Officials warn rise in number of cargo trucks entering Nepal raises the risk of coronavirusHealth workers fear the spread of Covid-19 if safety guidelines are not followed while allowing entry to trucks.
With the government deciding to relax the lockdown measures and allow factories to resume production, the number of Indian nationals entering Nepal in cargo trucks have increased several fold in recent days.
Cargo truck drivers and their helpers have been entering the country without undergoing proper health screening and reaching all major cities across the country.
According to Vijaya Kumar Sarawagi, the mayor of Birgunj Metropolitan City, the number of cargo trucks entering the country via Birgunj-Raxaul border point daily has reached around 700 and each truck carries two to three people—driver and their helpers.
"We just disinfect the truck's wheels, windshield and the driver's seat and measure the temperature of its occupants before allowing them in," Sarawagi told the Post, over the phone from Birgunj. "We cannot disinfect the people and they are reaching all major cities across the country."
Besides Brigunj border point, hundreds of cargo trucks are also entering the country via several other border entries such as in Bhairahawa and Nepalgunj.
An official deployed by the Ministry of Health and Population to coordinate with the provincial and local governments in Province 1 and 2 in the fight against the Covid-19, said that all local representatives whom he have met so far are worried about the possible spread of the disease from the people entering the country in cargo trucks.
"We all know that drivers and their helpers cannot stay inside the truck all the time," said the official. "Chances of the disease spread will be high when they come out and come in contact with other people."
Representatives of local levels that share borders with India have asked concerned authorities to perform coronavirus tests on cargo truck drivers and their helpers before allowing them entry.
"We have been prohibiting Nepalis stranded in Indian borders from entering the country to prevent the transmission of the virus. But we are not paying attention regarding the risk of the disease spread from the people entering the country in cargo trucks," the official at the Health Ministry told the Post.
Birgunj Mayor Sarawagi said that risk could be mitigated if the incoming cargo trucks are stopped at border points and the goods are sent to their destinations in domestic cargo trucks.
"We cannot test all drivers and their helpers, as the test is too costly and demands time and resources. It will be better if we use our own vehicles to transport the goods from the border," he said.
People who do not have high temperature and other Covid-19 symptoms does not necessarily mean that they are free from virus, making the disease difficult to diagnose without proper testing, health officials say.
Out of 109 confirmed Covid-19 cases in the country as of Saturday, health officials say more than 100 were asymptomatic cases.
"Symptoms can develop after these cargo truck drivers and their operators enter Nepal," Dr Babuaram Marasini, former director at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, told the Post. "The risk of transmission has increased with the relaxation of the restrictions. The only option we have for mitigating the transmission risk is strengthening our surveillance system and performing more tests."
Marasaini also suggested conducting random tests among the people working in factories and hotels operating along the highways to lessen the risk.
Dr Basudev Pandey, the director of the division, said a set of guidelines had been prepared to screen the people entering the country from various parts of India in cargo trucks.
"We have asked local levels to use Nepali drivers to transport the goods, or keep the drivers and their helpers in quarantine for at least 14 days and test them before allowing them to enter the country," he told the Post. "If we do not follow the guidelines, coronavirus can spread in any place."