Six percent of Covid-19 cases are from communities, but no community transmission yet, Health Ministry saysPublic health experts have long suspected community transmission and have urged the government to acknowledge the fact and take adequate measures.
Despite a massive surge in Covid-19 cases throughout the country, the government has yet to confirm community transmission of the disease, even though public health experts have long suspected otherwise.
While the Health Ministry has not officially confirmed community transmission, officials at the ministry have conceded that around six percent of Covid-19 cases in Nepal have been found in people with no travel history to infection zones or close contact with the infected.
“Around six percent of cases are from the communities while the rest are in quarantine where we have placed people who’ve returned from abroad,” Dr Roshan Pokhrel, chief specialist at the Health Ministry, told the Post. “However, all cases found in the communities are limited to particular wards and there is no transmission from one ward to another, so we do not have community transmission."
Others at the Health Ministry itself believe that around 10 percent of cases are from communities and the disease spread in the communities months ago.
"Even if the six percent number is true, that means over 800 people with no travel history or contact with the infected have tested positive,” said an official who asked to remain anonymous as he was contradicting the official ministry position. "We have done nothing to contain the disease and lessen its spread in the communities."
According to Pokhrel, around 15,000 polymerase chain reaction tests have been performed on samples collected from the communities where Covid-19 has been detected.
"The Health Ministry’s claim does not reflect the ongoing situation and a reluctance to accept the truth does not help contain the disease,” a senior health official, who was sent to the provinces to help coordinate among the agencies, told the Post, also on condition of anonymity. "We are claiming that all is well by closing our eyes. To see what is happening, we need to open our eyes."
Health Ministry officials argue that India has not yet declared community transmission, despite the number of cases crossing 586,000.
Public health experts, however, have long believed that Covid-19 has already spread in the community and the government needs to move fast if it is going to contain the disease.
“The government should acknowledge the truth and start taking measures to contain further spread of the disease,” Dr Baburam Marasini, former director of the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, said. “The public will be aware and take precautionary measures if we tell them the truth.”
As of Wednesday, Nepal had reported 14,046 infections, including 30 deaths, from all 77 districts.
According to Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, chief of the Clinical Research Unit at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital in Teku, going by the numbers, the risk has increased.
“We have to take extra precautions. Tests should be increased in the communities, health workers should be provided with enough protective gear, and attention should be paid to contact tracing,” said Pun.
“It will be very tough for us to contain the disease once outbreaks begin in the communities on a massive scale. Health workers are not needed for contact tracing. Teachers, students, community people and youths can be mobilised for the job.”
If the coronavirus has spread in the communities, fatalities will increase as there will be more chronic patients, elderly and small children, said Pun. Health facilities will be overwhelmed if large numbers of people become sick at once and the risk for health workers will also increase consequently.
"The government should do what it is supposed to before it is too late," said Pun.