There have been a lot of misperceptions about coronavirus, now called COVID 19: That every infected succumbs to death, that every person coming from China is necessarily a carrier of disease, that eating garlic, smearing the body with some oil or spraying alcohol around the house can help prevent infection, so on and so forth. It is some such misperceptions which led the people of Kharipati area in Bhatkapur, where quarantine facilities were set up by the government to keep the students brought to Kathmandu from Wuhan of China, to oppose the government’s decision. Prime Minister himself had to speak about this in the parliament (that none of them were found infected according to the test results conducted in China before they departed for Nepal and therefore nobody should look down on them as the carriers of the disease). The fear among the locals has not been dispelled completely. There are reports of locals of Bhaktapur complaining against the district authorities for allowing space in their areas to keep the returnees from China in isolation. Some people are even said to be abandoning their houses thinking that these students will spread COVID 19.
No doubt, resentment and anger of the locals have no basis but the fear is genuine. For one, death toll of COVID19 has been increasing every other day (crossing 1800 as of this writing) and infecting over 70,000. Even the doctors involved in treatment of coronavirus infected patients have themselves contracted infection. In this context, Nepal needs to remain extra alert about the possibility of its spread in Nepal and keep all the health facilities stand by, with all the necessary testing kits and medicines, to treat the patients suspected of infection. Besides, the government should update the people regularly about the cases of infection and also disseminate authentic information regarding prevention measures. The district administration office of Bhaktapur has started door-to-door visit campaign to sensitize public around quarantine area in Kharipati. Officials have reached out the households for coronavirus sensitization. They are making public aware of mitigation of coronavirus risks and safety measures. Reportedly, a separate health desk has been placed for locals where health check-up and medicine distribution is free. This is a good initiative.
The students who returned from China on Sunday have expressed satisfaction with the facilities provided in the quarantine rooms and they are thankful to the government for that. But here is something we should not lose sight of. It took the government days to bring the students from China primarily because Nepal took days to put up quarantine facilities. This is the example of how ill-prepared Nepal is. Nepal needs to stay prepared for every kind of eventuality. The government has set up health desks at TIA and other entry points. The government needs to ensure that these health desks are doing their duties effectively. One serious lapse was reported at TIA early this month. Passengers coming from China were allowed to enter the valley without screening. Also the government should issue a bulletin regularly to inform the people regarding prevention measures and other vital information.