Asymptomatic patients in home isolation in Kathmandu find themselves in limboThey say it’s difficult for them to get counselling and tested again to ensure they are free of coronavirus.
Suraj Shrestha, of Kathmandu Metropolitan-32, has been in home isolation for 15 days now. Shrestha’s office got all its employees tested for Covid-19 after a colleague was found to have been infected.
“On August 14, I also tested positive. But as I didn’t show any visible symptoms, local authorities asked me to isolate myself at home,” said Shrestha.
After his reports came in, Shrestha’s daughter, son and wife were also tested for the disease on August 15. “But luckily, their result was negative,” said Shrestha. “However, it was difficult for me to stay in home isolation as I was worried I would pass the disease on to my family members,” he said. “But we took as many precautions as we could.”
Suraj is one of the 500-odd asymptomatic Covid-infected residents of Kathmandu Metropolitan City isolating themselves at home following a government decision on August 20 to provide hospital beds only to patients with visible symptoms.
The government decision came following a surge in the number of Covid-19 cases across the country, resulting in a shortage of isolation beds in hospitals. The country has so far reported 37,340 Covid-19 cases—3,960 in Kathmandu alone, making it the district most affected by the pandemic.
According to Ishwar Man Dangol, spokesperson for Kathmandu Metropolitan City, over 500 infected people are currently staying in home isolation. “We don’t have isolation beds in Kathmandu Metropolitan City. Due to this, many people who do not meet the government criteria have to stay in home isolation,” said Dangol. “The government is preparing to set up a 2,000-bed isolation ward in the Valley soon.”
However, people isolating themselves say it is not easy for them to get in touch with health workers, receive counselling from them and get tested again after spending the prescribed two weeks in isolation.
Officials at the Ministry of Health and Population however claimed that the people who are kept in home isolation are contacted everyday by health workers of respective wards.
“Health workers assigned by the respective wards are in touch with people who test positive and they even get patients admitted to a hospital if they start showing symptoms,” said Ganesh Shrivastav, information officer at the Ministry of Health and Population.
Shrestha said he hasn’t received adequate attention from the health worker assigned by his ward. “I barely received four calls from the health worker to check on my health,” he said. “It was my office that paid to get me and my family tested again after we stayed in isolation for two weeks,” said Shrestha, who is waiting for his second test reports.
The situation Jarina and her family faced is also similar. The Koteshwor resident who tested positive along with her family on August 12, has been isolating herself. “It’s been over 16 days, my family members and I have been in home isolation and we are yet to know for how long we have to stay in home isolation,” said Jarina, who wished to identify herself by her first name only.
“I received only around six calls during this time period from a health worker from Kathmandu Metropolitan City who was asking if I had any problems.”
The last call the family received was on Friday. “During the call, I asked if we could get tested again to confirm that we’ve fully recovered. But they told me that if we didn’t show any symptoms, we don’t need to get tested, Jarina told the post.
However, Jarina and her family are worried that they might transmit the disease to others if they haven’t recovered. “All we did was stay home, we haven’t done anything for treatment,” said Jarina. “What if we test positive again?”
Shrivastav from the ministry said that health workers are telling people in home isolation they don’t need to get tested again if they don’t show symptoms. “Asymptomatic patients don’t need to get tested again if they don’t show any symptoms even after staying in home isolation for two weeks.”
Narendra Bajracharya, chief of the Urban Health Division at Kathmandu Metropolitan City, said the city has assigned 10 dedicated teams of 4-5 members to track infected persons staying in home isolation.
“However as the number of cases in Kathmandu is soaring, our health worker may not be in touch with everyone. However, we have asked them to immediately contact us if they face some problems or symptoms,” said Bajracharya.
“We have recently hired two additional doctors, who will visit patients' homes in case of emergency.”
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.