Outbreak in Thimphu from multiple clusters 

Younten Tshedup 

With 74 new cases reported since lockdown began in the capital city, the threat from the novel coronavirus, this time around, is at a different level, warns the Sowai Lyonpo (health minister) Dechen Wangmo.

Community outbreak of the virus has been confirmed with cases regularly detected from flu clinics besides the contacts of those tested positive. Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo last night reiterated that the threat the country faced today was much more severe than the last outbreak in Phuentsholing.

Lyonpo said that epidemiologically, the outbreaks were different.

“The outbreak in Phuentsholing was from a containment mode, the mini dry port. The outbreak in Thimphu is from various communities,” she said.

“The risk is relatively higher this time as the outbreak is in the capital city with a huge population and extensive level of interactions. It is easier for the virus to spread in such environments and tracing the contacts is also challenging.”

Chairperson of health ministry’s technical advisory group (TAG), Dr Sithar Dorjee, said that the outbreak in Thimphu has been reported from multiple clusters.

He said that the Phuentsholing outbreak was reported from two particular clusters — MDP and Project Dantak area. “The few cases detected outside were also quickly traced and they were linked to either of the two areas.”

Experts for now, the epidemiologist said, have not been able to link the cases with each other in Thimphu, meaning they were infected from different sources in their respective locations. This also meant that the virus was spreading in the community for a while, he added.

Of the 21 new cases detected yesterday, about 20 of them had symptoms. These people tested five days after the lockdown in Thimphu Thromde, where they were not allowed to move out.

Technically, they were infected a few days prior to the lockdown. It was during this period that the virus had transmitted in the community.

A possible reason for the rampant transmission according to Dr Sithar Dorjee was because of the complacency among the public. “The onset of the festive season got the better of our people. Despite the increasing risk of the pandemic, many did not take it seriously.”

He warned that cases are likely to increase in the next few days. However, if the lockdown were effectively implemented, he said, the number of cases would dwindle after seven to eight days.

The health ministry is currently tracing the source of the outbreak in Thimphu.

Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that given the number of rising cases, Norzin Lam Wog (Chubachu) area, for now, was identified as the possible source of the outbreak in Thimphu.

Meanwhile, of the 21 new cases detected yesterday, 14 are close contacts of the positive cases detected earlier. Five were detected from flu clinics   lower Motithang (one), Changzamtog (two), a student of National Institute of Zorig Chusum, and one in Olakha.

A contact of Paro case who was in quarantine in Bumthang and another person, a close contact of the Bhutan Telecom case in Wangdue, also tested positive yesterday. Since December 20, 74 people have tested positive so far taking the number of total cases to 521 as of last night.

Going forward, the health minister said that aggressive contact tracing and testing in Thimphu has been initiated. High-risk clusters such as taxi and bus drivers, schools and frontline workers were also being tested.

Lyonpo said that so far, 2,105 people were tested through aggressive contact tracing and around 2,300 people in the high-risk clusters. To feel the pulse of the epidemic, mass screening in Thimphu was introduced yesterday. Around 10,000 people in the capital city would be tested in the next few days.

“Paro is another place which we are worried about. Epidemiologically, Thimphu and Paro function as one unit given the large level of interaction between the two places,” Lyonpo said, adding that aggressive contact tracing, screening of high-risk clusters including schools are currently underway.

After assessing the situation in Paro, the ministry would carry out a mass testing in the dzongkhag.

Lyonpo also urged those people who have received calls from the ministry identifying them as primary contacts to refrain from going out of their homes. Also, residents of the same building from where positive cases have been detected should stay home.

Special arrangements are made to deliver essentials to them, said the minister.