…following a local outbreak in Phuentsholing   

Younten Tshedup 

Following a local transmission case involving two individuals in Phuentsholing yesterday, the national Covid-19 task force decided to lock down all thromdes and satellite towns in southern border dzongkhags since last night. Movement of individuals and vehicles will be restricted in these areas.

Speaking to Kuensel late last night, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that the indication was that there was a local transmission in the community and in order to analyse the situation and to conduct further epidemiological assessment, the national Covid-19 task force, during an emergency meeting held last night, decided to lock down all the southern dzongkhags.

Lyonchhen said that the decision to impose the lockdown across the southern belt was reached because, for now, the extent of the spread of the virus was not known. “Phuentsholing definitely has the virus but then there is a free traffic movement between Phuentsholing and Samtse. Similarly, there is free traffic movement between Phuentsholing and Gelephu and Samdrupjongkhar. That is why we are locking the entire bordering dzongkhags.”

Massive testing would be conducted in all the bordering dzongkhags beginning today. “If all the results are negative, the lockdown would be lifted,” said Lyonchhen, adding that the duration of the lockdown would depend on the presence of positive cases.  

“After some representative testing, if there are no positive cases in Samtse, for example, there is no need to extend the lockdown there.”

However, Lyonchhen said that if some places keep on reporting positive cases, lockdown would not be lifted soon. “Now that Phuentsholing has recorded two cases from the community, we cannot immediately lift the lockdown there.”


The cases

A 10-year-old student with symptoms since April 15 was taken to the flu clinic in Phuentsholing yesterday morning. The boy tested positive on antigen and upon confirmation, he tested positive on RT-PCR at 7pm on the same day.

His mother, 29, who is asymptomatic tested negative on antigen but positive on RT-PCR. They have been isolated.

His father tested negative on both antigen and RT-PCR but has been quarantined. Lyonchhen said that although the father was negative for now, his condition could be evolving at this stage. He said that in the last one month over 17,000 tests were conducted in Phuentsholing thromde alone and none of them tested positive. “It looks like the transmission is in an early stage for now.”

Under the enhanced surveillance testing protocols for schools, 297 students and teachers from the particular school were tested on April 12. All tested negative then. Sample collection and testing for the schools, and the whole cluster of Toorsa housing complex, where the family resides are being carried out. As of 11.45pm yesterday, 57 primary contacts were traced. Besides the boy’s parents, teachers and 35 students in his class were also treated as primary contacts.

In the last one month, over 60,000 Covid-19 tests were conducted across the country including 26,657 tests in the high-risk zones.

Lyonchhen said that the fact that every individual travelling out of Phuentsholing or any other high-risk areas were quarantined for a week and tested before allowing them to move out has prevented a nationwide lockdown. “Otherwise, an outbreak in Phuentsholing would trigger a lockdown in Thimphu first.”

He added that despite the inconveniences it has caused and the impact it has brought upon some individuals’ livelihood, the seven-day quarantine was put in place to avoid a nationwide lockdown.

Meanwhile, three frontline workers, two desuups and a policewoman, who were on duty at a quarantine centre in Phuentsholing also tested positive to Covid-19 yesterday.

Sowai Lyonpo (health minister) Dechen Wangmo said that the cases were detected from the containment area and upon an interview with the individuals, there was no breach in the protocol.

“As mandated by the protocol, they have not come out of the containment. They could have picked up the infection from the positive cases who were inside the quarantine.” Two Indian workers on April 12 tested positive to Covid-19 from the same quarantine facility.

The prime minister said that in the wake of the growing cases in India, people should not let their guards down and become complacent. “The condition that we are in today, is the riskiest compared to the past 12 months because the cases in India is rampantly increasing and every day they are breaking records both in terms of infection rate and mortality.”

Lyonchhen said that the virus in India could be the new variant, which is aggressive and spreads easily. “We are hoping that this is not the aggressive one but it is very unlikely because somehow the source of the outbreak is from India.”

He added that despite the first dose of the vaccination, people are not protected unless a minimum of 70 percent of the population received both doses of the vaccine.

Meanwhile, people who travelled from Phuentsholing to other high-risk areas in the last 10 days (since April 7, 2021), are asked to get tested at the nearest clinics. Since April 1, 165 emergency travellers who tested negative on RT-PCR exited Phuentsholing to 10 dzongkhags. These individuals are also advised to get tested from the nearest flu clinics.