South Korea requests Nepal to reschedule flights of workers showing symptoms of coronavirusEvery week, dozens of migrant workers from Nepal leave for South Korea, where over a dozen cases of coronavirus have been reported.
With the coronavirus continuing to spread across countries, the global health scourge has begun to affect Nepali labour migrations.
In the wake of the possibility of spreading coronavirus, the Nepal chapter of the Human Resources Development Service of South Korea—the central South Korean organisation overseeing human resources management, including the arrival of foreign labour forces—has requested that the Nepal government not send any workers who could possibly be carrying the coronavirus.
A delegation from the South Korean agency visited the Department of Foreign Employment on Tuesday and requested Nepali officials to closely examine Nepali workers leaving for South Korea via the Employment Permit System (EPS).
“The South Korean officials have urged us to stop those workers who are suspected of showing symptoms of coronavirus,” Bhishma Kumar Bhusal, director general of the Foreign Employment Department, told the Post. “They have not asked us to completely stop the migration of Nepali workers, only those who carry symptoms similar to the coronavirus.”
Symptoms of the coronavirus include fever, cough and shortness of breath or symptoms similar to the cold or flu. The virus can spread from person-to-person through close contact, which is said to happen mainly via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes—the same way influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread.
“Coronavirus symptoms are similar to the common cold and cough. So, they have requested us to stop those who possess these symptoms,” said Bhusal. “If their flight is already scheduled, it can be rescheduled. We will ask these workers to go in for a medical examination, take rest and leave only after they are declared fit.”
According to media reports, there have been more than 20,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in China alone, with a death toll of at least 425 and rising. The outbreak has spread internationally, infecting 170 people in more than 20 countries, including Nepal and South Korea—one of the popular labour destinations with Nepali migrant workers.
Every week, dozens of Nepali workers leave for South Korea, where at least 17 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed—the latest being a 38-year-old South Korean man who had visited Singapore from January 18 to 24 for a conference, which included guests from Wuhan.
According to Bhusal, the Nepal government will be careful while sending its workers to South Korea as this is a global public health threat.
The EPS Nepal Section—under the Department of Foreign Employment—is also introducing awareness programmes about the coronavirus, its spread and prevention in orientation training for those leaving for South Korea.
“We will anyway stop any worker who shows symptoms of coronavirus,” said Krishna Prasad Khanal, director at the EPS Nepal Section. “For now, we are asking them to use a face mask although the condition is not dangerous in Nepal, yet. The rescheduling of the flight will be done for those who are sick.”
South Korea is considered a safe labour destination for Nepali workers for it has better facilities and perks for migrant workers with a guaranteed work period for a minimum of four years and 10 months. So far, more than 60,000 Nepali workers have reached South Korea since 2008 through the EPS.
The departure of Nepali workers to South Korea are mostly scheduled on Mondays when a group of 100-150 Nepali workers leave to work in South Korea. Before their departure, these workers have to go through two rounds of medical tests—the first, soon after having passed a Test of Proficiency in Korean Language (TOPIK) and filling up of the employment form and the second, a few days before their flight, according to Khanal.
“We do not have any mechanism for testing coronavirus. Even hospitals do not do it here,” said Khanal. “So we will inform them about coronavirus during their orientation and tell them not to go if they have similar symptoms. Otherwise, they will have to return from South Korea because they have to go through a post-arrival medical examination there.”
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of April 2, 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 203 countries and infected more than 950,713 people with 48,311 deaths. In South Asia, Pakistan has reported the highest number of infections at 2,071 with 26 deaths. While India has reported 1,834 confirmed cases with 41 deaths. Nepal has so far reported six 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.