KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Nepal is increasing quarantine facilities and testing at border points to prepare for the expected return of thousands of workers from neighboring India, where coronavirus cases are surging, a senior official said Thursday.
Nepal has reported 11,162 cases and just 26 deaths in a population of 29 million. It was among the first countries in South Asia to report a case, but a lockdown imposed in March has helped control the outbreak.
Deputy Prime Minister Ishwar Pokhrel said in an interview with The Associated Press that coronavirus cases are expected to increase as workers return home from India, where millions of Nepalese are believed to be employed. The flow of workers is expected to accelerate as virus restrictions are eased.
“We are very aware of the number of coronavirus cases in India. That is why we are monitoring and controlling entry of people and at the same time increasing quarantine facilities and testing at border points,” Pokhrel said.
India has reported 473,105 cases, including 14,894 deaths, as of Thursday.
Nepal recently began easing its lockdown by allowing private vehicles back on the streets and opening markets and offices. Schools and malls remain closed, gatherings of people are limited in size, and places of worships are still locked.
The government has been criticized for failing to rapidly increase testing. Several street protests in the capital against the government's handling of the outbreak have been broken up by police using tear gas and a water cannon.
Pokhrel said the government now has enough test kits to last a month and more testing equipment is being brought in.
Pokhrel, who heads the Corona Crisis Management Center, the top body battling the pandemic, said the government decided to begin easing the lockdown because of concerns about hunger among the population.
“We need to increase our economic activities simultaneously, because today we fear that we can die from the pandemic but tomorrow there is a risk that people will die from hunger,” he said. “If economic activities are not allowed, we will not be able to combat the pandemic.”