Compared to two months ago, there are no big crowds at the India-Nepal border these days. Although the border is supposed to be sealed, Nepalis still returning from India are not quarantined anymore, and this has raised fears that the mass spread of the virus in India could also affect Nepal.
Here at the checkpoint at Behaliya there are no longer big crowds waiting to be tested and the quarantine centres on both sides of the border are empty. Returnees are allowed to enter freely, their temperature is checked, and if they show no symptoms they can travel directly to their home districts for a two-week quarantine.
However, public health experts say that although the chaos at the border has been reduced, and the flow of returnees is also not as big as before, allowing people to travel to their home districts without tests risks the spread of the disease along the way.
“Earlier most of those who tested positive were asymptomatic, but in the past week the symptoms in patients tested in the border cities are all similar to those in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh,” says public health expert Rabindra Pandey.
He adds that earlier most of those testing positive in Nepal were asymptomatic, and recovered quickly. But in the past fortnight, there are many with severe COVID-19 symptoms in the border cities.
“This is proof that we have to be vigilant about the virus spreading to Nepal from people going back and forth across the border for trade or visits,” warns Pandey, “so far 95% of the confirmed cases in Nepal have a travel history of coming from India.”
The fear is that the disease could easily spread to other parts of Nepal since travel restrictions have been lifted within the country, and long-distance buses will be plying from 30 July.
A family of five was tested positive in Kathmandu Valley this week, and contact tracing showed that the daughter-in-law of the household had travelled from Sitamarhi in Bihar and spread it to her family. The border cities of Rajbiraj, Birganj, Inaruwa and parts of Biratnagar have been sealed off this week after an increase in patients with severe symptoms.