Despite a global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the question on everyone’s minds is why Nepal has officially had only one infected person so far. According to public-health experts, the answer is that we have not tested enough people yet. Even patients with flu symptoms have been turned away from the Infectious Disease Hospital in Teku, because test kits are in short supply.
“Because the case load is increasing in India, with which we have an open border, we have to be vigilant, and we need to test more suspected cases,” admits Teku Hospital chief Anup Bastola. His hospital’s single PCR machine can only test 500 patients a week, and after the first positive case, all others have tested negative.
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Public-health experts say it will be premature to call Nepal coronavirus-free unless vulnerable groups are all tested, as has been done in South Korea.
“You cannot pronounce Nepal coronavirus-free by just testing 500 people,” says Biswa Dawadi of the Nepal Medical Council.
So far this month, the Teaching Hospital in Maharjganj has admitted just two patients above age 60 with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). But they have not been tested for COVID-19. In the past month, Bir Hospital has recorded the deaths of 22 elderly patients due to various causes, which is about the monthly average this time of year, and none have died in the past two weeks.
In Kavre’s Dhulikhel Hospital, there have been no deaths from pneumonia of elderly patients in the past month. Four patients above 65 at Grande Hospital suffering from lung infections tested negative for COVID-19, but there have been a few patients who died of swine flu, of which there is an outbreak in India.
“Since there has not been a big jump in fatalities of elderly patients in hospitals, we can conclude that COVID-19 has not yet spread widely,” says Rajendra Koju of Dhulikhel Hospital. “But you can never be absolutely sure unless you test more people. And the public needs to take precautions.”
The government has restricted movement to stop community transmission, and banned all flights to and from Europe, West Asia, Korea and Japan, including for transit passengers. Flights to Thailand, Singapore, Bhutan, China and India will still operate.