Health Ministry rules out evacuating Nepalis from China at the momentAt least 100 Nepalis, mostly students, are in Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, according to the Nepali embassy in Beijing.
As countries around the world scramble to evacuate their citizens from China in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the Nepal government has no immediate plans to bring Nepalis back from cities across China, including Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak.
Officials at the Health Ministry on Sunday ruled out evacuating Nepalis from China at the moment.
“At present, there is hardly any difference between staying in China or being back in the country,” Mahendra Prasad Shrestha, spokesperson for the Health Ministry, told the Post.
Since first detected in December last year, the ‘novel coronavirus’ has so far killed 56 people in China and infected 1,975 people. From Wuhan, the virus has spread to more than 12 countries, including Nepal.
Officials in Kathmandu have so far confirmed one case of the virus in a Nepali student who had returned from Wuhan earlier this month. The virus has been suspected in two other Nepalis, a man and a woman, who had also returned from China.
It could not be immediately confirmed how many Nepalis are currently in China, but officials say a majority of them are students.
According to Sushil Lamsal, deputy chief of mission at the Nepali Embassy in Beijing, around 100 Nepalis, most of them students, are living in Wuhan and they are in touch with the embassy.
“We have records of all Nepalis living and working in Wuhan and the number was around 120 earlier,” Lamsal told the Post over the phone from Beijing. “At least 20 Nepalis have either left for Nepal or other cities for the Chinese New Year holiday. So we believe there are around 100 Nepalis in Wuhan.”
Most of the Nepalis in Wuhan are medical students. Some work in Indian restaurants in various capacities and others are businessmen.
Pramila Devkota, a Nepali student in Wuhan, said Nepalis living in the city are worried.
“We are so stressed that my husband and I were only able to sleep for two hours last night,” Devkota told the Post over the phone from Wuhan. “We have not been to the market for the last several days due to a fear of contracting the virus.”
Devkota said he is unaware if any Nepali in Wuhan has contracted the virus.
“We are in touch with some Nepali friends in Wuhan via phone, but we have not met anyone since the city was put under lockdown," she said.
According to Devkota, she had contacted officials at the Nepali Embassy in Beijing to inquire about the possibility of the rescue of Nepalis in China.
“Officials said that it is up to the Nepal government,” she said.
The Nepali Embassy in Beijing issued a public notice on January 23 and called on all Nepalis living in the country to remain in touch with the embassy and Nepal’s Consulate General offices in Lhasa, Guangzhou and Hong Kong, and the Nepali honorary consul in Shanghai.
Nepalis in Wuhan, along with the city’s 11 million residents, have been under lockdown ever since Chinese authorities imposed a travel ban on Wuhan and a number of other cities in Hubei province in the wake of the rapid spread of the virus.
“Since flights have been suspended and vehicles stopped from moving in and out of the city, there is no way for Nepalis to get out of Wuhan,” said Lamsal. “Some are desperate to return to Nepal, but the city is on lockdown.”
Lamsal said some believe staying in Wuhan is a better option because in case of infection, they can get better treatment.
“As of now, we have not received any request from any Nepali living and working in China for evacuation,” Lamsal told the Post.
Shrestha said that it was understandable that Nepalis in China are currently in panic, as the virus has been spreading fast.
“But we have no plans right now to evacuate,” said Shrestha. “Wuhan is a city of 11 million people and not everyone has contracted the virus.”
China's National Health Commission said on Sunday that the ability of the coronavirus to spread is getting stronger and infections could continue to rise, according to Reuters.
The World Health Organisation, however, has not declared the new virus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.
On Wednesday, the UN health agency convened a meeting of the Emergency Committee, where members expressed divergent views on whether the China coronavirus outbreak constituted a public health emergency.
Members stopped short of calling it a global health emergency but agreed on the urgency of the situation and suggested that the committee should be reconvened in a matter of days to examine the situation further, according to the World Health Organisation.
Back in Nepal, visitors who’ve recently arrived from China have started visiting Teku’s Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, afraid that they could have contracted the virus, according to a doctor at the hospital.
“Over a dozen people who recently returned from China have visited our hospital in the last two days,” the doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity as the Health Ministry has prohibited them from speaking to the media, told the Post.
Meanwhile, the Health Ministry said that it has decided to set up health desks in Pokhara, Lumbini and Sauraha of Chitwan to screen tourists for the virus. According to Shrestha, the ministry spokesperson, health desks have also been set up at the Rasuwagadhi and Tatopani border points. The ministry has also decided to direct the National Public Health Laboratory to carry out influenza tests round the clock. The laboratory had only been carrying out influenza tests on working days.
Anil Giri contributed reporting.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of March 29, 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 199 countries and infected more than 650,812 people with 30,341 deaths. In South Asia, Pakistan has reported the highest number of infections at 1,495 with 12 deaths. While India has reported 918 confirmed cases with 19 deaths. Nepal has so far reported five 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.