Coronavirus outbreak: Bihar increases surveillance across porous Nepal border

A person showing symptoms of carrying the virus was identified at one of the border’s 49 transit points

By C K Manoj
Published: Friday 13 March 2020

The Bihar government announced a slew of measures to contain the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in the state.

The measures include tightening surveillance along its porous 729 kilometre-long border with Nepal on March 12, 2020 and the closure of all educational institutions — including schools, colleges and coaching institutes — along with movie theatres and parks.

The annual Bihar Diwas celebration — to mark the formation of the state on March 22 — was also cancelled, Chief Secretary Deepak Kumar, said at a press conference on March 13.

The measures to increase surveillance were taken after a person showing symptoms of carrying the virus was identified at one of the border’s 49 transit points on March 12.

The state government deployed seven additional directors of the health department in seven northern districts — West Champaran, East Champaran, Madhubani, Sitamarhi, Supaul, Araria and Kishanganj — which border Nepal.

Health officials were told to keep a close watch on the situation at the border.

Nepal shares a 1,751 km-long border with India. There was so far only one reported coronavirus case identified in the Himalayan country.

One suspected case of a Japanese national in the state was also reportedly identifed with symptoms on March 12. The man was travelling from Delhi on the Odisha-bound Purushottam Express.

The Japanese national was de-boarded at Gaya station after passengers called the Railway Police, saying the man showed symptoms of carrying the virus.

He was then sent to an isolation ward at the local Anugrah Narayan Medical College and Hospital.

“We have launched massive preventive measures to check spread of the coronavirus,” Bihar health minister Mangal Pandey said.

The deployed health officials were told to admit anyone who showed symptoms of the disease and collect samples from them for tests.

Around 132,186 were screened at all the transit points along the border, according to the minister.

Five-bed isolation wards were ready at each district hospital, the minister said. In each of the state’s six medical colleges and hospitals, there were 10 and 20-bed isolation wards, he added.

They include the Patna Medical College and Hospital, Nalanda Medical College and Hospital in Patna, Jawahar Lal Nehru Medical College and Hospital in Bhagalpur, Anugrah Narayan Medical College and Hospital in Gaya, Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital in Muzaffarpur and Darbhanga Medical College and Hospital.

144 passengers returned to Bihar from virus-affected countries till January 15, 2020, according to the state’s surveillance system. They were kept under home quarantine till March 12, 2020. Of them, 73 completed the 14-day mandatory observation, while the remaining are still in isolation.

The Bihar government also initiated efforts to convert schools, colleges and government guest houses into temporary quarantine centres.

“We have asked the officials in Gaya and Patna to identify 5,000-bed quarantine facilities in each district. The remaining districts have been told to identify 1,000-bed quarantine facility each,” Bihar Surveillance Officer Ragini Mishra told Down to Earth on Friday. “This will finish in the next two to three days,” she said.

The Bihar government is also considering invoking the Epidemic Act, which empowers the state to initiate different measures to tackle the outbreak.

Leaves of all the doctors and medical staff at the Patna Medical College and Hospital were cancelled, according to the hospital’s administration. All doctors were told to remain alert and closely monitor the situation.

Bihar’s anganwadi centres were also shut down until further notice, according to Alok Kumar, director of Integrated Child Development Services.

Around 75 lakh children are enrolled in over 140,000 anganwadi centres in the state.

527 from Patna cancelled their trips to several countries, according to local media.

Of them, 227 were going to travel to Singapore, Thailand and Dubai — countries that have been affected by the coronavirus disease outbreak, a local travel agency owner was quoted as saying by a local newspaper.

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