BIRENDRANAGAR, June 9: Karnali Province reported the first case of novel coronavirus disease only on May 18, almost four months after the first case was reported in the country on January 24.
A 35-year-old male from Aathbis-1, Sattala in Dailekh was the first to be diagnosed with this viral infection. Ten other cases were confirmed in Surkhet after five days. By May 30, the tally had crossed 100.
As of Tuesday morning, 651 patients have tested positive while three of them have succumbed to this fatal disease.
Karnali doesn’t share borders with India, however, most of the infected cases are found among migrant laborers returning from India. As this province is being crippled by this global pandemic, launching a massive testing campaign, managing prospective patients and treating the confirmed ones have been some of the daunting challenges in recent days.
With intensified testing lately, Karnali reported 18 cases on May 31, seven others on June 1 and 19 and 16 on the next two days. According to Laxmi Narayan Tiwari, the chief at Health Services Division under the province’s Social Development Ministry, the following days witnessed a massive surge in new infections - June 3 (114), June 4 (100), June 5 (98), June 6 (54) and June 7 (10).
Dailekh is the worst-hit district with 361 cases while Rukum West has not reported any case yet. Other cases include 124 in Salyan, 92 in Surkhet, 28 in Kalikot, 22 in Jumla, five in Jajarkot, two in Mugu and one each in Humla and Dolpa.
Chief Minister of Karnali Mahendra Bahadur Shahi said that the number of infections would rise if they could intensify testing. “At present, we have labs only at two places - Jumla and Surkhet. “The provincial government is planning to buy two PCR machines — one at the earliest and the other a bit later — so that we can expand the domain of testing,” CM Shahi said.
“According to our preliminary report, as many as 39,000 migrant workers have returned to the province after losing their jobs,” he added. The number is expected to reach 100,000 soon.
He committed to expanding the areas of testing admitting that the present rate of lab tests may take another six months to examine the possible infected ones.
So far, infection has been seen only among the India-returnees. If it spreads in the community, the situation will go out of control, experts warn.
Presently, a maximum of 300 tests for this viral disease have been conducted in a day in the province. The Karnali government has concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic has been the toughest challenge since even spending the whole provincial budget to fight this disease will not be sufficient. “We have been holding a serious discussion regarding this grave concern,” said Bimala KC, spokesperson for the Karnali government.
A provincial lawmaker Dinbandhu Shrestha, however, criticized the government for utterly failing to control the spread of COVID-19. “A meeting of the Provincial Disaster Management Center on May 11 decided to request the federal government to set up quarantine facilities at the Nepal-India borders and send the returnees to their respective districts only after a PCR test,” said MP Shrestha adding that the decision was not implemented although it was a right one.
At the same time, many consider that the poorly-managed quarantine facilities are also equally responsible for spreading the disease among the returnees.
So far, 23,468 RDT and 10,666 PCR tests have been conducted, according to the Social Development Ministry. A total of 906 isolation beds have been set up at three COVID-19 dedicated hospitals in Karnali.