Reuters reported yesterday (26 Apr) that COVID-19 cases have surged rapidly in Nepal.
Experts fear that thousands of people in Nepal may have caught the more infectious double mutant strains emerging out of India.
Nepal, which shares a long porous border with India, reported 3,032 new infections on Sunday (25 Apr), the highest daily surge recorded this year. The number of people in Nepal infected by the coronavirus has increased to 300,119.
“We have detected the UK variant and the double mutant variant detected in India,” Krishna Prasad Paudel, the director of Nepal’s Epidemiology and Disease Control Department said, adding that experts were checking for other variants too.
Public health expert Rabindra Pandey said, “The virus is mutating very fast… what started in India has now entered Nepal too.” He added that if the trend continued for a week, then new patients will be unable to find any beds as hospitals were already stretched in Nepal.
Nepal shares a 1,751-kilometre (1,094 miles) border with its southern neighbour India. The border was closed for some time during a lockdown last year, when the first wave of the epidemic struck, but it has since been reopened.
At Bheri hospital in Nepalgunj, a Nepali city bordering India, Dr Prakash Thapa told Reuters that the situation is really frightening. He said the hospital was inundated with coronavirus patients requiring intensive care and ventilators.
“This time even children and young people are brought in critical condition and patients are even sleeping on the floor and corridors,” Dr Thapa added.
Indian nationals entering Singapore via Nepal
Meanwhile, Indian nationals are using Nepal as a transit point to travel onward to other countries including Singapore since a number of countries have already banned travellers flying directly from India to their country.
Many Indian nationals will spend 2 weeks in Nepal before flying off to their destination countries in order to circumvent the ban (‘Indian nationals use Nepal to circumvent travel bans resulting in crowding in hotels at Kathmandu‘).
Between 1-18 April, 5,250 Indian nationals flew out of Kathmandu airport, reported the Nepali Times. The increased numbers of Indian nationals arriving and staying for 2 weeks meant that Kathmandu’s hotels are currently packed, noted Nepali Times. “We have seen an increase in bookings in budget hotels, and occupancy is up even in 2 and 3 star hotels,” said a representative from the Hotel Association of Nepal.
Despite members of the public sounding alarm about the border circumvention, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung told the media yesterday (26 Apr) that the risk is low.
“I think, as a matter of general infection control knowledge, regardless of your nationality, if you stay in a place long enough, you assume the risk profile of that place,” he said.
“You may be from another country, but once you stay in a new country for a while, you assume a new risk profile.”
“But if your policy is to target risk, then for someone from a high-risk country to move to a lower risk country, stay there for some time, and after that remain non COVID-positive, remain negative, and then come to Singapore … they have lowered the risk in that process,” he added.
Yesterday, the Ministry of Health reported that there were 43 imported cases of COVID-19 in Singapore. Five were Indian nationals who flew in from Nepal. It’s not known if they are carrying any double mutant strains.