COVID-19: More than 500 migrant workers in Nepal escape quarantine

They protested congestion, lack of basic facilities at quarantine centre

By Raman Paudel
Published: Tuesday 31 March 2020
Migrant workers left India and returned to Nepal from the western side of its border Photo: Raman

Some 540 quarantined workers who migrated back to Nepal from India fled on March 23, 2020 and escaped from a quarantine centre in the country's Banke district on the same day.

They were detained by Nepal Police after they crossed the border — with the help of officials from Nepalgunj municipality in Banke — and put into a quarantine facility in the city.

The workers belonged to different districts in west Nepal and were working in different Indian cities for a long time.

After the announcement of the lockdown by India's Union government to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), they returned to Nepal from Jamunaha, the western side of its border.

The workers claimed the quarantine centre was congested and did not have basic facilities.

Most of them — after escaping from quarantine — went back to their own villages and were not tested for possible infection from the virus (SARS-CoV-2). 

“The government should quarantine us systematically or we will return to our homes,” said 35-year-old Amreet Giri, one of the migrant workers who escaped quarantine.

Workers could take care of themselves if the government was unable to manage, he added. Shankernath Khanal, a local journalist, said government officials failed to arrange proper quarantine facilities for hundreds.

“They put at least 25 people in a single room,” Khanal said. The workers escaped from quarantine facilities by jumping over boundary walls, according to Barshat Bhandari, a local.

Government officials attempted to hastily quarantine all the workers within a very short span of time, according to him. Some of the workers who escaped had fever, according to security officials who were deployed at the quarantine facility.

Nepal’s federal government said officials were trying to arrange meetings of all those suspected with having infections for the past 14 days.

Approximately 600 people across the country were tested for the virus as of March 29. There were five reported confirmed infections across the country.

The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced workers from the unorganised sector — including those in the informal economy — to go back to their villages over long-term unemployment and a loss in their livelihoods.

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