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’.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of April 8, 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 209 countries and infected more than 1,431,706 people with 82,080 deaths. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 5,351 with 160 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 4,035 confirmed cases with 57 deaths. Nepal has so far reported nine 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.