The India connection in Nepal’s COVID-19 status

The detection of the coronavirus in three Indian nationals on Sunday in the border city of Birganj has highlighted the India connection in Nepal’s efforts to control the spread of the infection within its borders.

The three were among Nepali and Indian Muslims who had attended a religious gathering in Saptari district in February from where public health officials now suspect the virus could have spread to other parts of Nepal.

This brings the total number of cases in Nepal to 12 of which six are returnee workers from India, four are Nepalis who returned from Europe and the Gulf, one woman in Dhangadi was a community transmission case, and the first person detected with the infection in January was a Nepali student from China who has since recovered.

Nepalis returning from India. Photo: DINESH KHABAR

The three found positive on Sunday are said to be middle-aged men from Uttar Pradesh who were in a group which had come to Nepal in early February to attend a gathering of the Jamati sect in Saptari. Since then they had travelled across the eastern Tarai, and had been brought to a mosque in Birganj last week from where the swab samples of all 20 had been collected last week.

Three of the men who had the coronavirus infection are now in an isolation ward of a Birganj hospital. Nepal’s public health authorities said they are now trying to contact trace everyone that the infected people had been close to since they entered Nepal.

The India-Nepal border has been sealed for three weeks now, although there numerous places through which people can travel back and forth, and the frontier is still porous. Thousands of Nepali workers have not been allowed into their country, and there are also Indians working in Nepal who have not been able to go back to India.

Nepal and India stop citizens from returning, Deepak Kharel 

Interestingly, Indian media gave wide publicity on Friday to a leaked intelligence report filed by the Indian SSB border police force that a Nepali Muslim politician in Parsa district, Jalim Mukhia, was involved in a conspiracy to infiltrate from Nepal 40-50 coronavirus-infected individuals to spread the pandemic in India.

The ‘top secret’ report said 200 Indian Muslims and 5-6 Pakistanis had ‘already entered Nepal’ and were staying in a madrasah in Parsa district waiting to enter India on 3 April and rest would be sent across in groups. It even alleged that they would take paracetamol to supress their fever. A senior Indian official discredited the report, saying it was sensational and in any case the border was sealed.

Despite that, most Indian television networks gave wide play to the report. In Nepal, the media report was condemned in a firestorm of angry posts on social media, accusing the tv channels of trying to smear Nepal.

Returnees may be taking coronavirus to rural Nepal, Mukesh Pokhrel and Sonia Awale

A leaked letter from an SSB officer in Bihar alleging that a Nepali Muslim politician was conspiring to infiltrated Indian Muslims infected with coronavirus across the border from Nepal to India.

However, in a new twist, the Nepali media quoted Jalim Miya as admitting that he himself took 15 of the Nepali Muslims from his village to the mosque in Birganj on 1 April on instruction of Parsa police. They were later sent home after their tests came out negative.

Jalim Mukhiya is a member of the ruling party, and is himself from the Jamati sect that had held a gathering in Saptari in February.

In a conference call with seven provincial Chief Ministers on Saturday Prime Minister Oli warned that since the COVID-19 epidemic was spreading in India, the lockdown may have to be extended beyond 15 April. The government announced that Province 2 will get an additional 1,600 Armed Police Force personnel to patrol the border.

Lockdown limbo in no man’s land, Deepak Kharel

India has reported 827 new cases in the past 24 hours, with 31 additional fatalities. The total number of confirmed cases in India now stands at 8,356 and 268 have died so far. Of these 452 cases were in Uttar Pradesh with five dead, and Bihar saw a doubling of cases to 63 since Friday, with one death. The other Indian state bordering Nepal has 35 cases. Most of the infected in India have been in Maharastra, Punjab and Kerala.

Compared to its huge population of 1.3 billion, the numbers are small, but public health experts fear that crowded living conditions could be an incubator for the disease. India’s nationwide lockdown has been credited with keeping numbers down, and the curfew which is in effect till Tuesday is probably going to be extended till the end of the month.

If that happens, Nepal’s own lockdown is probably going to be extended by a similar period. Nepal has already extended the ban on international flights till at least 30 April.

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