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What can Bangladesh learn from India variant outbreak in Nepal?

  • Published at 10:05 pm May 7th, 2021
Nepal Covid-19 Surge
A health worker wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) drags an oxygen cylinder towards the Covid ward as the major second wave of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) surges in Kathmandu, Nepal on April 26, 2021 Reuters

All borders need to be closed immediately and monitored strictly, say experts

Nepal, a neighbor to India like Bangladesh, is witnessing a record-breaking surge in Covid-19 cases because of the Indian variants of Covid-19 that are spreading across South Asia, say experts and relief organizations.

About 44% of the Covid tests are currently coming back positive in Nepal, with the country recording 57 times the number of cases occurred last month, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRCRCS).

During the first peak of the pandemic in Nepal in October last year, the highest 5,463 new Covid-19 cases were identified on October 21. Subsequently, the infection rate was brought under control and dwindled to less than 100 new cases a day by March this year.

However, after respite for about 15 days, the number of Covid-19 cases began rising even more viciously than before. On May 6, a total 8,970 new cases and 54 deaths were recorded in Nepal.

The pace of the surge alarms experts, and they fear that the arrival of the Indian variant of coronavirus in Bangladesh could have dire consequences had the government not slapped a ban on travelling to and from Nepal and India as soon as possible.

Nepal is imposing localized lockdowns and restrictions to control the spread of Covid-19, including in Kathmandu. International commercial flights remained ceased from May 6 until May 15, and domestic flights from May 3 until May 15, according to International media reports.

Dr Tarek Hussain, public health expert at the Asian Development Bank, on Friday told Dhaka Tribune: “We have learned that the virus can travel to any place any time. In Nepal, cases have gone up quickly due to explosive situation in neighboring India. The border has not been properly closed and monitored. It is suspected that the Indian variants are already circulating in Nepal.

He suggested that Bangladesh immediately put travel bans on India and Nepal, and enforce 14 days quarantine for passengers.  No aircraft from Kathmandu and Indian cities should be allowed a transit at Dhaka.

“Also, the government should ask our citizens not to travel to Nepal, including Everest base camp, through any means. Our land border authorities should be updated about the situation in Nepal and India regularly, and tougher border restrictions need to be put in place,” he added.

Dr Mohammad Mushtuq Husain, adviser at the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), echoes the ADB expert.

“Any variant may attack any country at any time. We should be more cautious to tackle this. The Indian variants will attack Bangladesh sooner or later, and we need to be prepared,” he said.

Dr Mushtuq also said: “Nepal is facing this situation because there are thousands of Nepalese laborers working in India daily, as they share a long border with each other.”

According to foreign minister AK Momen, Bangladesh is not operating any passenger flights with Nepal right now. “Only cargo and special flights are available on limited scale.”

A top-level source at the Nepal Embassy told this correspondent on Friday: “We planned to launch a special flight for the MBBS exam on May 13 as the MBBS exam in Bangladesh is supposed to be held on May 30. However, as we’ve heard that the Bangladesh government has decided to postpone the exam, we aren’t arranging this special flight right now.”

Nepali students and citizens who are still in Bangladesh are going to Nepal through the land border at Beanpole and Burimari via India, since there are no passenger flights available. 

“Before leaving Bangladesh, they are collecting permission from the Foreign Ministry and the Home Ministry of Bangladesh,” the source added.

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