Vital medical supplies stuck at Tatopani border point due to damaged roadUnified Covid-19 Hospital has been unable to operate its ICU ward as the oxygen plant remains stuck at the border.
The Unified Covid-19 Hospital has been waiting for the arrival of an oxygen plant from China for the last three weeks to start a new 50-bed ICU (Intensive Care Unit) facility.
But the oxygen plant with the capacity of filling around 200 cylinders per day has been stuck on the Chinese side of the Tatopani border point since the middle of June after floods and landslides damaged the road on the Nepal side.
“We have completed setting up ICU beds with ventilators at the surgical ward of Bir Hospital three weeks ago targeting the Covid-19 patients as the oxygen plant was supposed to arrive by that time,” said Dr. Nabin Pokharel, deputy director at the Unified Covid-19 Hospital. “Since the oxygen plant has not arrived yet, we are using the ICU ward as a general ward.”
The Unified Covid-19 Hospital is being run at a building belonging to Bir Hospital. The hospital is currently treating 125 Covid-19 patients.
Although the hospital is capable of running the ICU ward with the oxygen supplied from outside, Pokharel said that the hospital didn’t want to rely on a single source for oxygen.
As the hospital is also preparing to operate a liquid oxygen tank, Pokharel said the ICU ward would be operated once the oxygen supply is ensured either through a new oxygen plant or liquid oxygen system.
But with the road damaged by floods and landslides, it remains uncertain when the oxygen plant will arrive.
Floods and landslides have damaged the road section from the Tatopani Customs Office to the border point.
Over 80 containers, including those carrying at least two oxygen plants and many other medical goods, are stuck at the border, said Narad Gautam, chief of the customs office.
“One of the containers is carrying an oxygen plant meant for Bir Hospital,” he said.
The customs office had been clearing 10 containers a day before the road was damaged. These days it clears 2-3 containers daily—and for that the goods have to be carried by porters from the border point to the office.
“Only containers carrying apples are being cleared for the last 10 days because they can be carried by porters. Heavy goods and equipment cannot be transported by porters so they remain stuck,” said Gautam.
After the second wave of the pandemic hit the country, a large number of medical goods including oxygen cylinders, oxygen concentrators, surgical masks, personal protective equipment, intensive care unit beds, among others, were brought through the Tatopani border point.
In mid-May, Silk Transport, a logistics company, alone had brought as many as around 20,000 oxygen cylinders for private companies.
“These days, with the road damaged, we are only bringing in apples from across the border using porters,” Ramesh Sherpa, said chairman of the company.
The damaged road has not been repaired yet due to the protest from some local residents who say digging up the hill to open up the road will put their homes at landslide risk.
As the monsoon has just begun, there is a risk of further damage on the road, which may affect the flow of vital supplies like medical goods particularly for Covid-19 patients, officials say.
While the import of goods from the Tatopani border point has been affected, the other Nepal-China border at Rasuwagadhi remains operational.
Ram Prasad Regmi, chief customs officer at Rasuwagadhi, said there has been no major monsoon-related incidents to obstruct the movement of goods at the border point.
“Transportation of goods had been obstructed for two days early this week due to landslides on the road from the customs points to Dhunche, but the road has been cleared and the goods are moving smoothly,” he said.
Even though hundreds of containers carrying Nepal-bound goods were stranded in the bordering areas due to China’s travel restrictions last year, the Chinese authorities have not restricted the flow of goods to Nepal this time.
“From early this year, all the containers stuck on the Chinese since early last year have been cleared,” Regmi said.
China has opened its border points with Nepal for one-way flow of goods, from China to Nepal.
During the first 11 months of the current fiscal year, Nepal imported goods worth Rs15.15 billion through Rasuwagadhi customs and Rs5.29 billion through Tatopani border points, according to the Department of Customs.