Of the 187 total positive cases in the country as of last night, 21 of them are Indian nationals working for Project DANTAK and Indian Military Training Team (IMTRAT).
Health Minister Dechen Wangmo during a press conference yesterday said that three new positive cases were detected at the IMTRAT headquarters in Haa yesterday morning.
Another two IMTRAT employees, one each in Thimphu and Phuentsholing had also tested positive recently. The one who tested positive in Thimphu had travelled from Phuentsholing. The 35-year-old man tested positive while in the quarantine on August 22. He was a primary contact of one of the positive cases in Phuentsholing.
Following the announcement yesterday, many questioned if the government was trying to conceal the identity of the Indian nationals testing positive. The positive cases among 16 Project DANTAK employees in Phuentsholing were not new. The information was revealed only yesterday.
Lyonpo said that the ministry has been sharing all possible details with respect to the pandemic. She said that picking positive cases in the DANTAK or IMTRAT camps made no difference to the extensive preventive measures that are already in place.
Lyonpo said that irrespective of the country of origin, anyone who is in Bhutan has to abide by and follow the national protocols put in place. “We cannot custom design different protocols for different people. The national-level testing, quarantine or movement protocols applies to everyone who is in the country.”
She said that these cases did not make a difference to the existing control and preventive measures mainly because the country was already in a nationwide lockdown that prevented the movement of people from one place to another.
“Another advantage is that the cases were detected in a cluster. They were not freely roaming individuals. Therefore, it was much easier for us to do the contact tracing, testing and assessing the risk within a short period of time.”
Gelephu frontline worker
Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that the ministry was still assessing the case of the frontline worker who tested positive on August 27 in Gelephu. “So far none of the contacts of the case has tested positive.”
“I’m a big believer that along the border areas, the compliance towards basic use of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks and shields and handwashing has been amazingly good,” Lyonpo said. “So I hope and pray that this would have a certainss impact on preventing the virus from being easily transmitted.”
She added that given the nationwide lockdown, movement of people was reduced, which gave the ministry enough time to plan and implement the interventions in time.
However, Lyonpo said that the government is not ruling out possible multiple cases in Gelephu.
“We are considering the case as a local transmission mainly because for now there is no particular source of infection for the person,” she said, adding that the risk is being assessed and the ministry would be able to establish the extent of the transmission in the community within the next 48 hours.
Testing is underway in Gelephu and although the primary contacts have tested negative so far, they would be retested after three days.
Lyonpo said that the next course of action in Gelephu would be contingent on the results of the risk assessment.
With cases detected from Phuentsholing, Gelephu, Haa and Paro there is a growing concern of a full-blown transmission of the disease in the country.
However, the minister said that for the government the current situation would be more of a cluster epidemic rather than a full-blown transmission.
“We would still call it a cluster because it is coming out from a cluster from a specific population,” she said. “But we are also looking if other areas have been infected from these clusters and if the virus has gone outside.”
She said that for this the government will have to strategise on whether to conduct a mass screening of the entire population like in Phuentsholing or carry out random sampling.
“To strategise, we would require at least 24 hours to assess the risks. In about 24 to 48 hours we should be fairly confident enough to gauge the risk of the epidemic and that will determine our next course of action.”
However, for Bhutan, Lyonpo said that the mode of transmission – sporadic or cluster – would make no difference as the country has already taken the maximum-intervention approach.
“If you look at our testing, we are testing like it’s nobody’s business. We are in a highly aggressive testing mode. As long as we rule out importation which is from the quarantine centres, rest all mode of transmission does not make a difference to us.”
Following the local transmission in Phuentsholing, the health ministry tested the entire population in the town. During the 10-day mass testing, over 26,000 people were tested in the community of which 25 have tested positive so far.
Beginning yesterday three teams of health officials were deployed to test over 3,000 people living along the Phuentsholing-Thimphu highway.
“Recognising that there is a higher risk in Phuentsholing, we are sweeping the entire Phuentsholing-Thimphu highway,” she said.
“Every member of the household along the highway will be tested. The data would give us a fairly good idea of the extent of the transmission.”
Meanwhile, Haa Dzongdag Kinzang Dorji said that although three IMTRAT personnels have tested positive for Covid-19 in the dzongkhag, residents should not panic.
Speaking to Kuensel, the dzongdag said that the positive cases were detected from a self-containment zone where movement in and out of the zone was restricted.
However, as a precautionary measure, the dzongkhag administration has imposed lockdown in Bangyena and Kipri villages under Uesu gewog, as the two villages are adjacent to the military training camp.
Bangyena village shares boundary with IMTRAT camp and the residents have to route through the camp to connect with the highway.
Dzongdag Kinzang Dorji said that with the restriction on movement, the dzongkhag administration would deliver essential items to the village.
“We should be alert but people should not panic as the dzongkhag isn’t in an emergency situation yet.”
He said that if people follow the protocol set by the dzongkhag administration, there was nothing to worry about.
In case of emergency, residents should call the toll-free number 1007 for essential items and 1008 for medical emergencies.
Additional reporting by Phub Dem, Paro