Education consultancies and recruiting agencies are forcing students and labourers into taking coronavirus testNeither the governments at home nor those abroad have asked anyone to take the test before applying for a visa, according to the health ministry.
Ganga Bahadur Karki, a resident of Urlabari Municipality in Morang, already acquired a contract for a job in Saudi Arabia when the overseas employment company that was sending him abroad told him that he needed to undergo a coronavirus test in order to receive a visa.
Karki duly visited the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital in Teku on Tuesday for the test but was told by doctors that a coronavirus test was not necessary for a visa to Saudi Arabia.
“The manpower company asked me to go to a private clinic in Kupondole but I visited the Teku hospital thinking it would be cheaper as it is a government hospital and its report more reliable,” 28-year-old Karki told the Post. “Since I am not sure if the manpower company will send me abroad without the report, I have to follow their instructions and carry out the test in a private lab.”
According to Dr Anup Bastola, spokesperson for the Teku hospital, students and migrant workers are now visiting the hospital in increasing numbers seeking a coronavirus test to go abroad.
“Two students, one going to Cyprus and another to the Netherlands, requested a test today,” Bastola told the Post. “They said that consultancies had asked them to furnish the test results in order to get a visa.”
With the death toll from the novel coronavirus outbreak rising—as of Tuesday, 425 had died in China and one each in the Philippines and Hong Kong—countries like Israel, Russia, Italy, Australia and the United States have imposed travel restrictions, which are largely aimed at Chinese passengers or people with a recent travel history to China. There are no such restrictions on Nepalis travelling abroad due to the coronavirus outbreak, said Sher Bahadur Pun, a virologist at the Teku hospital.
But according to doctors at the Teku hospital, a number of consultancies, manpower agencies and private laboratories have implemented a mandatory coronavirus test as a precondition to going abroad. Consultancies and manpower companies tend to recommend private clinics for the tests, but according to Pun, private laboratories in Nepal do not have the capacity to carry out a coronavirus test and a report produced by any private laboratory will not be valid.
“Forcing students and migrant labourers to carry out such tests in private laboratories is swindling them,” said Pun.
Mahendra Prasad Shrestha, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Population, said that a coronavirus report is not required to go abroad for foreign employment or for further studies.
“We are not even seeking such test reports from people coming from China,” said Shrestha. “Some people are trying to take undue advantage of the emergency by forcing people to pay exorbitant prices of unnecessary things."
Bhisma Kumar Bhusal, director-general of the Department of Foreign Employment, Bishnu Gaire, president of the Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies, both said that there were no provisions requiring a mandatory coronavirus test and that migrants were being duped.
“There are no such rules or provisions for a mandatory coronavirus test,” said Bhusal. “No country has demanded such a certificate from us.”
Gaire said that the association would be taking action against any company forcing migrants to undergo unnecessary tests.
“Neither any foreign government nor the Nepal government has recommended such tests,” he said.
A number of private laboratories in the Capital are offering coronavirus tests for Rs 25,000, according to the Health Ministry’s Shrestha.
“The Health Ministry will be forming a committee with representatives from the Health Ministry and Labour Ministry to look into the swindling and take stern action against those found guilty," he said.
The World Health Organization has declared the coronavirus a ‘public health emergency of international concern’.