Government whitewashing extent of coronavirus infection, health experts sayMinistry of Health has been incorporating the PCR results of healthy people taking the test to travel abroad in its daily Covid-19 briefing.
Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital in Teku, Kathmandu, conducted around 300 coronavirus PCR) on Sunday. Around 250 of those tests were sought by people who were planning to travel abroad.
“They were all healthy people seeking the service in order to travel to Hong Kong,” Dr Sagar Rajbhandari, director at the hospital told the Post.”A lot of people who visit our hospital for tests these days are those who are planning to go abroad.”
Around 5,000 PCR tests are being carried out daily across the country, and nearly 1,300 of these test subjects are healthy individuals, mosty youths, who are seeking the service to travel overseas.
Some health officials say that the Ministry of Health and Population has been incorporating the test results of these healthy people in its daily Covid-19 briefing to give a false sense of declining infection rate.
The ministry has also been including the number of tests undergone by health workers—which they must on a regular basis, individuals who have court dates and government staff serving at the Prime Minister’s residence and Singhadurbar.
Officials at the Health Ministry have been claiming that infection rate has declined based on these test results when in fact the test numbers have been reduced by more than half since October.
“Number is not everything. We have to see the percentage also,” Dr Samir Kumar Adhikari, joint spokesperson at the Health Ministry, told the Post. “Positive percentage has declined in the total tests, that is important in itself.”
Public health experts, however, say it is ridiculous to claim that the number of infected people have declined by counting the number of healthy people who got tested to travel abroad.
“If we stop testing today, the number of new cases will be zero immediately,” Dr Govinda Ojha, former director general at the Department of Health Services, told the Post. “What can we expect from this government, whose focus is not in saving people’s lives but the life of the government itself.”
On October 5, the Cabinet decided to provide free testing and treatment only to those who can’t afford to pay, frontline health workers, security personnel and cleaning staff. The decision was enforced by the Health Ministry from October 17.
With the government halting the free test service, contact tracing was automatically stopped. Doctors say contact tracing is crucial to breaking the chain of the virus spread.
The government has not increased the test numbers despite the Supreme Court’s ruling to provide free tests and treatment. The government has only been providing free test and treatment services only to “symptomatic” patients.
“We do not know the actual number of infected people, nor the extent of the infection, as we are not performing sufficient tests and contact tracing,” Dr Prabhat Adhikari, an infectious disease expert, told the Post. “The number of deaths and serious patients in the intensive care unit has not declined, which proves that risk and spread of infection is not over yet.”
According to Adhikari, even if the infection rate has declined in the Kathmandu Valley as claimed by the authorities, a second wave of infection is looming.
“Infection of the highly contagious disease like coronavirus spreads in waves, and if the first waves have finished, second waves will start,” he said. “As all business has resumed and people are ignoring safety measures, another wave of infections is more likely to come early.”
The government is jeopardising public lives by ignoring the risks and reducing the tests, a doctor at the Department of Health Services said on condition of anonymity.
“This government will prove one day that the coronavirus infection is nothing and can be cured by turmeric water. Authorities concerned are ignoring experts’ advice and disregarding science. People have to suffer, when irresponsible people hold the power,” the doctor said.