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.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of April 1, 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 889,504 people with 44,916 deaths. In South Asia, Pakistan has reported the highest number of infections at 2,071 with 26 deaths. While India has reported 1,637 confirmed cases with 38 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.