Labs issue ‘coronavirus certificate’ after testing for ailments unrelated to the virusHealth Ministry to procure 20,000 coronavirus test kits through a ‘fast- track’ process
Instead of testing for the ‘2019-nCoV’ virus, the labs test people for gastritis, and ask them for blood samples and chest x-rays before issuing a certificate.
"Yes, we carry out coronavirus test and provide a certificate, which is needed to go abroad," a staffer at Nozomi Poly Clinic, Lalitpur told the Post. "We charge Rs 5,000 for each test."
With the death toll from the novel coronavirus outbreak rising—as of Saturday, more than 722 in China—countries such as Israel, Russia, Italy, Australia and the United States have imposed travel restrictions, largely aimed at Chinese passengers.
According to doctors at Sukraraj Tropical and infectious Disease Hospital, a number of consultancies, recruitment agencies and private laboratories have made it mandatory for people who wish to go abroad to pass the coronavirus test.
Consultancies and recruitment agencies tend to recommend private clinics for the tests, but according to Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, a virologist at the Shukraraj hospital, private laboratories in Nepal neither have the capacity to test for coronavirus nor the authority to issue such certificates.
The staffer said that the laboratory, where she works, conducts blood tests, gastritis checks and chest scans. She then transferred the phone to her senior, who too refused to identify himself. He told the Post that doctors at the lab check signs and symptoms of coronavirus and issue the certificate.
"We have been providing the service as per the request of manpower [recruitment] agencies," he said. "If people come to our lab with influenza-like symptoms, we send them to Teku hospital. We cannot carry out a coronavirus test."
Manaslu International Service Pvt.Ltd, Dhumbarahi, an agency that sends people abroad for work, recommends that people seeking employment abroad visit Nozomi Poly Clinic to get the coronavirus certificate. It said that Al Othaim Supermarket in Saudi Arabia demands that recruits be tested for the virus.
"The company has sent us an email making coronavirus tests compulsory for those who wish to work for it," Bhumika Ale, a staffer, told the Post. "We are not forcing anyone, but telling them about the rule foreign companies have enforced."
Sanjeev Sharma of Trendway International Pvt Ltd Bansbari, another recruitment company, says his agency also refers prospective migrant workers to Nozomi for the certificate. He said that the Saudi companies he works with sent an email asking him not to send anyone without a coronavirus test certificate.
"We do not force anyone to go to Saudi Arabia," said Sharma. "But anyone who wants to go there has to follow the company's rules. We cannot send anyone without a coronavirus test certificate." Sharma said that his office has not forced anyone to get tested at a particular laboratory—they are free to get the certificate from any hospital.
Mahendra Prasad Shrestha, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Population, said that a coronavirus certificate is required neither to apply for a visa nor to go abroad for employment or education.
He said that the ministry will form a committee with representatives from the Labour Ministry on board to look into the ‘swindling’ that’s taking place in the name of coronavirus tests and take stern action against the guilty.
Meanwhile, the health ministry is preparing to procure 20,000 coronavirus test kits through a ‘fast-track’ process—suspending normal procurement procedures to speed up the deal. The National Public Health Laboratory, under the Department of Health Services, which has been testing for coronavirus, said that it is running out of the test kits. The laboratory has already used up two dozen of the 100 test kits provided by a private lab in Kathmandu. Shrestha said that more kits will be needed to test Nepalis, who will be evacuated from Hubei Province of China soon.