Experts suggest effective monitoring, not completely sealing border with IndiaWith the rising number of Covid-19 cases in India and increased cross-border movement, calls are growing for completely shutting the border with the southern neighbour.
With the Covid-19 taking a toll on various countries, including India, concerns are growing in Nepal over how to deal with the unrestricted movement of people through the roughly 1,800-km-long porous border between the two countries.
Hundreds of Nepalis are crossing the border every day from India in the wake of the rising number of confirmed cases in India, making many wary of possible entry of the virus. So far, no restrictions have been put in place for the movement of Nepalis and Indians through the border points.
Amid growing fears, calls are also growing to completely shut the border.
In an address on Friday, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli said that health check-up facilities will be installed at border points. Currently, only four border points are in operation, but reports suggest people’s movements through other border points as well.
Experts, however, have pointed at practical difficulties in completely shutting down the border, given the unique relationship Nepal and India share.
“Sealing the border completely could be difficult. Also, it would be inhumane to prevent own citizens from coming to their home country,” said Deep Kumar Upadhyay, a former ambassador to India. “I suggest limiting the number of entry points and screening the people in a more effective manner.”
Apart from those border points through which cargoes pass, there are hundreds, as many as 500, of points through which people from both countries cross into each other’s territory.
Upadhayay said this is time the three tiers of government worked in close coordination to ensure every individual coming to Nepal is checked properly.
“The governments of local units bordering India must be equipped to ensure that there is no haphazard movement of people from both sides,” Upadhyay told the Post. “It is not easy to regulate around 500 border points between Nepal and India. Some of them should be closed. The fewer the number of open border points, the easier it will be to screen people.”
Since it was first detected in Wuhan of China, the new strain of coronavirus has so far killed 11,889 and sickened 181,132 people across the world. Nepal has reported only one case, but officials are on the tenterhooks given the gradual rise in the number of confirmed cases in India.
As of Saturday, India reported five deaths and 283 infections.
With India’s central and state governments taking drastic measures to control the spread, many Nepalis living and working there are now returning home.
Currently, thousands of people from the Sudurpaschim Province, Karnali Province and Province 5 are returning home. Health experts have called for proper screenings at the border points they are using to cross into Nepal.
Foreign affairs experts and security analysts say both the countries should work in tandem and deal with the border issues sensibly.
Bhekh Bahadur Thapa, a former foreign minister and diplomat, said that the government should properly monitor the Indo-Nepal borders instead of going for a complete shutdown as it will have economic as well as social ramifications, affecting lives of people on both sides.
“The government must monitor Indo-Nepal border points, but it is not that easy,” Thapa told the Post. “It, however, has now become necessary and it should be done by the two neighbours in close coordination.”
Nepal and India completely shut the border during the time of elections only, but such border points are selected depending on the regions where votes are being cast. Otherwise, Nepal and India are bound by a treaty which allows equal treatment to citizens of both the countries for free movement.
The Nepal government of late has been discussing whether all the border points with the southern neighbour should be sealed. Nepal has made a request to the Indian government to this effect, but a response is yet to come.
Last week, during a weekly press briefing, Raveesh Kumar, spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, said that no decision [with regards to border movements] has been taken yet and that any decision will be conveyed through advisories.
Geja Sharma Wagle, a security analyst, said since Nepal now has already taken drastic measures to control the spread of the virus, including suspension of all flights to Nepal, the only way to prevent the disease from entering, which is very much possible from India, could be sealing the border.
He, however, said that Nepalis residing in India should be allowed to enter after strong screenings and provisions of quarantine, if necessary.
“It would be an uphill task for an ill-equipped country like ours to contain the disease in case it spreads. Therefore, every measure should be taken not to allow it to enter,” said Wagle. “Border should be sealed for people's movement while imports of essential goods should continue.”
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of April 5, 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 11,79,733 people with 63,908 deaths. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 2,902 with 68 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 2,708 confirmed cases with 41 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.