Breathalysers to be used only sparingly to check drink driving, Amid virus fears

Traffic police personnel need to be vigilant while conducting such checks as droplets from an infected person may transmit the disease, health officials say.

In a bid to keep its officials and commuters safe from the possible transmission of a novel coronavirus, the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division has directed its officials to use a breathalyzer to check drunk driving only when it is “absolutely necessary”.

Authorities worldwide are scrambling to stop the spread of Covid-19, and many countries have asked their nationals to self-quarantine, have closed educational institutions and offices, often leading to empty roads and markets.

“When the police suspect that a person is riding under the influence of alcohol, only then will the person be tested,” said Senior Superintendent Bhim Prasad Dhakal, the chief of the division.

Globally, cases of novel coronavirus that first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late December have claimed 5,535 lives and more than 147,000 people are infected, as confirmed by the World Health Organization.

“It’s not only public, our officials too are vulnerable to the transmission of the disease. That is why we have directed them to take mandatory precautions,” said Dhakal.

He said the traffic police personnel should mandatorily wear a mask, hand gloves, carry hand sanitisers and use breathalyzer only when they have suspicions about a person driving in a drunken state.

At present, the traffic police have only 70 breathalyzers, of which 20 are out of order. Traffic police officials said the defunct breathalyzers are not being repaired as they have to be sent to China for repairs.

So far, Nepal has reported one case of a novel coronavirus in the country, in late January.

Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, a virologist at the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital said the traffic police should take special precautionary measures while conducting a breathalyzer test on a drunk driver. “Traffic police should be extra careful as they interact closely with many people every day,” said Pun.

He said the chances of disease transmission from an infected person through droplets while conducting the anti-drunk-drive tests is quite high.

Traffic police say after the World Health Organization on March 11 declared Covid-19 a pandemic, the traffic on the Kathmandu roads has dropped, but not significantly. However, every night, the division office has been deploying its staff in 42 points across the Valley to check drunk drivers.

Traffic police’s anti-drunk-drive campaign that started on December 2, 2011, has become a successful drive. Over the past decade, the division office says the drunken driving cases have dropped by 50 percent.