Blanket ban on international arrivals won’t stop new Covid-19 cases, experts sayAs people continue to cross the border illegally, better to allow them to come home, send them to quarantine, maintain their records and send them home, they say.
Public health experts have called on the government to allow Nepalis stranded in foreign lands to return home as measures enforced by the government have not only failed to contain the spread of Covid-19, but also failed to prevent people from entering the country from India.
Contact tracing of the infected people will be difficult and chances of the disease spreading in the community will be amplified if people continue to enter the country through the porous border illegally, they said.
"New infections should have stopped long ago, if restricting people from coming home did the trick," Dr Baburam Marasini, former director at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, told the Post. "People will be compelled to use illegal channels if we prevent them from entering the country for a long time. This has been seen in various parts of the country."
With the reporting of three new cases in the country on Wednesday, the number of people infected with Covid-19 has reached 57, out of which 55 were detected after the lockdown started. Despite the nationwide lockdown, which began on March 24, people are crossing the open Indo-Nepal border by evading security patrols.
"I don't know who gave the ideas to the government to stop its own citizen from coming home," Marasini added, "It would be easier to trace the contacts of infected people and control the disease from spreading in the community if we let people come home legally, and document quarantine them."
Covid-19 cases have been exponentially rising in India and chances that cases will be imported from India will remain high unless the disease is eradicated in the southern neighbour, say experts. Preventing people from entering their own country and compelling them to live in unmanaged quarantine in a foreign country where the number of cases has been rising is not advisable, they add.
Such conditions will also take a toll on their physical and mental health, says an official from the ministry of health. "If we do stop people from entering the country and force them to live in foreign lands in inhumane conditions,their physical, as well as mental health will deteriorate," an official at the Health Ministry, told the Post. "The government should also start bringing people home from countries other than India as many have lost their jobs and are in trouble."
The risk of infection spreading from foreign returnees can be mitigated by keeping then in quarantine and recording their details, he said.
Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, a virologist at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital in Teku, said that allowing people to enter the country was one of the major challenges authorities faced. "New infections will not stop even after the lockdown ends,"Pun told the Post. "It will be easier to monitor documented people than those entering the country illegally."
Several mechanisms— female community health volunteers, mother's group, clubs, area development committees, local administrations can be used to monitor the movement of people returning from abroad, said Dr Pun.
Dr Basudev Pandey, director at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division also concedes that people who have entered Nepal illegally after the lockdown pose a challenge when tracing the contacts of infected people. "Due to fear of punishment, people lie about the date of their return from India and that of those who came in their close contact," said Dr Pandey.
Dr Pun, however, cautioned against allowing everyone stranded abroad to return home all at once after the lockdown is lifted as tracking their movement will become more challenging.
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.