The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the novel coronavirus, which was originated from Wuhan, China, a public health emergency of international concern on January 30, 2020. It was confirmed the airborne virus can be spread by human oral droplets or direct contact. People with coronavirus may transmit the disease before and after symptoms occurred, implying a highly contagious level of the disease. This unique characteristic has increased the chances of the disease spreading rapidly without anyone even noticing it.
Figure 1. Visitors with masks arriving at the Tribhuvan International Airport, Jan 31. (photo credit: RSS)
Since the first case of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) confirmed in Nepal, a Nepali student studied in Wuhan, Ministry of Health of Nepal has warned the local hospitals and the public to be on high alert. Concerns have arisen upon the country’s public hygiene, medical facilities as well as the effectiveness of identifying potential theaters at the earliest stage. It appears that limited procedure has been taken to quarantine the potential victims, since quarantine is crucial in preventing the spreading of the diseases. Passengers from China and other countries have been able to come into the cities with limited checking and tracking mechanism. The Tribhuvan International airport is the only checkpoint with thermal scanner thus far. It has been questioned if the country is able to handle epidemic, if it ever happened here (Dhakal, 2020). The confirmed patient was released before receiving the positive test results from Hong Kong, and it was not clear to us if the patient has been properly quarantined or treated following the suggested standard by WHO.
The Health Ministry has deployed teams at Indo – Nepal borders to check visitors’ body temperature for the prevention of Coronavirus. (Online, 2020) To the north of Nepal, however, at the Rasuwagadhi and Tatopani checkpoints, bordering Tibet of China, the Nepali government has temporarily issued bar to protect the country from the emergency of diseases since Jan 29. The Rasuwagadhi checkpoint has been the main trade route for the two countries after the country’s severe earth quake in 2015, and has amounts to 3,752 million RMB in trade volume in 2019, with an increase of 10.4% compared to last year. (Lasa Customs District, 2020)
Figure 2. Nepal deployed health check teams at Indo-Nepal borders. (photo credit: IANS)
On the day when the first case of 2019-nCoV was confirmed, Ministry of Health has informed hospitals and medical agencies to be on high alert, and has issued public health warnings to the general public upon prevention methods (Figure 3). However, it seems that limited implementation or supervision have been undertaken. For instance, although shaking hands and hugging were not encouraged during the outbreak period, we have witnessed limited change of behaviors upon personal contact. Public areas weren’t allowed to wear masks until the very last couple of days. Many people appear to be uncertain about the new virus, especially, in comparison to other epidemic, such as SARS or MERS. Much efforts needs to be done in terms of public hygiene, public health awareness and education for the change of behavior and the environment.
Figure 3. Nepali message for public health education by Ministry of Health, Nepal.
On the other hand, the Chinese Embassy of Nepal has requested all Chinese visitors who are from Hubei or have demonstrated symptoms of 2019-nCoV to report to the designated office since Jan 31. Several airlines, including China International Airline, Southern China Airline, Sichuan Airline, Tibet Airline and Himalayan airline, have also posed flight restriction or even temporarily suspended the fight traffic between the two countries from Feb 3.
The year of 2020 has been chosen to be Nepal’s Tourism Year, a year committed to tourism industry by the federal government with a vision of attracting more than one million visitors. However, under the outbreak of the coronavirus in China, Nepal’s tourism industry may face severe challenge to meet the pre-setting goal. Tourists from China has reached to 13% second to India 17% in 2018. (See Figure 4 for more information) Limitation of Chinese visitors would probably shrink the tourists pool in any way, which in turn, creates anxiety around the country’s economy. Tourism in Nepal constitutes 2% of GDP from 2017 to 2018, remaining roughly stable across the past decade. It is believed that there will be more tourists to visit Nepal and contribute to the 2020 Visit Nepal Year once the epidemic is under control.
Figure 4. GROSS FOREIGN EXCHANGE EARNINGS FROM TOURISM BY FISCAL YEAR.
(Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, Government of Nepal, 2019)
Income on tourism got affected after the SARS epidemic 2004-07 and the earthquake in 2015
During the period of SARS from 2002 to 2003, Nepal had zero infected case on record, a pure land that had not been contaminated by the dirt or dust. However, 17 years have passed, and the country has witnessed a tremendous growth in terms of population in urban areas and a rocketing economic growth. Kathmandu valley, given its unique geographic location proximity to the world’s highest mountain range, the Himalayas, may face unprecedented challenge upon the novel coronavirus global health emergency based on its current pollution and public hygiene level, as well as the proximity and economic integration with China. Given the overall optimistic morale of this landlock country, we have reasons to keep hopes high towards Nepal’s capacities in dealing with this public health regime this time, as well as its economic and social prospect.
Dhakal, S. (2020, 2 1). Nepal lacks preparation as WHO declares global emergency. Retrieved from The Himalayan Times: https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/nepal-lacks-preparation-as-who-declares-global-emergency/
Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, Government of Nepal. (2019). Nepal tourism statistics 2018. Retrieved from Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, Government of Nepal: http://tourism.gov.np/files/statistics/19.pdf
Online, N. S. (2020, 1 26). India To Establish Screening Centers In Nepal-India Border To Test Coronavirus. Retrieved from Spotlight Nepal : https://www.spotlightnepal.com/2020/01/26/india-establish-screening-centers-nepal-india-border-test-coronavirus/
中华人民共和国拉萨海关主办. (2020, 1 21). 2019年吉隆口岸进出口贸易总值创历史新高. Retrieved from 中华人民共和国拉萨海关: http://www.customs.gov.cn/lasa_customs/613418/613419/2849615/index.html