Mobilise provincial, local governments to track, test and quarantine people who returned to Nepal, experts sayLocal governments and health facilities complain of inadequate resources to handle a possible crisis.
Provincial and local governments need to be mobilised to track people who recently returned to Nepal from foreign countries, including India, and keep them in quarantine, as all cases of Covid-19 so far reported in the country have been imported, governance experts say.
Though the provincial and local governments were supposed to track people returning from abroad and tell them to stay in self-isolation or quarantine facilities, they are yet to do so even as the risk of outbreak increases with people returning from virus-affected countries going about their daily lives.
“If we assess the impact of the lockdown in the past two days, I do not think it was effective,” Khimlal Devkota, a scholar on federalism, said. “So, there is no option but to activate the local governments to trace not only the people who have returned from abroad recently, but also those who have come from Kathmandu.”
Devkota’s statement was also echoed by former health minister and Nepali Congress lawmaker Gagan Thapa, who in his open letter to the prime minister on Wednesday, called on authorities to mobilise local governments and administrations to track and isolate the people who might have been infected to prevent the virus from spreading.
In his letter, Thapa has mentioned that over 10,000 people have returned to Nepal on airplanes from coronavirus-affected countries while thousands others have entered the country via border crossings with India.
Only this week, as Nepal announced a lockdown, over half a million people returned from India through various crossings and another half a million have left the Kathmandu Valley for their hometowns and villages fearing an outbreak. But the government has failed to effectively trace their status, place them into quarantine, and test them for possible infection.
These people have reached several parts of the country and are walking freely, Thapa said in his letter. “We do not have a surveillance or monitoring system in place to know about their status,” said Thapa.
The first confirmed case of Covid-19 was reported in Nepal on January 9 on a 32-year-old student who had returned from Wuhan, China, where the disease was first reported. The patient has since recovered and out of hospital. The second and third cases were confirmed two months after the first on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively. The patients are a 19 year-old woman who had returned from France and a 32-year-old man who had returned from the UAE. Both of them are being treated at the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital in Teku, Kathmandu.
The government says it is tracking the passengers travelling on the same flights with the two latest Covid-19 patients.
To stem the spread and treat the disease, the central government has asked provincial governments and metropolitan cities to build quarantine facilities, but authorities at the grassroots have complained of inadequate resources, two senior local government officials told the Post.
“We are receiving complaints from health workers regarding inadequacy of protective gear needed for their work, but we couldn’t provide them that,” one of them said. “This has been the challenge for all local governments.”
Prof Krishna Pokhrel, who has taught public administration and political science for decades, also says the government should mobilise local political and administrative units at the earliest.
“The government should widen its outreach and mobilise local political and administrative units to cope with a possible outbreak,” he added.
Bishnu Rimal, chief adviser to Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli said the federal government had already instructed the provincial and local governments to build temporary hospitals, isolation wards and intensive care units.
“We have instructed the provincial governments to act quickly to tackle the issue in an immediate effect,” he said.
Meanwhile, in Kathmandu—where all three Covid-19 cases have been confirmed so far, the city authority has started disinfecting the city’s neighbourhoods.
Eleven jet machines were used to disinfect Kalimati, Teku and Hanumandhoka areas on Wednesday, Rajesh Gyawali, joint secretary at the city office, told the Post.This work will continue, he added.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of March 28, 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 596,349 people with 27,343 deaths. In South Asia, Pakistan has reported the highest number of infections at 1,373, with 11 deaths. While India has reported 667 confirmed cases with 20 deaths. Nepal has so far reported four 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.