In a bid to lessen the risk of an outbreak of Omicron, the new variant of the coronavirus, the Ministry of Health and Population has recommended enforcing mandatory seven-day quarantine for all people returning from abroad.
Officials said that quarantine rule, as proposed by the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, is necessary as the new variant of the virus has already been detected in over 60 countries.
“We hope that our recommendation will be discussed in the meeting of the Covid-19 Crisis Management Coordination Centre and the latter will send the proposal to the Cabinet,” said Dr Samir Adhikari, joint spokesperson for the Health Ministry.
Two cases of Omicron infections have already been detected in Nepal. Officials said the two patients, both foreign nationals, have recovered.
The World Health Organisation designated the Omicron a ‘variant of concern’ on November 26.
Nepal has restricted entry of passengers arriving or transiting from only nine countries—South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Malawi and Hong Kong.
However, authorities concerned have not taken further decisions regarding additional measures even though the virus has been detected in several countries throughout the world.
The Epidemiology and Disease Control Division has also proposed mandatory polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests after seven days of quarantine and an additional home quarantine for abroad returnees.
“Not all people returning from abroad have to stay in institutional quarantine and home quarantine,” said Dr Hemanta Ojha, an official at the division. “We are proposing these rules for those who have returned from high-risk countries. They would have to stay in quarantine for a certain period and follow certain procedures.”
The division has also prepared the list of high-risk countries, which will be forwarded to the Health Ministry by analysing the new cases for two weeks.
“All countries do not have the capacity to conduct whole-genome sequencing tests. Even if they did, it is impossible to perform the tests on all samples,” said Ojha. “So it will be better to take some precautions for safety. I think a travel advisory could be issued within a few days about risks and new measures. ”
Of late, several countries including the United Kingdom and the United States have been recording growing Omicron cases. And people are regularly travelling to and from those countries.
The WHO has also urged countries to take steps to prevent massive surge in new cases and prevent the spread of Omicron.
“The steps countries take today and in the coming days and weeks will determine how Omicron unfolds. If countries wait until their hospitals start to fill up, it’s too late. Don’t wait. Act now,” WHO Director General Tedros Gebreyesus told the media in Geneva on December 8.
Public health experts have also suggested more precautions to prevent a massive outbreak of the virus, which includes enforcement of safety measures at all public places and increasing the pace of vaccination.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been stressing the need to increase vaccination pace and to enforce safety measures, which is still important,” Dr Baburam Marasini, former director at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, told the Post. “We do not have other options, except implementing the safety measures. The members of the public should also play their part and follow safety protocols and not take risks.”
Health experts have also stressed the management of international border crossings, carrying out testing on all suspects, placing the returnees in mandatory quarantine, activating surveillance systems and increasing testing, among other measures.
So far, 9,241,261 people (30.4 percent of the total population) have been fully immunised. Nepal so far has received 27,147,440 doses of Covid-19 vaccines—Vero Cell, AstraZeneca, Janssen, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.