KATHMANDU, March 24: A 19-year-old France returnee Nepali student tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday evening, confirmed the Minster for Health and Population.
After the female student, who had returned to Nepal on March 17, showed coronavirus-like symptoms, her throat swab sample was sent to the National Public Health Laboratory (NPHC) and the results were positive, said Minister for Health and Population Bhanu Bhakta Dhakal.
“After coming to Nepal, the female student was staying at home in self-quarantine. On Sunday, she tested positive,” said the minister, adding that she [the student] had come to Nepal via Doha transit.
Currently, the patient is admitted to the isolation ward of the Teku-based Shukraraaj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital.
“The government is finding people on board the aircraft with the female student. Also, the family members of the students have been put in home quarantine,” the minister told reporters, adding that health workers have been deployed to track the people who were in contact with the female student.
It has been learnt that the student had come to Nepal through a Qatar Airways flight.
In the meantime, the ministry said that it has expedited the process to test more people. “Till date, 600 suspects have been tested for the virus, and two have tested positive. One patient has already recovered,” said Dhakal, urging the public not to panic about the situation as the government has been working to contain the possible spread of the virus.
“As preventive measures, the government has already halted international flights. The borders with the neighboring countries have been sealed,” he said, urging for a collaborative effort to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a preventive measure, the minister urged the public to stay at home, and not to come out unless very urgent. Likewise, the ministry has also urged the public not to visit hospitals for non-urgent cases. “The ministry has directed to halt paying clinic for two weeks. Also, we [ministry] have directed hospitals to not call patients for follow-up unless emergency,” Dhakal said.
A few days ago, the ministry had directed hospitals with 50 or more beds inside the Kathmandu Valley to suspend non-urgent health checkups and surgeries till April 12.
This is the second case of the coronavirus reported in Nepal. Earlier on January 24, a Nepali national who had returned from China's Wuhan city had tested positive for the COVID-19. He returned home after recovery a few days later.
So far, the coronavirus has already been reported in 193 countries, and has taken lives of more than 15,000 people globally.
How to track everyone in contact with her?
On Monday, ncov 2019.live, an online portal updating COVID-19 cases, included one more coronavirus infected patient in Nepal. Shortly after Health Minister Bhanu Bhakta Dhakal confirmed the case, the web portal updated the new detail.
The case has raised many eyebrows in Nepal and beyond. Reason: a coronavirus-infected person — a 19-year-old student — returned to Kathmandu from France via Qatar Airways on March 17.
Both France and Qatar are coronavirus-affected countries. Till Monday, 674 people have died of Covid-19 in France whereas over 16,000 cases of coronavirus have been reported. In Qatar, nearly 500 cases of coronavirus have been reported.
Nepali authorities were clueless for days about the persons who she met with after coming back home on March 17. She was diagnosed positive for COVID-19 seven days after arriving in Nepal. Before she was sent to the isolation ward at the Teku-based Shukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, she had met with her family members and several relatives.
Although the authorities have not declared the flight details, they are now worried after the confirmation of the second coronavirus case. The biggest worry is whether the virus has been transmitted to other passengers traveling along with her and it could cause chain effects in spreading the deadly virus in the far-flung villages of the country.
Those traveling in the same Qatar Airways flight are likely to be migrant workers from Qatar and the region. They stayed with their relatives or hotels in Gongabu Bus Park and took buses home. The people in those hotels and the ones in the bus ride are potentially infected.
“We are searching for her colleagues, and other passengers who traveled with her. Then, we will screen them and fix the problem,” said Health Minister Bhanu Bhakta Dhakal.
If the statement of the health ministry is to be trusted then her relatives and people who she met are already in quarantine. But the authorities are unaware about the passengers who traveled with her.
The government has started to trace them but without any success.
Most migrant workers travel from Qatar. After landing at the Kathmandu airport, they stay in budget hotels in Gongabu and go to highly-crowded nearby areas for shopping. Then, they move to their home villages.
There are now chances of their spreading the virus even in the farflung villages. Public health experts have called for immediate action to track the passengers traveling with her. “All the passengers traveling with those sitting close to her should be mandatorily tracked and sent to quarantine,” said Sameer Mani Dixit, a public health expert, terming the case as a case of complete lack of surveillance.
Dixit stressed the need for tracking all passengers traveling with her specially those sitting around her and the people who they contacted. “Otherwise, the progress we have made in containing the virus may go futile,” said Dixit.