Coronaviruses are known to cause deadly diseases in mammals and birds. Some outbreaks caused in the past due to coronaviruses are MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). The novel Coronavirus or the Wuhan coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is a new strain of Coronavirus that has not previously been detected in humans. The disease associated with the virus has been named COVID-19.
The outbreak started in Wuhan, China, and, like other coronaviruses, was transmitted from animals to humans. This has caused notable panic among the people as this is a relatively new disease. The source of the outbreak has not been confirmed. Snakes and bats are some common speculations.
Coronaviruses can have a variety of different symptoms in different beings. They range from bad diarrhea to a deadly cold. The novel Coronavirus has been reported to cause coughing, fever, and respiratory difficulties. This can put the patient at risk of pneumonia.
The symptoms seem to start with a fever and tiredness and can lead to shortness of breath after about a week. In severe cases, there is a possibility of organ failure. The recovery depends on the strength of the individual immune system. The people who have died due to this virus had immune systems that were already weak to start with. Because the disease can also be transmitted from humans to humans, anyone who has traveled to mainland China and has been experiencing these symptoms is advised to stay indoors and reach out for health services.
The incubation period has been informed to be up to 14 days by the World Health Organization (WHO). However, researchers have estimated a length of 24 days.
The number of confirmed cases exceeds 78000. As of February 20, 2020, over 2000 deaths have been recorded due to COVID-19, with eight deaths outside of mainland China. The virus has also spread to 28 countries, including Japan, France, Taiwan, Iran, the UK, the Philippines, and many more. With the number of confirmed cases increasing every day and people traveling all around the globe, it can get tricky to control the situation. This is considering the fact that people with the novel coronavirus carry the same load of the virus whether or not they are currently showing the symptoms.
Many countries are attempting to check the situation by conducting temperature checks at airports. With a fatality rate of 2.3%, the disease is fatal than influenza, but less than SARS and MERS. For a disease as new as COVID-19, the initial fatality rate cannot truly determine the danger of disease. There also is no vaccine against the disease yet.
Coronavirus and Nepal
Being a neighboring country of China, where the outbreak started, puts Nepal in a vulnerable position. Nepal sees a massive inflow of Chinese tourists every year and even has citizens residing in China for job opportunities or education purposes. These people could travel and transmit the disease. While there are screenings at airports, the long incubation period hinders their effectiveness. This has raised concerns among, and everybody is watching how the government reacts to the issue.
Densely populated urban areas and the lack of proper hygiene in rural areas make Nepal susceptible to the epidemic. The lack of healthcare and awareness are the significant barriers that the government has to tackle. The country has also seen quite a few outbreaks of other respiratory diseases like influenza and swine flu. The media reports on cases of “unknown viral diseases,” which helps to spread awareness among the people so that they will not write it off as common cold.
Cases of Coronavirus in Nepal
There has been one confirmed case of Coronavirus in Nepal. The patient was a 32-year-old man who was a student at the Wuhan University of Technology, Wuhan, China. He was admitted to Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, Kathmandu, after showing symptoms like throat congestion and cough. As Nepal lacks the proper technology, his samples had to be sent to the WHO for testing. They came back positive. However, the patient had already been discharged after his health condition had improved. This action has been heavily criticized by the media and the public.
Government Efforts and Initiatives
The government has planned to place patients of COVID-19 in public hospitals. Such hospitals lack the necessary space and equipment to treat patients suffering from such pathogenic diseases. They have a limited number of ICU beds that are occupied most of the time, and even have a long list of people waiting for their turn. Most hospitals do not have a personal/individual room for the patients. The lack of isolation rooms in hospitals across the country has raised concerns for the safety of other patients admitted in the same hospital as COVID-19 patients.
So far, the government has appointed five hospitals for the treatment of the COVID-19: Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, Bir Hospital, Civil Hospital, Patan Hospital, and Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital. All these hospitals are located in the Kathmandu Valley. This has garnered concerns from the people outside the valley as they do not have an official government-appointed hospital to visit in case of scares.
The government has also issued strict directives to prevent the transmission and spread of COVID-19. The outbreak in China has put the government on high alert, especially as the country sees a massive inflow of people from China. The Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital and the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division have initiated health screenings of passengers from China, Japan, and Thailand at the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA). A health desk has also been deployed at TIA to detect infection. We can say that the authorities of TIA have been quite responsive to the situation, and have taken the necessary measures.
The outbreak could delay the construction of the Pokhara Regional International Airport, which was scheduled to open in July 2020. The Chinese laborers working on the airport had returned to China for the Lunar New Year in January. Due to the outbreak, the workers are undergoing quarantine in China, making them unable to return in time for the completion of the project.
After the WHO declared the Coronavirus outbreak a “public health emergency,” Nepal has taken strict measures as suggested by the UN for prevention and detection. The government is in regular contact with the WHO office in Nepal regarding the actions that Nepal can take. Nepal has taken measures to strengthen its health system and increase surveillance. The Health Ministry has also planned to train health workers from all hospitals, and make all government offices aware of the risks of COVID-19. As recommended by the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, the government and media are doing all they can to ensure that all relevant information regarding the outbreak is shared openly and rapidly.
Global Tourism Industry and the Effects of Coronavirus in it
China is one of the biggest markets for overseas tourism. The outbreak has had devastating effects on global tourism. Asia’s tourism-dependent economies definitely can feel this. With prospective Chinese tourists canceling tours, the hotels, theme parks, and guides are all suffering. The outbreak has upset supply chains throughout the world, especially in South-East Asia. This includes countries like Japan, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand. If this continues for three to six more months, the result could be catastrophic. The good news is that China has implemented a ban on animal markets. This could curb wildlife trafficking and save some endangered species.
Is Nepal safe from Coronavirus?
Nepal feels the effect of the fear of the outbreak. The first is the direct effect felt from the absence of Chinese tourists. Nepal’s tourist hubs like Thamel, Kathmandu, and Phewa Lake, Pokhara, have begun to feel quite empty due to the lack of Chinese tourists who would add to the diverse environment. Despite having zero deaths from COVID-19 and only one verified case, Nepal can also feel its reputation being dragged down due to the spread of the infection. The Indian government has begun screening people from Nepal, which has only caused more panic among prospective Indian tourists. The tourism industry has not only seen cancellations from Chinese tourists, but also from tourists from other countries as well. Nepal had already been seeing fewer Chinese tourists due to its Spring Festival. The trekking companies had already had clients backing out due to the Annapurna avalanche. The upcoming spring season is usually when Nepal sees a boom in the tourism industry. However, this may not be the case this year. Being so close to China, many people are apprehensive about visiting Nepal due to the coronavirus outbreak.
One can agree that prevention is better than cure. It is the same with the situation at hand. There are specific steps that one can take to protect themselves from the novel Coronavirus. The WHO suggests maintaining primary hand and respiratory hygiene and safe food practices. UNICEF advises people to frequently wash their hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand rub. People should sneeze or cough into their elbow and should avoid close contact with those who show flu-like symptoms and live near wild or farmed animals. Raw or undercooked animal products should be avoided and handled with care to prevent cross-contamination.
It is a frightening time for us all as we are up against something relatively unknown. However, we should stay calm and alert during such times. Panicking does not help the situation. The government has decided to launch a campaign to spread the word that Nepal is free from the outbreak and safe to visit. This is quite true, with only one verified patient who has already seemingly recovered.