Health desks at border check points ill equipped to handle influx of people
March 22, 2020 08:09 AM NPT
Health officials in Nepalgunj screening people entering Nepal from India on Saturday. Most of the border check points are not well equipped to screen the large number of people entering the country amid fears of spreading COVID-19. Photo: Republica
Lapses at border transit points may pose high risk of COVID-19 outbreak in Nepal
KATHMANDU, March 22: Hundreds of Nepali nationals returning home from India everyday has heightened the risk of spreading coronavirus in the country. Even though Nepal so far remains officially “free” from coronavirus infection, the lack of proper screening of the masses at the border points has left little room for Nepal to remain free from the threat of the deadly virus.
On Saturday alone, an estimated 20,000 people entered Nepal from Gaddachowki transit point of Mahendranagar. This included some Indians as well. The inflow of returnee migrant workers looked uncontrollable. A video clip of people returning home from India went viral on social media pretty soon.
The return of Nepali migrant workers from India actually began since one week ago after a surge in the cases of coronavirus in India. But on Saturday, the number had increased dramatically following a semi lock-down announced both in Nepal and India amid the threat of coronavirus.
The Government of Nepal had earlier quarantined 175 Nepali students in Bhaktapur for 14 days after they were evacuated from China some weeks ago. However, the free movement of people across the open border seems to have ruined whatever precautions taken by the government.
According to Dr Sher Bahadur Kamar of Seti Regional Hospital, people coming from India need to undergo proper screening as ample of cases of coronavirus have already been confirmed there.
“As per the guidelines of the World Health Organisation, those who come from a country affected by coronavirus should be necessarily quarantined for 14 days. But some people coming from India have not even been screened,” he said. “They should have gone through proper check-up. Even if they show no symptoms they need to stay in isolation for 14 days to avert the possible spread of the disease,” he added.
Gaddachowki is one of the major border points between India and Nepal. Though a health desk has been set up there, it falls short of human and other resources to screen all the people entering Nepal. The desk lets go people free without any interrogation as it cannot handle the influx of people.
According to Social Development Minister of Sudurpaschim Province, Krishna Raj Subedi, at least 20,000 people have entered Nepal from Gaddachwoki border point on Saturday.
During normal days, around 10,000 people enter Nepal through this border point. He stated that all the people coming from India have been requested to stay in self isolation at their homes.
“We have been checking their body temperature for fever and have asked them to follow certain guidelines,” he said, adding that two persons have been sent to Mahakali Hospital upon showing symptoms of flu.
The situation in Nepal-India border points in Province-2, where the entire eight districts share border with the southern neighbor, looks no less chaotic.
Despite high alert issued by the government, the security management in the border points has not been on par with the international standard.
Thousands of Nepali migrant workers and even Indians have been entering Nepal in huge numbers without their health conditions checked.
According to assistant chief district officer of Parsa, Lalit Kumar Basnet, it is not possible to monitor all the border points as it is open everywhere.
“We have been trying our best to screen the visitors. If they are found suspicious of coronavirus infection, we send them to hospital,” he said.
“The border is open throughout the district and it is not possible to monitor the mass movement,” he added. Basnet said that the government may soon announce complete border closure.
Province 5 has turned equally vulnerable thanks to dozens of open transit points.
A huge number of people have been coming to Nepal from those border transit points and they do not go through any monitoring either. According to CDO of Banke district, Kumar Bahadur Khadka, they have intensified the health screenings at the border points.
“However, the influx of Nepali migrant workers and other visitors is uncontrollable. We have taken strict measures, but the crowd is too large. We have requested the home ministry to close down the border,” he added.