Virus testing halted in Surkhet after machine stops workingIn Karnali, around 1,600 swab samples are yet to be tested, authorities say.
The lone real-time polymerase chain reaction machine at Coronavirus Test Laboratory at Karnali Provincial Hospital, Surkhet, has been out of order for the past five days with around 800 swab samples, collected from various districts of Karnali Province, yet to be tested.
Om Acharya, lab coordinator at Provincial Health Service Directorate, said, “Swabs collected from Dailekh, Salyan, Jajarkot, Rukum (West) and Surkhet districts have been kept in the lab under controlled temperature.
“The temperature in the freezer has been maintained at minus 80 degrees celsius. We can preserve the samples for five to six months but given the pandemic, it would be good to expedite testing,” said Acharya.
Karnali’s provincial government had brought the RT-PCR machine from the laboratory of Tribhuvan University, and started testing samples from April. The machine can process 96 samples at once, but it was yet to be used to its full capacity.
Although the federal government also sent another PCR machine to test samples in mid-April, it was out of order by mid-April.
In a meeting of the Provincial Disaster Management Centre on Monday, Mahendra Bahadur Shahi, Chief Minister of the province, directed the ministers and health officials to fix the RT-PCR machine as soon as possible.
Reeta Bhandari, director at Provincial Health Service Directorate, however, said that officials have been sending some swab samples (after RNA extraction) to a laboratory in Nepalgunj. “The machine has gone out of order but testing has not stopped. On Tuesday alone, we got four samples positive from the Nepalgunj laboratory,” said Bhandari.
Meanwhile, the PCR machine at the Jumla-based Karnali Academy of Health Science is also unable to process samples at the required pace. Bishworaj Kafle, registrar at the academy, said, “Discussions are being held to send the pending 800 swab samples from Surkhet to the academy for testing. But, we already have 800 swab samples here.”
Until Tuesday, 1,466 individuals tested positive for coronavirus in Karnali Province. Dailekh (760 cases), Surkhet (347 cases) and Salyan (177 cases) are the most virus-hit districts in the province. The Surkhet-based laboratory used to test swab samples from these three districts.
Although PCR testing had started in Dailekh from Monday, it has not gained momentum as the samples are being sent to Nepalgunj-based lab for cross verification. Narayan Municipality had purchased the machine on June 24. Dr Niranjan Pant, chief at the health Service Office in Dailekh, said, “We tested 40 samples on the first day and sent those samples again to Nepalgunj for verification. We have just started testing and we will release the results in the next few days.”
Similarly, Chaurjahari Municipality in Rukum (West) has also purchased a PCR machine. Bishal Sharma, mayor of Chaurjahari, said, “The machine is being installed now. We hope that testing will start from Friday. Swab samples from Salyan, Jajarkot, Dolpa and Surkhet could be tested here.”
A total of 29,107 swab samples were tested in Karnali until Tuesday. According to the Ministry of Social Development, among 1,466 individuals who tested positive for Covid-19, 520 have been recovered so far. Dr Laxmi Narayan Tiwari, chief at the Health Service Division of the ministry, said, “There're only 365 active cases of coronavirus in various isolation centres of Karnali province.”
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of July 4, 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 213 countries and infected more than 11,190,680 people with 529,113 deaths. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 649,889 with 18,669 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 221,896 confirmed cases with 4,551 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 15,419 cases with 34 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.