It has been as we feared. The authorities delegated to conduct screening of passengers entering Nepal at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) failed to screen the passengers coming to Nepal from China on Monday. The passengers on board the Himalaya Airlines flight, which landed at TIA on Monday, were not screened. It has been learnt that there were no health officials present at the health desk set up there. So these passengers went through the immigration desk and entered the Valley. The state of negligence was such that passengers themselves were surprised. Yes, they were checked multiple times before they boarded the flight to Kathmandu in Beijing and were checked for body temperature after boarding the plane too. But here in Kathmandu they were let free. As a result around 100 passengers, including nearly 10 Chinese nationals, have entered the valley without any screening.
Needless to say, this is a deadly negligence on the part of government authorities while there is a serious risk of a coronavirus outbreak in Nepal. Since the passengers were made to undergo rigorous health checks in Beijing none of the 100 passengers who entered Kathmandu may be infected with corona virus. But who knows? Since the outbreak of corona virus in early January, we have repeatedly reminded the government of the urgency of proper screening in entry points, including at the airport, setting up quarantine facilities for keeping the suspected infected people in isolation and for their treatment but all pleas seem to have fallen into the deaf ears of the government. This is not done.
Worldwide, the countries have taken substantive measures for screening of the passengers and isolating the corona virus suspected people in quarantine facilities. The US, Japan, Australia and India have set up well equipped health desks at multiple entry points to check the health status of the passengers before allowing them entry in their countries. China has taken extensive measures to contain the outbreak. It built a 1000-bed hospital in Wuhan, within a week, to treat the virus infected patients. Even in this particular case, the Chinese authorities, according to the passenger interviewed by Republica, took extra caution. Suspecting that some Chinese passengers were infected, Chinese officials sent them to the hospital in Beijing. But here in TIA, there was nobody to check the passengers. Monday’s incident marks a blunder on the part of Nepali authorities. It must never happen again. The government should ensure that health desks are set up wherever necessary and such desks are equipped with all resources to examine the passengers at the entry points. Nepal is set to bring in Nepali students from Wuhan. Yet, we do not seem to have set up quarantine facilities in case some of the returnees will be found infected. Corona virus has claimed over 400 lives already and infected over 20,000 people worldwide. Nepal can ignore this threat at the cost of huge public health hazard for the country and its citizens.