We have almost completed two weeks of nation-wide lockdown. These two weeks have been largely successful in that people have complied with the government’s orders and they have refrained from coming out of the home. Since the country went on lockdown, the number of positive cases of COVID-19 has increased to nine. On Saturday the first locally transmitted case in Kailali district was confirmed. This, the experts have warned, could be the beginning point of contagion. With this, the government has taken more strict measures to contain the spread of the virus. People have been barred from moving from one village to another, one province to another province and one local unit to another. Provincial and local governments have been told to ensure foolproof security to medical professionals deployed in the frontline to combat coronavirus. The cabinet meeting on Saturday has also directed the concerned government authorities to ensure the availability of protective gear for health workers involved in curing coronavirus patients. This is a good decision at a time when doctors have been complaining of a lack of adequate PPEs and other medical equipment. But they will feel assured only when they get enough PPEs.
There is a reason to be more alarmed now because the three new cases of coronavirus including the first case of local transmission were reported in Kailai and Kanchanpur districts which share an open border with India. In fact, two of them had returned home from India after the lockdown was announced. This means that unchecked mobility of people across the porous borders could be adding to the rise of infection in the days to come. So far, we only had imported cases—all the patients who were tested positive had travel history. Now we have a case of a person who has contracted the infection from a person who recently returned to Nepal from Dubai. How many others may have contracted the infection from Dubai-returnee?
While lockdown is one effective measure, the government should also think beyond lockdown and travel restrictions. It is already getting late to start rapid testing. Our testing performance has been woefully low. The government of Nepal has only tested around 850 suspects in the last 12 days since the lockdown was imposed, while World Health Organization has been urging the countries across the globe to test, test, test; in order to control the possible the outbreak of COVID- 19. In three months, altogether only 1,441 suspects have been tested. With the new cases being reported the government has taken the decision to conduct rapid diagnostic tests in Kailali and Kanchanpur. This won’t be enough. In fact, rapid testing has to be conducted in every district where suspected cases are detected. First of all, the government needs to provide test kits to every local health facility. Then in coordination with the local governments, these facilities need to test the people, even by visiting the households if necessary because people tend to take the symptoms of flu for granted. We will be headed toward a dangerous situation if we do not use every precaution measure to contain the outbreak.