The Scare of COVID-19
The Nepal Embassy in Beijing has reported that as of February 2, 2020,[i] 180 Nepali students in the Hubei province of China including 62 from the Wuhan City have applied for immediate evacuation from the province that is currently reeling under the scare of coronavirus.[ii] The worldwide death toll continues to rise with at least 1,357 reported cases as of February 13, 2020, and the number of confirmed cases to more than 60,000. As the Nepali citizens get increasingly desperate to return, they await a less than warm welcome back home. The government struggles to finalize a location to quarantine them as WTO guidelines suggest that returning individuals remain under quarantine for a 14-day observation period to minimize the risk of the virus spreading.
Social Media and Beyond
Twitter is also abuzz with tweets from people based within and beyond Wuhan. Rastraraj Bhandari, a Nepali student based in China has likened his experience during this time to that of a ‘post-zombie apocalyptic breakout’. He details this with accounts of going onto empty streets, stocking up on market supplies and otherwise remaining confined to his home, and relying on instant noodles for meals.
The pressure to rescue Nepali citizens mounted after other countries including India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka evacuated their citizens from China.[iii] According to the Ministry of Health, isolating those coming into Nepal from the epicenter of the virus has become increasingly unavoidable after a case of the novel coronavirus infection was confirmed in Nepal, followed by a declaration of the virus being a global health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO) on January 31, 2019. Nepalis back home also fear that if the evacuees are released without being quarantined and subsequently cleared, homes could also become incubators for the disease to spread.
What is Nepal Government doing?
During this time, the Nepal government established screening centers and health desks at the airport as screening is the only way of identifying the maximum number of cases entering the country and prevent exposing and infecting the population. However, while a location to quarantine those being evacuated from Hubei is being finalized,[iv] Nepal’s only international airport is neither quarantining nor screening passengers travelling from other parts of China with no maintenance of passenger records. The land borders however have been closed. One cannot help but wonder if they are in fact coming to a safer environment or diving headfirst into precariousness. This has further exposed how off guard the Nepali authorities appear in the face of an emergency and how Nepal lacks any strategy to contain such crisis situations. [v]
Has Nepal prepared itself to repatriate its citizens from China?
Research suggests that acute and chronic changes in health status have direct and indirect impacts on security and that epidemics may lead to destabilization, political unrest, civil disorder, or long term deterioration of the economic viability of a country or region. Coronavirus which originated from Wuhan is increasingly taking the form of a pandemic and has even been declared a worldwide threat by the WHO. Ineffective responses to such diseases will have devastating impacts on public health initially and on the global economy in the long run. Like during most crisis conditions, there seem to be more unknowns than knowns. The Nepali citizens are reportedly being airlifted on February 15, 2020, while Nepali authorities scramble to appropriate conditions and kits for quarantine. Nonetheless, when it comes to the coronavirus or any other looming disasters, Nepal is unprepared to handle them.
Author: Shuvangi Poudyal