EDITORIAL: COVID-19 screening

Should there be an outbreak, the cost of containing the coronavirus is all too obvious, as witnessed in China, South Korea and Iran

The first case of the novel coronavirus was detected nearly three months back on December 1 in Wuhan of Hubei Province in China, but its spread shows no signs of slackening, with the virus now spreading to South Korea, the Middle East and Europe even as it reportedly stabilises at the Chinese epicentre. While governments across the world are taking maximum precautions to stave off the virus, resorting to quarantines, travel restrictions and even curfews, the laxity seen at Nepal’s only international airport in Kathmandu is cause for alarm. A Nepali man who arrived Sunday night from Singapore just walked through the immigration area of Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), with no one there to ask about his travel history or check his body temperature. Neither did others — Nepalis and foreigners — who arrived here from New Delhi Monday afternoon undergo any health screening at the airport. The government had set up a health desk at the TIA in January to closely monitor the coronavirus disease, following the alarm sounded by the World Health Organisation. But the business as usual at the airport has baffled the passengers who arrive by the thousands from the world over.

So far, a Nepali, a 31-year-old student who had returned from Wuhan in January, has tested positive for coronavirus. He was, however, discharged after undergoing treatment at the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital in Kathmandu. A Saudi national, who showed symptoms of coronavirus, after arriving Nepal from China in February, however, fled from the Teku hospital after doctors suggested he be quarantined. Quite a few other cases did throw up a scare, but they all tested negative. In mid-February, the government evacuated 175 Nepalis who were living in six cities of Hubei Province. Some other Nepalis who wanted to return to Nepal could not do so for medical reasons. Those evacuated from Hubei have been holed up in two buildings belonging to Nepal Electricity Authority in nearby Bhaktapur. They will be allowed to go home and meet their family members only after they have been quarantined for at least two weeks.

The novel coronavirus has affected 37 countries and territories around the world and one cruise ship, with more than 80,000 cases recorded and 2,700 deaths globally. Despite all the strict measures adopted by China to prevent its spread, the disease is almost into its fourth month, with no signs of abating. It thus behoves the government to show seriousness in stopping the disease at the source, namely the TIA and other entry points. A health desk has also been set up at Rasuwagadhi to screen for possible coronavirus cases. Where feasible, it might be a good idea to reactivate the other health desks that were set up at the border points during the outbreak of the Ebola virus in 2014. Should there be an outbreak, the cost of containing the coronavirus is all too obvious, as witnessed in China, South Korea and Iran. We have neither the funds nor the human resource to tackle a pandemic. How this would affect the tourism industry and the economy needs no elaboration. So let everyone — government, the concerned departments and officials — be accountable and not allow dereliction of duty at any level.

Cooperate with NEA

Most of the development projects get delayed not due to a paucity of funds, but because of unnecessary obstructions created by the locals, who either want a higher price for the land acquired for the projects or a review of the projects. Such problems have surfaced in the 132 Kv high-voltage double-circuit Solu Corridor (transmission line) project. Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) has been unable to complete the transmission line due to the local obstruction for the last three years. They have also demanded that the prescribed route of the transmission line be changed and more compensation be paid to them.

NEA Managing Director Kul Man Ghising, during his visit to Solukhumbu, made it clear that it was not possible to review the route of the transmission line. Failure to complete the transmission line will result in wastage of energy produced from several hydel projects in the district and the huge investment made there. While the affected households deserve adequate compensation on time, it is also their duty to cooperate with the NEA, which has been able to end the energy crisis in just a couple of years. The locals should understand that regular supply of energy will help boost the country’s economy.