The government has shut down the border points to prevent cases of coronavirus from entering the country
As advised by the World Health Organisation (WHO), a cabinet meeting held on Sunday decided to shut down all customs points with China and India to prevent the movement of people from both the countries. This measure came into force from yesterday, and it will remain effective for a period of at least one week. The government may extend the restriction on the movement of people from both the countries in view of the growing number of people entering the country, especially from the southern border points. The government resorted to locking down the country from air and surface routes after thousands of Nepalis started returning home from India within a couple of days amidst growing concern that imported coronavirus may infect large swathes of the country’s population. However, import and export of goods from both the sides will continue, as per the cabinet decision. The government has already decided to shut down all international flights to and from the country’s only international airport – Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu. With the decision coming into force, all the six trading routes, including two motorable roads to China’s Tibet, and 39 motorable routes and 125 other accessible entry points with India will remain closed. A joint team of the Nepali Army and Nepal Police will be deployed to enforce the ban on the people’s movement through the border points.
The government’s decision to shut down the international borders comes close on the heels of two imported COVID-19 cases – one from China’s Wuhan city and the latest one coming from France – on Monday. The first confirmed case of COVID-19 was detected in January. Although no case of the virus has been detected so far inside the country, the likelihood of many more imported cases of the virus cannot be ruled out, given the 1,800-km-long porous border with India, where eight people have already succumbed to the disease while over 400 people have contracted it. Earlier, WHO had urged the government to seal the international borders to prevent the import of the virus. This is the main reason why the government has asked all Nepalis to stay put where they are.
In order to deal with the emerging health situation, the government has also decided to create a fund of Rs 500 million, which will be used to procure logistics support for the treatment of the infected people who are being quarantined. All the metropolises, sub-metropolises, municipalities and even the rural municipalities have also geared up to build dedicated quarantine centres to provide medical treatment to the virus-infected patients. All the quarantine centres combined will have a total of 5 lakh beds across the country. This is a good move taken at the local levels. However, the federal government should be able to distribute the logistics and testing kits to all the quarantine centres. Setting up quarantine centres alone will not suffice. People themselves should help each other at the community level, maintain the minimum hygiene and sanitation, keep social distancing and take extraordinary precautions to prevent infection by the virus. The government should also strictly intensify market monitoring to curb black-marketing of essential goods, services and medicine.
The government has taken the right decision to bar office-bearers and employees of the local levels from going on foreign junkets. With the country and almost the entire world in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed nearly 15,000 lives and affected 340,000 people worldwide, it was the right thing to do. The Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration has through a circular issued Sunday asked the local levels not to sanction any foreign travel until the COVID-19 outbreak is fully contained in the world.
With the country under partial lockdown from Monday, the local levels should be contemplating what to do to prevent the spread of the virus and lessen the panic among the people. Every year, thousands of elected office-bearers and employees of the government go on foreign trips at the invitation of a host country or agency. But with Europe, Asia, the US and Australia in the grip of the coronavirus, it is unlikely that any country would be in the mood to entertain visitors from outside for some time now. Moreover, since both known cases of coronavirus in Nepal were introduced by carriers who had been abroad, it is good to keep travel to a minimum.
A version of this article appears in print on March 24, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.