When we got a call on Monday from the Municipality to come for testing, I was relieved because it meant that the government’s contact tracing system was working. Local governments were tracking down everyone in Lalitpur who had come back from abroad in the past month.
I was never scared for myself, but for others in the family since the virus is so infectious. I extensively researched Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT), Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) and what they entailed.
That Tuesday morning I took a few steps out of my house for the first time in a month. Everything still looked and smelled the same, except the streets were deserted. We decided to walk to the Lagankhel testing centre, and on the way I had to tie my shoelace twice. Each time, I hand sanitised myself after I was done. I had turned into a certified germophobe.
We avoided the main roads, and it was hot – Kathmandu had gone from winter to summer in the month I spent in self-isolation indoors. Buildings on the road to Lagankhel advertising ‘Study in Australia’ and ‘Learn Korean Language’ looked deserted, except for a few people peeking out of the windows.
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Ironically, the tent for mass testing was placed right beside the temple where the idol of Machhindranath is bathed in milk before it is placed in the chariot for its annual festival. If it was not for the lockdown, just about now they would be preparing the temple for the jatra.
Police were outside the tent telling people queuing up for tests to maintain a safe distance. The media was present in force in reflective green vests taking photos and videos of the returnees being tested, giving me a taste of what it feels like to be on the other side.
All of us in the queue wore masks. Some even sported surgical gloves and sunglasses. Few wore jackets and hoodies. The person behind me was busy making calls to get his relative to also come for the test.
Under the tent, there were puddles from the morning rain and flies were buzzing around nearby. They were all reminders that we already had a problem of unsanitary conditions spreading disease before this new infection came around.
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It was my turn next. I was given sanitiser to apply on my hands. Two medical officers in PPEs asked my name, age, address, country I returned from and when I had flown in. Interestingly, a municipality official at the desk already knew my particulars and replied before I could. She was the person who had called my house that morning.
We had been reporting on how despite the lockdown, Nepal was lagging behind in testing, but I was impressed with the coordination and the thoroughness of how it was being done. Local governments from the ward to municipality were being proactive in house-to-house contact tracing for new arrivals and symptoms. Someone was doing their homework, and that was reassuring.
A lab technician drew a drop of blood from my finger, and gave me a cotton ball with disinfectant. That was it. Small kits with blood droplets were neatly arranged in multiple rows and columns, mine was placed next to them. So, this was a RDT, and not a PCR which would mean collecting an oral and nasopharyngeal swab sample.
The test result came later that day – all of us in Lagankhel had tested negative. My blood did not have antibodies, which meant I had not been exposed to the virus.
At home, I am still not taking any chances. I will continue to self-isolate amidst a nationwide lockdown. As for my parents, this is the first time they are happy that I failed a test.