January 3, 2024
KATHMANDU – The Provincial Public Health Laboratory of Sudurpaschim has requested the Province Health Logistics Management Centre for kits for polymerase chain reaction tests and antigen tests, as it is short in both.
Officials said testing people suspected to have the coronavirus will be halted both in the laboratory and at border points if kits are not immediately supplied.
“We do not have any kits to carry out polymerase chain reaction tests,” said Jharendra Bahadur Singh, information officer at the Provincial Public Health Laboratory of Sudurpaschim.
“PCR kits supplied to us in the past have expired and health desks set up at border points only have around 200 antigen test kits, which is sufficient only for a day if there is a high flow of people returning from India.”
Officials at the Ministry of Health and Population said that most polymerase chain reaction testing labs throughout the country lack the kits and even the health desks set up at the border points are short of a sufficient number of antigen test kits to test people returning from India.
Also, most laboratories lack trained human resources to carry out testing, as the lab technicians hired during the coronavirus pandemic were laid off following the decline in new cases of infection.
Concerns are growing about the spread of a new sub-variant of coronavirus in the country, as neighbouring India saw a surge in new cases of coronavirus infection and also witnessed an outbreak of the sub-variant JN.1 in several states. Every day, thousands of people enter Nepal from India.
India on Tuesday reported two new deaths and 573 new cases, according to media reports. The southern neighbour confirmed 197 cases of the Covid-19 sub-variant JN.1 as of Monday. Outbreaks of the new sub-variant have been reported from 10 states—Kerala, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Odisha, Delhi, Goa and Karnataka.
Singh said swab samples of nine people returning from India, who tested positive for Covid-19, have been sent to the National Public Health Laboratory in Kathmandu for a whole genome sequencing test.
Whole-genome sequencing is a comprehensive method of analysing the entire DNA sequence of an organism’s genes. Researchers believe that whole-genome sequencing of coronavirus helps track the severity and properties of the virus.
The World Health Organisation has classified JN.1 as a separate ‘variant of interest’ given its rapid spread around the globe. The UN health body, however, said that based on available data, “the additional public health risk posed by JN.1 is currently evaluated as low”.
Health authorities in Nepal say they are closely following developments in the southern neighbour.
Several countries, including China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore, have reported upticks in new coronavirus cases.
The JN.1 strain, first detected in September in the United States, is a descendant of BA.2.86, a highly mutated variant of the Omicron strain of Covid-19.
Virologists and infectious disease experts have asked Nepali authorities to step up vigilance as any virus variant or disease seen in any part of the world can easily enter the country due to the continuous movement of people.
“We should start preparing for any untoward situation. For that, surveillance measures should be stepped up,” said Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, chief of the Clinical Research Unit at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital.