EDITORIAL: Growing anxiety

As Nepal has limited stock of PPEs, the health minister would do well to have them in place before there is an attack of the virus

Even as people are growing restless with having to lock themselves inside their homes for the third day running, Nepal has recorded its third case of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, in a man from Dhading. The 32-year-old migrant worker had returned from the United Arab Emirates only last week, and the detection of the virus in him on Tuesday comes close on the heels of Nepal’s second case reported just two days earlier. The country saw its first case on January 23, when a man returning from Wuhan, China tested positive for the virus. Thankfully, the Dhading man had not ventured out of Kathmandu and was staying in a hotel in the capital since his return. The authorities have swung into action to try and locate all those who had shared the flight with him. In the case of the second coronavirus patient, a 19-year-old girl student who had returned from France, the government has been able to trace the 125 Nepalis, out of the 158 passengers, who were travelling with her on the Qatar Airways flight. However, the whereabouts of the foreign passengers is still not clear.

Had the authorities shown the same urgency in checking passengers at Kathmandu’s international airport weeks back, there might have been less room for worry now. All three cases were imported and entered through the only international airport. As the girl returning from France had noted on social media, the negligence there was appalling – no questions asked, no forms to fill regarding travel history or quarantine obligations. No one sat at the health desk. Compared to many countries of the world, the number of cases reported in Nepal is still few, but don’t let that deceive you. Italy had just two cases on February 25 this year; in just a month, it has seen 7,500 deaths. The situation is just as alarming in Spain, where the death toll has surpassed that of China’s 3,287. Therefore, it is urgent that everyone that the COVID patients may have come into contact with, not necessarily limited to the passengers on the flights, is tracked, examined and isolated for at least two weeks.

There are many lessons to be learnt from countries that are seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases, especially in Europe. The inability to see the disease in all seriousness by governments in Europe has made it the epicentre of the coronavirus in no time. A total lockdown with strict restrictions on people’s movement much earlier would have saved many lives and reduced the number of cases. Thus Nepal’s decision to shut down the country for at least a week was unavoidable. Countries, including the United States, are also facing an acute shortage of PPEs (personal protective equipment) such as gloves, gowns, masks, goggles and the like for healthcare providers to prevent the spread of germs in hospitals. Since Nepal has limited stock of PPEs, just a few hundred, the minister of health, instead of engaging in ignorant talk about PPEs, would do well to have them in place through whatever means before there is a mass attack of the virus. The health of our doctors and nurses should be of paramount concern of everyone, and they should not be exposed to any sort of danger when they go about treating patients suffering from the virus.

Tourists stranded

The weeklong nationwide lockdown that began on Tuesday to combat the coronavirus has stranded around 500 tourists on many trekking routes. Spring is the best season for trekking and mountaineering. However, the mountaineering season has been canceled for this year due to the rising cases of COVID-19. According to Nepal Tourism Board, those tourists were stranded in Jomsom, Lukla, Langtang, Manaslu, Sangkhuwasabha and Solu. The trails in these regions are famous for trekking, hiking and sightseeing. They were unable to return home soon after the government imposed a ban on people’s movement to prevent the virus from its spread.

The government should make special arrangements for their rescue, as they cannot stay in the remote areas for a long time due to financial condition. Most of them are said to be individuals who cannot afford to return home on their own. Trekking agents have asked the government to allow them to use helicopters if land routes are not possible given the threat of the virus. It is the duty of the government to rescue a person — national or foreigner — when s/he is in a dire situation. After their rescue, they should be sent back to their countries for their own safety.