Nepal stares at health crisis amid virus spillover fears from India

By Sangam Prasain

Kathmandu, May 7 (EFE).- Nepal is staring at a looming health crisis with record numbers of around 9,000 daily infections as fear grows over a Covid-19 spillover from the neighboring India, which is battling a devastating second wave of the virus.

Hundreds of thousands of Nepalese work as seasoned laborers in India, where a rapidly-spreading strain of the virus is partially blamed for the steep rise in widespread infections and deaths.

According to officials, thousands of migrant laborers have fled the second-worst affected nation and returned home, possibly infected.

The record of Nepalese returning from India is not accounted for because the two countries share an open border of about 1,880 km (1,168 miles) with 35 entry points.

But according to the immigration department, 58,449 Nepalese have returned via air route in April alone.

Raju Aryal, the spokesperson for the Armed Police Force, said more than 3,000 workers have been returning home daily since April when India remained in the grip of the second wave.

“There are no actual statistics, but many Nepalese coming back home may have been infected with the virus,” Aryal told EFE.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) earlier this week warned that Nepal needed to urgently control the outbreak to avoid a crisis like in India.

IFRC Nepal chairperson Netra Prasad Timsina said the situation in India was “a horrifying preview of Nepal’s future if we cannot contain (the) surge.”

Daily infections in the Himalayan nation are increasing dangerously.

A month ago, the country recorded less than 300 daily infections.

On Thursday, the health ministry reported 8,970 cases bringing the total number to 368,580.

With 54 deaths recorded on Thursday, the overall tally has now reached 3,529 since the beginning of the pandemic.

The positivity rate is also alarming, with 44 percent of all the samples tested a day ago turning positive for the virus.

Below 5 percent positivity rate is considered an under control pandemic, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Health ministry spokesperson Samir Kumar Adhikari told EFE that several hospitals in Nepal were overwhelmed as border towns near India struggle to handle the covid patient surge.

Ravi Shakya, who heads a government hospital in Lalitpur, the third-largest city in Nepal, said the health facility received up to 400 people each day with coronavirus symptoms.

Some 50-60 percent of them generally test positive.

“The hospital has allocated 180 beds for coronavirus infected. None of the 21 intensive care unit beds and 17 ventilators is vacant,” Shakya told EFE.

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