Public responsible for containing spread of new coronavirus variants, officials sayExperts argue new variant could spread across the country if officials don’t step up monitoring and strictly enforce quarantine rules.
Many countries have closed their borders with the United Kingdom and South Africa, and cancelled direct flights to and from the countries after new and potentially more infectious variants of coronavirus were detected in the two countries.
In Nepal, the Covid-19 Crisis Management Centre also banned flights from the UK on Tuesday. Following the ban, the Ministry of Health and Population issued an advisory asking returnees from the UK to mandatorily quarantine for 10 days.
Experts say that as a single case of the new variant could spread it across the country, it is necessary for the government to step up its efforts to prevent that from happening. “A single case of the new variant of coronavirus will be sufficient to spread throughout the country,” Dr Harish Chandra Upreti, former director at the National Public Health Laboratory, told the Post.
Doctors have even drawn parallels between the initial outbreak of coronavirus and the new variant, calling on the government to step up its efforts. “The first case of coronavirus in the country came from Wuhan, China. The disease then came from Europe and the Middle East,” Dr Niraj Bam, associate professor at the Institute of Medicine, told the Post. “We should not forget that these few cases were sufficient to spread the virus across the country. Authorities should place people returning from those countries under strict institutional quarantine,” added Bam.
According to the BBC, the new variant of the virus detected in the UK could be 70 percent more infectious than other variants circulating across the world. South Africa is also struggling to contain a new wave of coronavirus infections, possibly linked to a genetic mutation of the virus.
Scientists studying the new variant of the virus believe that South Africa’s variant is more contagious than that seen in the UK and may affect young people more, and is maybe slightly more resistant to vaccines. There are also concerns that the South African variant of the virus could “re-infect” people who have already recovered after being infected.
But the government is placing all responsibilities of containing the spread of the new variant on the public. “We don’t have any option but to ask returnees from the UK to self-quarantine themselves for 10 days and ban flights from the country,” Dr Roshan Pokhrel, chief specialist at the Health Ministry, told the Post.
The Health Ministry’s advisory says people infected with the coronavirus and their close contacts need to isolate themselves at home for 10 days. But there is no mechanism to monitor if the infected are following the advisory.
When asked if the same provisions apply to the people returning from the UK or South Africa, chief specialist Pokhrel said that the government expects people to act responsibly. It is also their duty not to jeopardise the lives of others, he added.
Ad-hoc decisions like these have marred the Oli administration's response to the pandemic right from the beginning. As a result, new infections continue to surge, without any intervention measures in place to contain its further spread.
Public health experts said that it is an utter negligence on the part of the government to say that saving lives from the highly infectious and deadly virus is the public's responsibility and then shift the people’s attention to politics, instead of the virus.
It has almost been a year since the pandemic began, but except for enforcing a four-month-long nationwide lockdown, the government has failed to make necessary arrangements to expand testing and contact tracing, and isolating the infected—three key measures needed to fight the virus, according to the World Health Organization.
As cases surged across the country, the government stopped provind free testing and halted contact tracing, which has contributed to the spread of the virus, experts believe.
Due to the apathy of the concerned agencies to monitor if people have followed the quarantine advisory and to conduct tests of suspect cases and contact tracing, there is high probability that infected people are out and about, carrying on with their daily lives.
“Issues surrounding the pandemic are now being neglected in the country, and of late, attention has shifted to politics. This could prove costly for the people and the country,” said Dr Upreti.
Dr GD Thakur, former director at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division said,
“People are also taking risk of infection lightly, and the coronavirus has become something of a distant fairy tale, which is dangerous.”