Covid-19 cases soar in Nepal as migrant workers return from India

As many as 7,500 people are now crossing into Nepal daily. Since Monday, 283 new cases have been confirmed country-wide, including 114 on Wednesday, the highest one-day tally to date. The returnees are some of the roughly 2 million Nepalis forced to migrate to India because they can’t earn livelihoods at home.

The majority of returnees appear to be entering via Province 5 in midwestern Nepal, then turning north towards Province 6 where officials estimated they would see 25,000 people. “It looks like the figure will likely exceed 50,000 and this has overwhelmed the government,” Minister for Social Development Dal Bahadur Rawal told The Kathmandu Post on Tuesday.

Some returnees say they have not eaten during their days-long journey through India but are being forced to wait at the Province 6 border, without shelter, until they have been tested. Since the weekend, the founder of a local school, Maggie Doyne, has been leading efforts to furnish returnees with food and water.

On Wednesday Doyne posted on Instagram that an 18-year-old man had died in one of the returning buses. “I have been saying someone was going to die. The migrants have been saying it,” she added. The man’s body was tested and found negative for the virus, added Doyne.

114 cases on 27 May, highest daily total yet

Since Monday, 283 new cases have been confirmed country-wide, including 114 on Wednesday, the highest one-day tally to date. That brought Nepal’s total positive cases to 886, including four deaths.

Infections have now been detected in 46 of the country’s 77 districts. Notably, almost all of them have been asymptomatic. Yet till now, health officials have maintained that there is no community transmission of the coronavirus in Nepal.

A pregnant woman who was under home quarantine in Province 2 died on Tuesday. She had been nursing a fever that doctors said was caused by a urine infection, but her husband said she suddenly developed breathing problems before dying. She was tested posthumously but results aren’t yet available.

Maternal mortality rises 200%

Nepal’s first coronavirus casualty was a woman who had given birth just days earlier. Maternal mortality has jumped 200% since the lockdown started, reported The Kathmandu Post on Wednesday.

Many critics say the central government has squandered the lockdown by not accelerating testing and contact tracing. To date, about 55,000 PCR tests have been conducted, along with roughly 100,000 rapid tests, according to the ministry of health, but the latter are not considered accurate.

The Himalayan Times reported Wednesday that the central government is only now making arrangements for municipalities to provide it with daily updates regarding the health details of those who have returned from India and other countries.

Quarantine centres inadequate

Previous reports revealed quarantine centres where returnees were sharing beds and even cigarettes. Others lacked sufficient bedding and even beds.

The Nepali Times quoted Uma Thapa Magar the mayor of Nepalganj, a mayor city close to India in Nepal’s midwest, saying, “We are completely inundated with returning workers from India and trying to coordinate their return to 42 districts where they will be tested locally.”

Deepak Chapagain of Volunteer Corps Nepal told me on Tuesday that volunteers have been distributing food and water in quarantine centres, and will undergo training so they can provide further support. They have also been checking temperatures of returnees at the border.

Preparations do seem better in some places. 350 people were allowed to cross the border Wednesday at the Nepali city of Birgunj, but had to register and had their baggage disinfected before being allowed into the country, reported The Himalayan Times. From 25 different districts in Nepal, they had been living under quarantine in India for 14 days.

While scrambling to deal with the returnees from India, a still larger test still awaits Nepal’s leaders. Millions of Nepalis are working overseas, mainly in Gulf countries and Malaysia, and thousands of them will soon start returning, because they have lost their jobs or no longer feel safe in host countries.

The government, which closed its doors to these migrant workers even before the lockdown by banning international flights, says it will initially bring home 25,000-30,000, according to The Himalayan Times. Some will be quarantined in Kathmandu and others will be bussed to towns and villages throughout the country.

Author: Marty Logan

I am a husband and father communicating to change the world. I write, edit and podcast, mostly about health and human rights. Canada and Nepal.

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