Quarantine is not a detention: Health Minister
Yangchen C Rinzin
All travellers, including Bhutanese, coming to Bhutan will be quarantined in a designated quarantine facility for two weeks with effect from yesterday. However, minors below 18 years would be sent for home quarantine.
Health minister Dechen Wangmo, announced this during the press briefing on COVID-19 yesterday.
Clarifying the confusion about quarantining people, she said quarantine was made mandatory, since most of those placed under home quarantine did not adhere to the requirements.
Quarantine means keeping a person under observation if they develop any COVID-19 symptoms.
“There were cases where those asked to stay at home were found roaming outside during the quarantine period and it was difficult to monitor,” Lyonpo said. “So, it was made compulsory and it’ll be monitored strictly by health ministry everyday.”
Minors would be put in home quarantine after an undertaking from parents or a legit guardian.
Lyonpo said that this was why it was very important that any Bhutanese travelling should declare their travel history at the points of entry. She also said they should request only one member of the family to come and pick them up.
“We’ve had incidences where people reported on their neighbours travel history, but was not quarantined,” Lyonpo said. “We had to go around searching for people and request them to stay in.”
However, Lyonpo said that hereafter the health ministry would ensure that all people entering Bhutan are quarantined.
“There were incidences at Jaigaon-Phuentsholing border gate where people travelling from Nepal or Bodhgaya and other countries sent their luggage in the car,” Lyonpo said. “They walked till the gate and lied saying they had gone to buy vegetables.”
Lyonpo said that irrespective of symptoms, all travellers at the airport would be screened and health officials will take them directly to the quarantine facility designated in various places.
Lyonpo explained that during the screening, if a person is found to have any symptoms or fever, they would be considered as a suspected case and health official will conduct test for COVID-19.
If there is a positive case, the person would be directly put in isolation at the national referral hospital. Isolation means treating a person who has tested positive in an isolated place.
If there are no symptoms, they will be directly placed for quarantine.
“During the 14 days, we will keep checking people everyday where the report would be submitted to the surveillance team at the healthy ministry,” Lyonpo said. “During the quarantine they will not be allowed to meet any family members or friends.”
Where to be quarantined
Travellers coming in from the Paro airport will be quarantined at the Paro College of Education hostel or Olathang hotel or at any other centres identified.
The quarantine centres are well equipped with two health workers and a ward boy, according to the health minister. A police personnel will be placed for security reasons.
Lyonpo said that there are enough designated quarantine centres with free internet facility, food prepared by chefs and free basic amenities.
“The ministry spends Nu 1,000 per person a day for food, excluding other expenditures,” Lyonpo said. “However, the government has provided enough budget for the centres and we’re also seeking foreign support to sustain the centres.”
Lyonpo said that for those travelling from Guwahati airport, a bus service would be started so that the people can be directly picked and put in quarantine centres.
However, those Bhutanese travelling from Phuentsholing to Samdrupjongkhar or vice versa via India the highways will not be quarantined including those travelling to Gelephu or Samtse.
“Exceptions are made, as there is no positive case of COVID-19 reported in these border towns as of now. The day workers coming from border town will also not be quarantined.”
Lyonpo said that although WHO guidelines required home quarantine, the ministry was taking strict measures and quarantining everyone in the government quarantine centres to take “no chance.”
“Quarantine is not a detention centre, as misunderstood by the people.”
Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that she was ßnot worried about the costs. “My goal as the health minister is to prevent the disease. Preventing this virus from entering Bhutan is the responsibility of each Bhutanese.”
As of yesterday, there are 85 people quarantined in the designated facilities and 244 under home quarantine. 250 people were tested so far including the lone COVID-19 patient. All the results except for the American tourist came negative.
Meanwhile, 17 quarantined individuals will be released today after completing their quarantine period of 14 days, as they have tested negative for COVID-19. Of the total, seven of them are Bhutanese quarantined at the Royal Institute of Tourism and Hospitality in Thimphu. Another seven Indian nationals were quarantined in Paro will leave to Guwahati and Delhi by Air. The rest three are Bhutanese.