Nepal looks to India and China for lessons on containing the coronavirusAlthough Nepal has yet to make an official request for support, it is currently studying what both countries are doing to restrict the spread of Covid-19, foreign minister says
As Nepal prepares for an eventual Covid-19 outbreak, it is looking towards both neighbours for best practices to contain the virus.
China, where the coronavirus originated, has officially offered help in the form of medical support and logistics should Nepal require it while India has pledged $10 million towards a fund that any South Asian nation will be able to make use to fight the virus.
Addressing a weekly media briefing in New Delhi, Raveesh Kumar, spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, said that India has informally received a request from Nepal and the Maldives for a rapid response team with medical equipment to contain the possible outbreak of coronavirus.
Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali confirmed that Nepal has not yet sought any specific assistance from both neighbouring countries but was studying best practices.
“We have received offers from India and China but at this point of time, we have not made any formal request,” Gyawali told the Post. “We want to study the practices they have adopted to contain the pandemic. If we need any support, we will definitely ask them.”
India on Thursday said that the SAARC fund is already up and running and that it has received requests for assistance from some member states.
“Informal requests have been made by Nepal and the Maldives regarding rapid response teams and these [requests] are being processed,” said Kumar, at the weekly press briefing in New Delhi on Thursday.
According to officials, Foreign Secretary Shanker Das Bairagi held a meeting with Indian Ambassador Vinay Mohan Kwatra on Wednesday and put forth some of Nepal's immediate requirements, including the rapid response team and medical support from India to contain the possible outbreak of the coronavirus.
The Nepal government on Wednesday took a series of measures to control the spread of the virus, including banning all air passengers from entering the country and postponing nationwide exams. However, it is falling short of medical equipment and protective gear.
With the number of cases rising in India, officials in Kathmandu have been discussing ways to control the movement of people through Nepal-India border points.
India so far has reported three deaths and 180 infections.
At least two officials told the Post that both countries are discussing ways to seal the porous border completely for some time given the risk. The discussions, however, are in the preliminary stage, according to officials.
A meeting of the National Disaster Management Authority under the aegis of the Ministry of Home Affairs on Thursday concluded that Nepal faces a high risk of virus spread through the Nepal-India border and urged the government to take immediate measures to control it.
“There’s a threat of the virus entering via the open border. So we have decided to tighten the border as over 300,000 people have crossed the border in the last two weeks,” said Kedar Nath Sharma, spokesperson for the Home Ministry. “Nepal and India have already regulated some border points and restricted movement. Discussions on what measures can be taken to control the border in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic are underway.”
An official who spoke on condition of anonymity said that Foreign Secretary Bairagi and Indian Ambassador Kwatra also discussed the possibility of shutting down the Nepal-India border for some time if the situation worsens.
Currently, only four border crossings are in operation between Nepal and India, but as the two countries share a roughly 1,800-km-long open border, completely halting the movement of people would be almost impossible.
According to Indian officials, medical teams are manning the border points that are in operation and are conducting thorough screenings of people crossing the border.
Kumar, the spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, said there are currently no restrictions on people’s movement and no immediate plans for the same.
"It's an evolving situation and there won't be any behind-the-scenes decisions," Kumar said at Thursday’s press briefing. “If decisions are taken, they will be conveyed through advisories.”
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of September 22, 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 has spread to 213 countries and territories around the world and infected more than 31,405,983 people with 967,505 deaths and 22,990,260 recoveries. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 5,557,573 with 88,943 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 306,304 confirmed cases with 6,420 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 65,276 cases with 427 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.