February 6, 2020
Every week, dozens of migrant workers from Nepal leave for South Korea, where over a dozen cases of coronavirus have been reported.
With the coronavirus continuing to spread across countries, the global health scourge has begun to affect Nepali labour migrations.
In the wake of the possibility of spreading coronavirus, the Nepal chapter of the Human Resources Development Service of South Korea—the central South Korean organisation overseeing human resources management, including the arrival of foreign labour forces—has requested that the Nepal government not send any workers who could possibly be carrying the coronavirus.
A delegation from the South Korean agency visited the Department of Foreign Employment on Tuesday and requested Nepali officials to closely examine Nepali workers leaving for South Korea via the Employment Permit System (EPS).
“The South Korean officials have urged us to stop those workers who are suspected of showing symptoms of coronavirus,” Bhishma Kumar Bhusal, director general of the Foreign Employment Department, told the Post. “They have not asked us to completely stop the migration of Nepali workers, only those who carry symptoms similar to the coronavirus.”
Symptoms of the coronavirus include fever, cough and shortness of breath or symptoms similar to the cold or flu. The virus can spread from person-to-person through close contact, which is said to happen mainly via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes—the same way influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread.
“Coronavirus symptoms are similar to the common cold and cough. So, they have requested us to stop those who possess these symptoms,” said Bhusal. “If their flight is already scheduled, it can be rescheduled. We will ask these workers to go in for a medical examination, take rest and leave only after they are declared fit.”
According to media reports, there have been more than 20,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in China alone, with a death toll of at least 425 and rising. The outbreak has spread internationally, infecting 170 people in more than 20 countries, including Nepal and South Korea—one of the popular labour destinations with Nepali migrant workers.
Every week, dozens of Nepali workers leave for South Korea, where at least 17 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed—the latest being a 38-year-old South Korean man who had visited Singapore from January 18 to 24 for a conference, which included guests from Wuhan.
According to Bhusal, the Nepal government will be careful while sending its workers to South Korea as this is a global public health threat.
The EPS Nepal Section—under the Department of Foreign Employment—is also introducing awareness programmes about the coronavirus, its spread and prevention in orientation training for those leaving for South Korea.
“We will anyway stop any worker who shows symptoms of coronavirus,” said Krishna Prasad Khanal, director at the EPS Nepal Section. “For now, we are asking them to use a face mask although the condition is not dangerous in Nepal, yet. The rescheduling of the flight will be done for those who are sick.”
South Korea is considered a safe labour destination for Nepali workers for it has better facilities and perks for migrant workers with a guaranteed work period for a minimum of four years and 10 months. So far, more than 60,000 Nepali workers have reached South Korea since 2008 through the EPS.
The departure of Nepali workers to South Korea are mostly scheduled on Mondays when a group of 100-150 Nepali workers leave to work in South Korea. Before their departure, these workers have to go through two rounds of medical tests—the first, soon after having passed a Test of Proficiency in Korean Language (TOPIK) and filling up of the employment form and the second, a few days before their flight, according to Khanal.
“We do not have any mechanism for testing coronavirus. Even hospitals do not do it here,” said Khanal. “So we will inform them about coronavirus during their orientation and tell them not to go if they have similar symptoms. Otherwise, they will have to return from South Korea because they have to go through a post-arrival medical examination there.”