The community could effectively keep track of all those who have returned from abroad and see that they are isolating themselves properly
Even as the coronavirus wrecks havoc in Europe and the US, Nepal must count itself lucky that the virus has not led to a single death or mass infections. Since a man who had returned from China tested positive for the corona in January, Nepal has not seen a second infection, although almost 500 people have been screened on suspicion that they might be carrying the virus. But this should not give room for complacency, given the way the virus is spreading in our neighbourhood and throughout the world. It is indeed alarming to note the laxity seen at Nepal’s only international airport – Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) – in collecting the Traveller Public Health Declaration Form and in having the passengers fill the Self-Quarantine Agreement Form. Many travellers don’t seem to be aware about the self-quarantine rules, meaning they may be visiting public places or even attending work without first living in self-isolation, as is the case with a medical doctor, a very senior employee of a government-run hospital, who had returned from Montreal, Canada on Saturday.
Still other travellers have not submitted the Public Health Declaration Form at the TIA immigration desk, which gives the travel and medical history of the passenger. Under a new rule that went into force on Saturday, all foreigners entering Nepal must remain in self-quarantine for 14 days and all Nepalis and non-resident Nepalis coming from abroad in home isolation for the same number of days. They must keep a daily log of their temperature on the Self-Quarantine Agreement Form and report any medical symptoms of the coronavirus to the health authorities. Even with the big cuts seen in the number of flights to Kathmandu, an estimated 4,000 passengers land at the TIA daily. There is a need to keep tab of these people coming from abroad as they are at high risk of carrying the virus and transmitting it to others. Allowing them to mingle with the people without them first undergoing the required period of isolation is a disaster in the making. With the virus able to multiply very rapidly, all it requires is a few cases before we see a crisis as in Italy or Iran.
But following up on the health conditions of the thousands of people who have come from abroad by email or by phone is not easy for the health authorities. At times like this, it would be naïve to expect the government to do everything to prevent an outbreak of the disease. Every community could very effectively keep track of all those who have returned from abroad and make sure that they are isolating themselves properly. There are clubs, mothers’ clubs and the like in the community that could chart out a plan to teach community members ways to stay safe, such as avoiding crowds, washing hands and staying indoors. The government, however, should know best how to keep the virus at bay and keep its citizens safe in the event of an outbreak. This will require human resources, testing kits, make-shift hospitals and, of course, money. For this, it should make optimum use of the COVID-19 Emergency Fund, created by India for the SAARC member states, and the helping hand now extended by China to contain the virus.
Despite the global threat of the coronavirus, the government is all set to launch a population census of rhinos starting March 23. The Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC) said 160 enumerators have already been appointed, and necessary technical and logistics support kept in place for the census. However, the concerned ministry might ask the department to suspend the census for some time should the virus pose a bigger threat.
The one-horned Asiatic rhinoceros is found in Chitwan, Parsa, Bardiya and Shuklaphanta National Parks. There were a total of 645 rhinos in the national parks combined when the rhino census was conducted the last time in 2015. A total of 45 rhinos have died, mainly in the Chitwan National Park, home to the largest number of rhinos, because of old age, infighting and lack of enough habitat for their survival. Poaching of the pachyderm has, however, come down in recent times due to the coordinated efforts of the local communities, security personnel and the park officials. Apart from the census, the enumerators will also conduct a study on the availability of fodder for the survival of the rhinos, ecological condition and actual carrying capacity of the parks.
A version of this article appears in print on March 19, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.