Nepalis stranded at border allowed to return home only on TuesdayA meeting of the high-level coordination committee also sought the private sector’s help in acquiring medicines and medical equipment by Saturday.
In view of the large number of Nepalis stranded on the border with India following the nationwide lockdown, the government decided to allow citizens to return home only on Tuesday.
But the returnees will have to undergo health screening and remain in quarantine for 14 days, the high-level committee for the prevention and control of COVID-19, led by Deputy Prime Minister Ishwar Pokhrel decided on Tuesday.
“The decision was taken after a number of Nepalis were unable to enter the country before the government decided to seal the border [from Monday],” said Health Minister Bhanu Bhakta Dhakal, a member of the committee. “This is the only time we will allow anyone to enter, and they must remain in quarantine.”
More than 1,000 Nepalis were stranded at various border crossings with India.
The committee directed local and provincial governments to make arrangements to place the returnees under 14-day quarantine in their respective hometowns.
The government has been gradually disconnecting Nepal from the rest of the world in view of the pandemic. After first announcing cancellation of flights from 55 countries, authorities expanded the measure to all flights from outside Nepal and placed the country under a complete lockdown.
Nepalis in foreign land have expressed serious concerns about not being able to return home, with many saying they do not have the means for an extended stay abroad.
The high-level committee also took cognizance of these concerns and requested countries concerned to ensure the safety of Nepalis living in their territory, said Secretary Narayan Bidari, member-secretary of the committee. The government has also appealed to Nepalis abroad to remain patient.
The confirmation of a second Covid-19 case in Nepal on Monday raised alarms in the country, leading many to wonder if Nepal has adequate means to test suspects and treat patients.
In addition to accepting medical and logistical assistance from China and India, and billionaire Jack Ma, the high-level committee has also decided to seek the private sector’s help in procuring necessary medicine and equipment needed to treat patients from abroad as the public procurement process would take a long time to complete.
According to Lekhraj Bhatta, Minister for Industry, Commerce and Supplies, the government will assist the private sector by providing transport if they can procure the necessary materials in a transparent manner.
The committee has asked the Department of Health Services to finalise a deal to supply essential medicines and equipment by Wednesday and ensure that supplies reach Kathmandu by Saturday.
As concerns were raised over the practical rules of the lockdown, the committee clarified that journalists with a press pass, health workers, including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, lab technicians, and those involved in the production and distribution of medicine shall be allowed on the road provided they can show their identity cards.
The government has also decided to allow Covid-19 tests at the BP Koirala Academy of Health Science of Dharan, Pokhara Academy of Health Science and Bheri Hospital Nepalgunj at the earliest. The Ministry of Health and Population is to manage necessary test kits and training, the committee decided.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of March 31, 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 8,07,705 people with 39,456 deaths. In South Asia, Pakistan has reported the highest number of infections at 1,865 with 25 deaths. While India has reported 1,251 confirmed cases with 32 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.