Province 2 teeters on edge with the highest number of Covid-19 cases in the countryOf the 98 confirmed cases in the province, 85 are from Parsa district alone.
As reports of community transmission of Covid-19 in Birgunj Metropolitan City surfaced, most districts in Province 2 had not recorded a significant number of infections, apart from a few cases in Bara, Rautahat and Sarlahi districts.
But, fast forward to Wednesday, seven of the eight districts of the province have a significant number of Covid-19 cases and the province has become a hotspot for infections in the country.
One of the reasons the virus has spread so quickly is the way people reacted to the nationwide lockdown, which started on March 24. “More than 50 days into the lockdown, people are still coming out of their homes and socialising,” said Pradip Lal, a local of Janakpur Ward No. 9. “Only yesterday, nearly 50 locals gathered in Parwaha of Dhanusha to look at an overflowing ditch by the roadside,” said Parbhat Jhan, a Parwaha resident.
“The public has still not understood the importance of maintaining social and physical distance here in Janakpur,” said Lal.
As of Wednesday, 98 people have tested positive for the disease in the province. On Tuesday alone, 61 new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed and three more on Wednesday, prompting authorities to tighten the lockdown.
Bara and Parsa districts issued prohibitory orders on Tuesday as most people were still found to be flouting the lockdown rules. Preparations are also on to issue the order across the province to avoid the further spread of the disease, said the province’s Minister for Internal Affairs Gyanendra Yadav. “We will have to tighten the lockdown. We are coordinating with the security forces to make the lockdown more effective.”
Authorities believe that people on the south of the Nepal-India porous border are illegally entering Nepal in large numbers.
Armed Police Force Superintendent Rajesh Upreti said 93 people have tried to cross the border illegally until Wednesday. Sixty-nine have been caught trying to cross a river in Siraha. “We have deployed all of the personnel available with us at various border points,” said Upreti. “But it’s impossible to stop the movement of people through informal routes without help from the locals.”
The local people’s failure to inform authorities regarding the entry of people from across the border is one of the major reasons Covid-19 cases are on the rise in Birgunj, says Kameshwor Chaurasiya, chief of Parsa District Health Office.
“Even the locals didn’t stop crossing the border,” said Chaurasiya, “They don’t want to let the authorities know and hide information about their visits. This is why it’s becoming more difficult for us to fight coronavirus here in the province.”
Superintendent Ganga Panta of Nepal Police, Birgunj, also attributed the rise in infections to the open border as well as the general public’s disregard for the lockdown order. Panta also points out the lack of coordination between the local governments is also proving costly.
“It has become difficult to work as there’s a lack of coordination, and the people are trying to pass the buck,” said Panta, “The infected and their families are in hiding, and they refuse to isolate.”
Birgunj Mayor Bijay Kumar Sarawagi says lack of coordination between the local governments of the province has been a major hurdle, but what has worsened the situation is the federal and provincial governments’ apathy towards the growing risk of Covid-19 infection.
“Birgunj is one of the major transit points and an economic centre of the country with goods entering for distribution across the nation,” said Sarawagi, “But authorities failed to take stock of the situation and keep Birgunj safe.”
Sarawagi points out the delay in formulating plans and policies, and its implementation also contributed to the spread of the disease.
Meanwhile, as the province records a geometric spike in the number of infections, it still is reeling under a shortage of medical equipment and kits to test more people. The province faces a shortage of viral transport media kits, and this in turn has prevented it from carrying out more PCR tests.
“The stock of VTM kits is almost depleted and we have already asked the federal government to provide us for the kits numerous times,” said Province 2 Social Development Minister Nawal Kishor Shah, “Since the federal government hasn’t responded, the province on Wednesday bought 1,000 VTM kits on its own.”
Province 2 Health Supplies Division Director Dr Pramod Kumar Yadav also informed that the province is short in VTM kits for the last two weeks.
There are currently 104 people undergoing treatment at isolation wards set up at various hospitals in Janakpur, Birgunj and Rajbiraj. The province, with 5.4 million people, has only tested 1,792 people using PCR and 3, 131 using rapid diagnostic kits.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of August 7, 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 had spread to 213 countries and infected more than 19,253,765 people with 717,644 deaths and 12,355,145 recoveries. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections 2,025,409 at with 41,638 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 281,863 confirmed cases with 6,035 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 22,214 cases with 70 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.