More individuals seek Covid-19 tests but ministry to focus on health workersAs new cases continue to be identified, authorities are expanding testing but prioritising those on the front lines, including health care and security personnel.
The identification of four new cases of Covid-19 in Kathmandu Valley has sparked terror among its residents, with hundreds flocking to the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital in Teku for tests.
Over 700 people visited the Sukraraj Hospital on Thursday alone for Covid-19 tests, according to doctors. At times, the crowd was so large that the hospital administration was unable to maintain the physical distance required to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
"The crowds have been very large and we have limited space and human resource,” said Dr Sagar Rajbhandari, the hospital’s director. “The number of people seeking tests is rising every day.”
According to Rajbhandari, on Wednesday, the hospital tested 570 people.
Those seeking tests are not just locals, but those who entered Kathmandu since the government eased the lockdown on May 8. Since then, thousands of people have come into the Valley, at an estimated rate of nearly 5,700 every day.
These people constitute a majority of individuals seeking Covid-19 tests at the hospital, according to Rajbhandari.
“People who entered the Valley during the lockdown are seeking tests due to pressure from their landlords, neighbours and local authorities,” he said. “Security personnel, government officials who visited Covid-19 hotspots or those who were posted there are also seeking tests.”
With the rise in the number of people seeking tests, the Sukraraj Hospital will be placing people into red and green categories from Friday. Those who have symptoms, have come into contact with the infected people, or came from hotspots will be in the red category. They will be able to provide their specimens for tests while those in the green category, which includes those who do not have a history of travelling to Covid-19 hotspots or contact with the infected, will receive counselling but will not be tested, according to Rajbhandari, who said that those who’ve come from districts like Dhading, Nuwakot, Sindhupalchok where there are no Covid-19 cases do not need to be tested.
Given the identification of new cases in Kathmandu Valley and the massive influx of people, the authorities are working on restricting public movement, according to Mahendra Prasad Shrestha, director general of the Department of Health Services.
“The only options we have are to perform more tests and restrict people's movement," said Shreshta.
The Home Ministry, on Thursday, restricted the movement of people from district to district in light of the increasing cases of Covid-19 across the country. On Tuesday, 83 new infections were identified, the largest number of cases in a single day.
The Health Ministry has deployed health workers to the Kalimati Fruits and Vegetable Market to collect samples from over 300 people for polymerase chain reaction tests and to perform 700 rapid diagnostic tests. The market was chosen for testing as a large number of trucks laden with produce from India congregate there. Covid-19 cases in India have continued to rise and present a clear and present danger to Nepal, according to the authorities.
The ministry has also decided to expand testing for health workers and security personnel on the front lines, as at least two nurses—one each in Kapilvastu and Parsa —four police personnel in Rupandehi and one in Bhaktapur have been infected with the coronavirus.
On Thursday, 38 individuals, including doctors, nurses, and others, from the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, were placed in quarantine after coming into contact with a six-year-old ENT patient from Kapilvastu who was infected with Covid-19. According to Dr Santa Kumar Das, coordinator of the Covid-19 management team at the hospital, among those quarantined are doctors, nurses, relatives of the patient and five patients who were in the same ward.
Authorities at the hospital have also sealed the neurosurgery ward where the infected patient had been admitted, according to the hospital’s executive director Dr Prem Krishna Khadga.
“We have completed contact tracing and have collected samples of all people who came in close contact with the patient for a polymerase chain reaction test,” said Khadga. "All those who came in contact with the infected patient will remain in quarantine for 14 days.”
According to the authorities, health workers on the front lines need to be prioritised as any infection in them could compromise the entire health care system.
"The risk of transmission will increase if health workers themselves get infected," Dr Roshan Pokhrel, chief specialist at the Health Ministry, told the Post. "We will test and quarantine all health workers involved in the treatment of Covid-19 patients."