreds of lives in Africa.
“In every incident, the UN health agency issues an alert and asks member countries to start preparations,” said Marasini. “But we learned nothing; even the health desk at the only international airport became active after two weeks of the outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus.”
Given its lack of infrastructure and trained medical personnel, Nepal is ill-equipped to deal with a massive outbreak of disease. But the country is especially vulnerable to globe-hopping diseases like modern-day pandemics as Nepali students and businesspeople travel frequently to and fro while tourists from all over the world come into Nepal.
The current outbreak, which originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in Hubei province, could be carried into Nepal by the thousands of Nepali students who study in China, the business people who work in China or the Chinese tourists who visit Nepal. The country hopes to attract 350,000 Chinese tourists under its Visit Nepal 2020 campaign.
With news breaking of the first coronavirus case in Nepal, members of the public have been seeking more information on the number of people being tested and infected, the preventive measures to take, and what to do in case of an outbreak. So far, the Health Ministry has not issued any preventive or precautionary guidelines and is instead attempting to obfuscate information.
Officials at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division said that they had been barred from speaking to the media while Shrestha, the Health Ministry spokesperson, diverted all phone calls after providing a perfunctory statement.
At least 81 people have died and over 3,000 people have been infected by the new strain of coronavirus, dubbed ‘novel coronavirus, since the outbreak in Wuhan, according to the BBC. In the span of a week, the virus has spread across China and to several countries in Asia, Europe and the United States.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of March 29, 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. As of Wednesday, Covid-19 had spread to 199 countries and infected more than 650,812 people with 30,341 deaths. In South Asia, Pakistan has reported the highest number of infections at 1,495 with 12 deaths. While India has reported 918 confirmed cases with 19 deaths. Nepal has so far reported five cases, in which one patient recovered.
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.