Nepal Army contacting people who bought SIM cards recentlyOfficials working under the assumption that those who returned to Nepal would have bought new mobile numbers.
The Covid-19 Crisis Management Centre under Nepal Army has started contacting people who have bought new SIM cards recently to track people who may have returned home from abroad recently.
A team of 20 army personnel have been assigned to call up people who recently bought SIM cards. During the inquiry so far, of 9,523 people contacted, 616 people were found to have come to Nepal from abroad and 19 of them reported symptoms that matched with Covid-19.
“We refer such people to the nearest hospital where they can be tested,” Nepal Army Spokesperson Brigadier General Bigyan Dev Pandey Pandey told the Post. “We are going to follow up on those who have reported symptoms.”
The centre, through the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, had sought the list of new mobile numbers issued between March 14 and March 24, the day the nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the contagious virus started. Officials assume that people who return home from abroad generally get a new SIM card at the border crossing or at the airport. However, not everyone who bought a new SIM card during the period is a returnee.
As most of the Covid-19 cases in the country have been reported in people who have returned from abroad, the government is using a host of measures to get returnees tested. The army said it is working closely with the other government entities to test returnees and quarantine suspects.
Nepal Telecom and Ncell have provided the list of around 64,000 new mobile numbers issued during the period. Nepal Telecom has provided a list of the new sim cardholders to the Department of Health Services as well.
Rajesh Joshi spokesperson at Nepal Telecom, the state owned telecommunication provider, said 193,000 people have bought the company’s SIM card from March 1 to April 5. A total of 20,000 numbers issued from March 14-24 have been handed over to the army.
Similarly, an official at Ncell confirmed that records of new subscribers have been handed over to the centre. “We have provided the list of mobile numbers issued without giving other details,” said the official on the condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to talk to the media.
Nepal Army records show that it has received 64,000 phone numbers (44,000 from Ncell and 20,000 from Nepal Telecom).
“Contacting people in the time of pandemic, has proven very effective in many countries. I am sure it will in ours as well,” Joshi told the Post.
According to Pandey, the 19 who reported symptoms of Covid-19 were from Bhojpur, Dang, Bardiya, Kailali, Kanchanpur, Baglung, Darchula and Makwanpur—most of them returned from India recently.
“We have found contacting people on the list very effective in finding out suspected individuals,” he said.
Along with making direct calls, the army has also deployed a mobile app on which it has received inquiries from 2,361 people. Pandey said officials are closely following 81 suspects.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of May 25, 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 had spread to 210 countries and infected more than 5,498,580 people with 346,688 deaths. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 138,536 with 4,024 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 54,601 confirmed cases with 1,133 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 603 cases with three 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.