TIA yet to enhance health screening for coronavirus

Kathmandu, February 24

A Nepali, who arrived in Kathmandu from Singapore last night, passed through the immigration area of Tribhuvan International Airport just like in the days before coronavirus outbreak was reported.

“Nobody asked me about my travel history or checked my body temperature,” he said on condition of anonymity.

Washington Cruz, a Brazilian, Emily Kaske, a German, and Prashant Sharma, a Nepali, who arrived in Kathmandu from New Delhi this afternoon too did not have to undergo any health screening or were asked any question.

“When in transit in Doha, I was asked about recent travel history and health conditions,” said Sharma, who came to Nepal from Cyprus. “But here nobody asked anything,” he added.

This is the situation at Nepal’s only international airport, which is yet to enhance health screening despite growing fears that the deadly novel coronavirus outbreak could reach pandemic scale with more and more countries witnessing spike in infection.

Most of the airports across the world nowadays take body temperature of passengers and ask them to fill out a form mentioning travel history and any sign of illness. Even neighbouring India, which until recently was stringent on passengers coming from China, Hong Kong, Thailand, South Korea, Singapore and Japan, has expanded health screening for anyone travelling from Nepal, Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Nepal too says it monitors travellers from China, Singapore, South Korea and Malaysia to prevent the novel coronavirus from entering the country. But passengers that THT talked to said they did not have to undergo any health screening.

“There is a thermal scanner at the airport to check body temperature of passengers. Passengers are tested individually only if thermal scanner detects high body temperature,” said Dr Bibek Kumar Lal, director at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division.

But, according to Dr Lal, the thermal scanner cannot record temperature of passengers coming in groups. This indicates people with above normal body temperature can easily pass through the airport unnoticed if they come in a group.

Health experts have been saying that surveillance should be enhanced at airports as the number of coronavirus cases is rising globally.

The virus, which originated in Wuhan, has killed nearly 2,600 people and infected about 77,000 in China. More than 1,200 cases have been confirmed in about 30 other countries, where more than 20 have died.

“We have suggested that the government strengthen infrastructure and enhance surveillance to prevent people, who might have been exposed to coronavirus infection, from entering the country,” said an official of the Ministry of Health and Population on condition of anonymity, adding, “A meeting was held at the ministry today to discuss this issue.”