Thousands of returnees from India run out of food and waterTwo people returning from Gujarat in India died in Surkhet and Dhanusa for want of medical attention, and hunger.
Kalendra Sejuwal & Ajit Tiwari
Birendra Rokaya arrived in Surkhet on Tuesday afternoon, three days after leaving Gujarat in India. Rokaya, 22, had gone to India for work with his uncle Hari Khatri in February. With the Covid-19 crisis deepening, the duo decided to return.
Though Rokaya didn’t show symptoms of Covid-19, he had been ill for a long time with rheumatoid arthritis.
Throughout their return trip, the duo was provided food and fruits by volunteers in India. But when they entered Nepal, no one cared. “Without enough rest, it was hard for my nephew to make the long way home,” said Khatri. “My nephew’s health deteriorated by the time we reached Surkhet.”
Once in Surkhet, it was hard to get a vehicle to take Rokaya to the hospital, Khatri said. Two ambulances turned down his plea. It took half an hour to find another vehicle. When they finally reached the Provincial Hospital, Rokaya was pronounced dead. He tested negative for Covid-19.
Khatri reckons his nephew would have survived if they were provided food and other services on the way by the Nepali government.
Nearly 10,000 people have arrived in Karnali Province from India since May 14, according to Ashok Bhandari, chief of the health desk in Babai. The province, however, has not provided food or any other facility for the returnees.
The provincial government has asked local units to quarantine returnees, but people have to wait for hours, most of them without food or water. “The first thing many people ask for when they check-in at the desk is food and water,” Bhandari said. “But the provincial government hasn’t made such provisions.”
While returnees are at high risk of catching the virus, the province’s testing mechanism has stopped since Monday, according to Bhandari. “All we do at the desk is check the temperatures of as many people as we can,” he said. “The government should have made provisions for food and a swift transfer to quarantine facilities.”
Addressing a meeting of the provincial assembly, Mahendra Bahadur Shahi, chief minister of the Karnali province, said that the heavy influx of people has overwhelmed his administration. “Our plan is to stop returnees wherever they are and place them in quarantine. But that hasn’t worked out as people are adamant about going home,” he said.
“We have requested the federal government for help. We understand many people are travelling hungry and thirsty and they are angry, but we are figuring out how to both control the spread of the virus and facilitate the returnees’ travel.”
Indra Bahadur BK of Dashrathpur in Surkhet, who recently returned from India recently, said he travelled all the way without water. “I had never seen a more incompetent government,” he said. “We feared we’d die of hunger, if not coronavirus.”
Meanwhile, at the Jatahi border point in Dhanusa, Province 2, another man lost his life. A 30-year-old man returning home to Sahidnagar in Dhanusa from Surat in Gujarat, India, through the Jatahi border point in Dhanusa died on Wednesday morning.
His relatives, who came to the border to receive him, said that the deceased had been sick for the past few days. “He was feeling unwell, but we couldn’t arrange for an ambulance on time to rush him to the hospital,” said Ram Hari, an uncle of the deceased. “A few that we contacted refused to give service.”
It had taken the deceased six days to reach Darbhanga, Bihar, from Surat.
Chief District Officer Koshhari Niraula said the deceased was with a group of around 250 Nepalis who had arrived at the border on a train from Darbhanga and had arrived in Jatahi at 3am on Wednesday.
All major Nepal-India border points have been sealed for more than two months since the lockdown was put in place. However, the movement of people across the border points continues with the federal government’s decision to allow Nepalis stuck at border points to enter Nepal.
Superintendent of Police Ramesh Basnet in Dhanusa, said, “At around 7am, we were informed that the deceased was critically ill. He died while an ambulance was being sent to take him to the hospital.”
A Nepal Army team brought the deceased's body to the Provincial Hospital in Janakpur. His swab sample has been collected to test for Covid-19.
Following the death, those who had come along with the deceased from Surat chanted slogans against the government calling out its indifference towards the plight of migrant workers. The crowd breached the security barricade and entered into Nepal. Security personnel later took all of them to quarantine facilities in various places in the district.
As many as 345 Nepalis entered Nepal from Dhanusha’s Jatahi border point on Tuesday. The returnees will be kept in quarantine facilities for two weeks before they are allowed to go home.
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.