A woman shares her family’s harrowing journey from India to Surkhet during pandemicMaan Kumari and her family were cruelly treated when they reached their hometown and at the quarantine centre they were accused of bringing the coronavirus.
When Maan Kumari’s husband and her brother-in-law were temporarily laid off from their jobs at a hotel in Lucknow, India due to the Covid-19 outbreak, they decided to return to their home in Nepal. Without monthly salaries to pay the rent, it would have been difficult for them to survive there.
So, on May 22, the family of eight, including Maan Kumari’s three children and her eight months pregnant sister-in-law, boarded a bus along with 15 other Nepalis to their hometown in Surkhet district of Karnali Province. At that time, they didn’t have the slightest idea that their journey would be fraught with uncertainty, fear and intimidation.
When Mann Kumari and her family finally reached Karnali Province after eight hours of bus ride, they were informed by the police at the checkpoint that they weren’t allowed to continue their journey without getting tested for Covid-19. It was nine in the evening and they had nowhere else to go. The family spent two nights out in the open field without any food or water before they were allowed to continue their journey on the third day after undergoing Rapid Diagnostic Tests (RDT).
“Our RDT test results showed that all of us were negative. After that, we were taken to a quarantine centre in Surkhet, which was overcrowded and lacked basic sanitation facilities. We were just waiting for the 14-day quarantine period to be over so that we could finally go to our home,” said Mann Kumari.
However, even after 18 days, Mann Kumari and her pregnant sister-in-law are still in the quarantine centre, waiting to undergo Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests.
The medical officers have already performed PCR tests on Mann Kumari’s husband, their three children, her sister and brother-in-law. Except for Mann Kumari’s husband and their 12-year-old daughter, everyone tested positive and they were moved to isolation centres.
While Mann Kumari doesn’t know why she and her sister-in-law have still not been tested, Hira Lal Regmi, chief district officer of Surkhet, said that testings have been delayed due to the lack of PCR kits in the district.
“There are only 1,750 PCR kits available at the moment, whereas there are already 9,253 people in the quarantine. Around 1,000 or so people are showing up at the border every day. We have informed the concerned authority about this situation,” said Regmi.
As Mann Kumari’s eight-year-old daughter was put in isolation, she decided to accompany her daughter in the isolation centre, which was being shared by 12 other people.
“Though I was scared that I might as well get the virus, I didn’t want to leave my daughter alone. I was worried for her,” said Mann Kumari.
In the isolation center and while journeying from India to Nepal, Mann Kumari said she had first hand experience of the coronavirus-related stigma and discrimination.
“While we were at the checkpoint of Karnali, the shopkeepers didn’t sell us food since they didn’t want to take money from us. In the isolation centre, locals and the cooks accused us of bringing the virus to the village. They told us that we were brought to the isolation centre to die,” said Mann Kumari.
After spending three days in the isolation centre with her daughter, Mann Kumari returned to the quarantine centre, as her expecting sister-in-law needed care and support.
She said she had to return to the quarantine centre because her brother-in-law, who is also being kept in isolation, nearly escaped from the facility in order to be with his pregnant wife.
“My sister-in-law had called her husband and told him that she was being kept in a room alone and there was no one to ask for help. So, I decided to return to the quarantine centre,” said Mann Kumari.
At first, Mann Kumari thought that she wouldn’t be allowed to return to the quarantine centre since she had been staying in the isolation centre with her infected daughter. But she had no problem convincing the police personnel deployed at the quarantine centre.
Regmi, the chief district officer of Surkhet, said a person in isolation is not allowed to get near quarantined people, let alone live with them.
“If someone enters the quarantine center after coming in direct contact with the people infected by Covid-19, they can affect other people as well. If that is the case, I will have a thorough investigation done in this regard,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mann Kumari and her sister-in-law have been staying in the same room. She said they have been observing the social distancing rule by keeping three metres distance between them and neither of them have any symptoms of the Covid-19.
Mann Kumari said that she would not have gone back to the quarantine centre after staying in the isolation centre had there been a better care and facility for her pregnant sister-in-law.
“She is weak, and she needs constant attention. I have made sure that I would not touch her. Instead, I would just watch her from a distance. At least, it’s better than to have no one around,” said Kumari.
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.