The perilous journey of five Jumla natives from Ambedkarnagar to SurkhetThe government could have facilitated their travel from Rupaidiha but they were left completely neglected, say the returnees.
On Thursday, 51-year-old Sarki Rokaya from Jumla was in a rather subdued mood. He was tired. He had arrived in Surkhet after four days of perilous travel from India. These have been dangerous, painful days, he recalls, days when he subsisted on Parle-G biscuits and instant noodles. He was accompanied by four other men Saurya Rokaya, Bikash Rokaya, Nanda Bahadur Rokaya and Durga Rawat—from the same village in Jumla.
“I didn’t think we would make it alive,” he said.
The five had reached Ambedkarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, India, in late February. Like many other Nepalis, they had been to India to seek work. In Ambedkarnagar, they would sell summer clothes by travelling from place to place. But this year turned out to be different, as the coronavirus pandemic, which has so far killed over 50,000 and infected over a million people, has brought the world to its knees.
When the virus spread across India, Sarki Rokaya and his friends had just settled into the job. It had been a month since they had rented an apartment when the Indian government called for a lockdown in an attempt to curb the spread. The four friends had no job and limited means to survive.
“Amid all this, on Monday morning, a team of Indian security force came to our apartment, threatened us and ordered us to leave for our country,” Sarki Rokaya recalled. “We had no option. We couldn’t even store our goods properly.”
At around noon, they were asked to ride a crowded state-owned bus to Rupaidiya. “The bus was packed with both Indians and Nepalis,” Saurya, who is 32, said. “We arrived in Rupaidiha the next morning before sunrise.”
In Rupaidiha bus park, there were about 150 Nepalis who were ferried like them, all of whom were excited and confused at the same time, Sarki Rokaya said. Excited that they were now near the border of their home country and confused that they didn’t have the permission to pass the border since the lockdown was in place. The Indian security, however, provided them with food for the day.
On Tuesday at midnight, they received an order from the Indian security personnel to get on a tractor. “We were assured they would now take us to Nepal across Rupaidiha border point,” Saurya recalled. “But we were driven to a jungle after an hour-long ride. Then at one point, they ordered us to get off and threatened us at gunpoint to leave.”
Then they travelled across unknown fields and jungles to arrive at the border in Piprahwa, where the police let them leave for Kohalpur.
It was about noon on Wednesday when they reached Kohalpur, from where they left on a bus to Surkhet as managed by the police. But that bus left them at Chhinchu, from where they walked up to Birendranagar in Surkhet and arrived on Thursday morning. They are currently quarantined at a facility in Birendranagar. According to Captain Dayaram Dhakal of Nepali Army, who is in-charge of the facility, they haven’t shown any symptoms of Covid-19 yet.
Saurya said that while they are happy they made it alive, they have grievances regarding the government’s response at home. “The government could have facilitated our travel from Rupaidiya but we were completely neglected,” he said.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of May 27, 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. Covid-19 had spread to 210 countries and infected more than 5,684,795 people with 352,225 deaths. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 150,793 with 4,344 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 57,705 confirmed cases with 1,197 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 772 cases with four deaths.
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.