UN health agency alerts Health Ministry about the risk of transmission of a new strain of coronavirusThe new strain of coronavirus was first detected in the Wuhan city of China.
At least one person has died of respiratory failure and more than 40 others suffered a pneumonia-like illness caused by a new strain of coronavirus last week.
It is not immediately clear how and where the new strain of the virus originated.
"The UN health agency has alerted us to take precautionary measures to prevent the possible transmission of the deadly virus in our country," Dr Bibek Kumar Lal, director at Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, told the Post. "We are at high risk of deadly disease, as China is our neighbouring country and the flow of tourists from China is very high."
Coronavirus is from a large family of viruses with some causing a less-severe disease, such as the common cold and others more severe diseases such as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), according to the WHO.
Globally, novel coronaviruses emerge periodically in different areas, including SARS in 2002 and MERS in 2012. The outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan is reported to be linked to a large seafood and animal market, suggesting a possible zoonotic origin to the outbreak.
"We have no health workers to quarantine suspected cases at the Tribhuvan International Airport or at any land crossings," Lal added. "We have been urging the Health Ministry for a long time to deploy human resources, but to no avail."
Of the nine health desks—one at the Tribhuvan International Airport and eight at the land crossings, none are functional due to a staff crunch. Those health desks are also lacking in infrastructure facilities such as thermal imaging cameras, infrared thermometers to check the temperatures of the travellers, sufficient personnel protective gears, isolation facilities and trained human resources to handle the suspicious cases, according to Lal.
Some health workers, who were trained to quarantine commuters at the time of the Ebola virus outbreak in Africa in 2014, were transferred to local levels. The division has prepared a guideline for screening passengers at the entry points, taking the help of the WHO’s country office in Nepal, but due to a lack of trained human resources in those desks, the guideline is yet to be implemented.
Meanwhile, the Health Ministry on Sunday held a meeting with the Department of Immigration about the risk of arrivals of infected people and the possible ways to control the virus spread. "We held a meeting with the director-general of the Department of Immigration today and discussed the security measures," Secretary for Health Khaga Raj Baral told the Post. "We are also working to depute health workers at those health desks at the earliest."
Nepal is highly vulnerable to several deadly coronaviruses like MERSD and SARS, as hundreds of thousands of Nepali migrant workers have been serving in the Middle East and South Korea, where these viruses are common. As well, more than 1 million foreign tourists visit the country every year.
Additionally, hundreds of peacekeepers from the Nepal Army, Armed Police Force and Nepal Police have been serving in the African countries affected by the deadly Ebola virus. Those peacekeepers have been entering the country without any health screening for a long time.
The WHO says high visitor traffic can play a critical role in the spread of deadly diseases internationally.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of April 6, 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. As of Wednesday, Covid-19 had spread to 204 countries and infected more than 12,53,269 people with 68,803 deaths. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 2,577 with 83 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 3,059 confirmed cases with 45 deaths. Nepal has so far reported nine cases, in which one patient recovered.
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.