Amid virus fears, breathalysers to be used only sparingly to check drink drivingTraffic police personnel need to be vigilant while conducting such checks as droplets from an infected person may transmit the disease, health officials say.
In a bid to keep its officials and commuters safe from the possible transmission of a novel coronavirus, the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division has directed its officials to use a breathalyzer to check drunk driving only when it is “absolutely necessary”.
Authorities worldwide are scrambling to stop the spread of Covid-19, and many countries have asked their nationals to self-quarantine, have closed educational institutions and offices, often leading to empty roads and markets.
“When the police suspect that a person is riding under the influence of alcohol, only then will the person be tested,” said Senior Superintendent Bhim Prasad Dhakal, the chief of the division.
Globally, cases of novel coronavirus that first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late December have claimed 5,535 lives and more than 147,000 people are infected, as confirmed by the World Health Organization.
“It’s not only public, our officials too are vulnerable to the transmission of the disease. That is why we have directed them to take mandatory precautions,” said Dhakal.
He said the traffic police personnel should mandatorily wear a mask, hand gloves, carry hand sanitisers and use breathalyzer only when they have suspicions about a person driving in a drunken state.
At present, the traffic police have only 70 breathalyzers, of which 20 are out of order. Traffic police officials said the defunct breathalyzers are not being repaired as they have to be sent to China for repairs.
So far, Nepal has reported one case of a novel coronavirus in the country, in late January.
Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, a virologist at the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital said the traffic police should take special precautionary measures while conducting a breathalyzer test on a drunk driver. “Traffic police should be extra careful as they interact closely with many people every day,” said Pun.
He said the chances of disease transmission from an infected person through droplets while conducting the anti-drunk-drive tests is quite high.
Traffic police say after the World Health Organization on March 11 declared Covid-19 a pandemic, the traffic on the Kathmandu roads has dropped, but not significantly. However, every night, the division office has been deploying its staff in 42 points across the Valley to check drunk drivers.
Traffic police’s anti-drunk-drive campaign that started on December 2, 2011, has become a successful drive. Over the past decade, the division office says the drunken driving cases have dropped by 50 percent.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of April 4, 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. As of Wednesday, Covid-19 had spread to 204 countries and infected more than 1,098,762 people with 59,172 deaths. In South Asia, Pakistan has reported the highest number of infections at 2,686 with 40 deaths. While India has reported 2,547 confirmed cases with 62 deaths. Nepal has so far reported six cases, in which one patient recovered.
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.