Restrictions maybe in place, but Valley’s mobility is too high to curb virus spreadWith a growing number of people living in core city areas of the Valley being infected, doctors warn that the Capital is turning into a coronavirus hotspot.
On Thursday, Subas Dhakal of Tarakeshwor Municipality ward 6 in Kathmandu used two public buses to get to his office at Chabahil. He has a motorcycle but he could not use it because of the odd-even rule on use of vehicles, including two-wheelers, due to a new government measure to check the spread of the coronavirus.
“It was peak office hour and the bus was crowded. Some people did not even have face masks on,” Dhakal, who works at a finance company, told the Post. “I am worried about a possible infection. I have elderly parents and children at home.”
Concerned about having to travel in a crowded bus back home again in the evening, Dhakal decided to walk.
“I walked for two and a half hours to get home,” said Dhakal.
Traffic was relatively lighter on Kathmandu’s streets on Thursday, the first day of the new rule since July 21, when the government lifted almost all coronavirus restrictions, but with their vehicles at home, people were crowding in buses.
Doctors are critical of this new regulation as this does not check the spread of coronavirus. Instead, it increases the risk of virus spread, according to them.
“I do not understand who gives such ideas to the government,” an official at the Department of Health Services told the Post on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media.
“People do not stop coming out, as all offices and businesses are in operation. Chances of spreading the coronavirus will be high, if we let only half of the public vehicles operate.”
Public health experts say the problem is not just crowded buses due to the odd-even rule. Kathmandu’s mobility is too high and even if people don’t take crowded public buses, they will be moving from one part of the city to another.
One of the reasons Covid-19 cases have risen in the Capital is increased public movement since the lifting of the lockdown last month.
So far, Kathmandu Valley has reported 874 Covid-19 cases, according to the Health Ministry, including 87 on Thursday. The national Covid-19 tally has reached 21,750 with 65 deaths.
Authorities are mulling over sealing the areas from where more infections are reported.
But a doctor said given the mobility of people in the Valley and authorities’ failure to ensure contact tracing, sealing certain areas is practically impossible.
‘The infection has spread in so many places of the Valley that it is impossible to seal them or enforce restrictions,” said a doctor at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital in Teku, asking not to be named. “The entire Valley has become a Covid-19 hotspot or red zone.’’
The way infections have been reported among some police personnel and traffic cops also shows how the virus is spreading, according to public health experts.
Multiple officials at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division told the Post that that Kathmandu Valley has become like Bhulke of Udayapur and Nepalgunj of Banke but the difference will be more people will get infected and die, as it is densely populated and more elderly people suffering from chronic diseases live here.
Failure to take appropriate measures on time resulted in a sudden rise in the number of Covid-19 cases in Bhulke and Nepalgunj, turning them into hotspots and leading the local authorities to scramble to contain the spread of the virus.
Five deaths were reported on Thursday, the highest single day toll. According to the Health Ministry, there were 66 people in intensive care on Thursday, which is also the highest number so far. Among them four are critical and are on ventilators.
“I would like to make an appeal to all to follow safety measures, as hospitals beds, equipment and health workers are going to be short,” said Dr Jageshwor Gautam, spokesperson for the Health Ministry, at a regular press briefing.
An official at the Department of Health Services said that Kathmandu Valley could see a catastrophe like the one seen in Italy.
“We are going to lose the fight against Covid-19, without fighting properly,” said the official asking not to be named. “It was easy to defuse the spread of virus in places like Udayapur, but it will be tough in Kathmandu, which is densely populated.”
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.