He lost his job and wanted to come home. The lockdown killed him.Bishnu Prasad Neyopane died waiting for the lockdown to be lifted so he could come home. There are more than 3,500 others like him in Kuwait alone.
The last couple of months had been tough for Bishnu Prasad Neyopane. He, along with his wife Chandrakala, had migrated to Kuwait in April 2017 for work and their tenure was coming to an end. But two months before the end of their contract in July, the employer demanded an advance for renewing their visa, threatening to send them home if they failed to comply.
They refused to pay and were subsequently fired. It was at this time that Neyopane’s health started to worsen. The couple had little money to pay for his medical bills and were looking to return home. On May 6, while waiting for the lockdown in Nepal to be lifted so they could come home, Neyopane died.
The cause of death of the 41-year-old from Kapilvastu was listed as “a heart attack”.
Neyopane and 11 other Nepali workers had been facing difficulties after their employer refused to renew their working visas. According to Shankar Bhattarai, a relative of the deceased, they had been out of work for two months, and the company had also cancelled their visas.
“How could they pay 450 Kuwaiti Dinar when they were only earning around 100KD [approximately Rs39,093]?” said Bhattarai. “Since the problem was with the employer, they wanted to return home but were unable to because of the lockdown in Nepal.”
Neyopane did his best to return home.
In a handwritten letter with the signatures of 11 other stranded workers, Neyopane narrated how the employer had made them sign a visa cancellation paper and had left them without jobs or pay for 50 days.
“Before we could cancel our visa and return home, the lockdown was enforced. We could not be Nepali or Kuwaiti,” reads the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Post. “Other workers are getting a basic salary, but we have been deprived of the income. We have run out of the money that we saved.”
In conversation with a fellow Nepali worker, which was shared on social media, Neyopane is seen pleading for help. He informs about 12 Nepali workers stranded in two separate camps—Farwaniya and Mahboula—in Kuwait.
“Because of the lockdown, I am neither getting a job here nor can I go back to Nepal when I try to leave,” Neyopane said in a Messenger conversation. “We’ve been stranded for two months now. Our pockets are empty. I don’t know what to do now. I have informed the Nepal embassy several times. My life is in danger now.”
Nepal has been under a complete lockdown for nearly two months now, with its borders sealed and all international flights suspended. Nepali workers in foreign lands have lost jobs and are fast running out of money. But they have no option other than to live in squalid conditions in crowded rooms where the threat of infection is high. In such conditions, Nepalis workers have begun to die.
According to the Non-Resident Nepali Association, at least 96 Nepalis have died in foreign countries due to Covid-19.
Last month, a 40-year-old Nepali worker who tested positive for Covid-19 committed suicide in Turkey after jumping from the second floor of the hospital.
Neyopane was an otherwise healthy person but his health had deteriorated in the last few months, according to Bhattarai. He would complain of low blood pressure, but he had been taking care of himself.
“He did not have a single bad habit. He never smoked or drank. He would regularly do yoga and was a spiritual man,” said Bhattarai. “He was tense following the dispute with the employer. He had resigned and was counting the days for flights to resume so that he could return home.”
Like Neyopane, thousands of Nepali migrant workers are languishing in Kuwait, like in most other countries in the Persian Gulf. Ushered into camps without jobs or proper food has left them vulnerable not just to Covid-19 but to other diseases too.
Nearly 3,500 undocumented Nepali workers and those who have overstayed their visas have applied to return home, utilising a general amnesty offered by the Kuwaiti government. They await the Nepal government’s decision to come home.
Calls for repatriating migrant workers, especially those requiring immediate help, have gotten louder in recent weeks. Last week, a motion of public importance was registered in Parliament to bring Nepali workers back from Covid-19 hotspots.
According to Suraj Maskey, a migrant worker in Kuwait, the lockdown is taking its toll on their mental health.
“The uncertainty is leading Nepalis to depression. This incident [Neyopane’s death] happened due to the negligence of the Nepal government and the Nepali Embassy in Kuwait,” Maskey, who is also an honorary member of the Non-Resident Nepali Association International Coordination Council, told the Post over the phone from Kuwait City. “They had long been planning to return home, but they could not travel due to the lockdown. If they were home, perhaps Neyopane would have survived.”
Neyopane’s body remains in the hospital and his family hopes they will be able to bring his mortal remains home for his final rites. Since the lockdown and the suspension of international flights, bodies of dozens of migrant workers have remained in the countries where they were working.
“He could not return alive,” said Bhattarai. “We hope at least the government makes arrangements so that we can perform his final rites here in Nepal.”
But Bhattarai holds the Nepal government accountable for the death of his relative.
“If only there had been no lockdown, or if the government had arranged to bring workers home, he might have survived,” said Bhattarai. “He would’ve gotten treatment in Nepal.”
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.