Outbreak of 2019 novel coronavirus has sent the whole world in near panic mood. The virus that originated in Wuhan of China, where it has claimed at least 259 lives and affected nearly 12 thousands, has now spread to as many as 25 countries. More than 6,000 cases have been reported with majority in China. The figure is increasing every other day. As you are reading this, many more countries and many more people may be affected. Countries in the world have taken initiatives to prevent its further spread. Flights to and from China have been cancelled. Russia, for example, has sealed around 1400 kilometers of its border with China. With the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring coronavirus outbreak as global health emergency, people across the world are deeply alarmed about the possibility of further escalation of the outbreak. Nepal has its first confirmed case of a student who was studying in China. But people here are also worried. They have started to wear masks while walking around crowded places.
Recently, there have been reports of Nepali students studying in China wanting to return home but government not taking initiatives to respond to their call. Many of the countries, including the US, UK, Australia and India, have chartered flights to bring their citizens home from China but they are not doing just that. They have set up robust quarantine facilities at home, made arrangements to place the returnees in isolation until they fully recover before getting back to their families. Compared to this, Nepal’s response, so far, does not seem to be encouraging enough. Yes, it has set up health desks at Tribhuvan International Airport. Such desks have to be set up in other border points as well, for people travel to and from Nepal not only through TIA. Ministry of Health and Population has directed private hospitals to have ventilator supported ICUs to be on standby. But these measures are not going to be enough when the crisis actually starts.
As coronavirus is spreading almost everywhere and there is no sign of it being contained, despite the Chinese authorities taking every possible measure for its eradication, Nepal needs to stand ready for all kinds of situations. Here is what the government needs to focus on. First, equip health desks at TIA with all tools and required resources and also set up and equip such desks at other border points. The government needs to ensure that all major hospitals across the country have separate wards to treat the patients infected with coronavirus. When the outbreak happens, there is bound to be scarcity of test kits, labs and even face masks. There are reports of acute scarcity of face masks in cities like Hong Kong, Wuhan and Shanghai. Similar situation might arise in Nepal. What is our preparation regarding this? What will happen when we run out of medicine and supplies? We are lucky in the sense that Nepal is the least affected country by the disease so far but we cannot rule out the worst situation. Thus the government really needs to stay prepared for all kinds of eventualities. Nepal has often failed in preparedness to respond to the situation of crisis. We need to remain extra alert to contain the disease and save people’s lives if the outbreak, God forbid, starts in Nepal too.