Nima | Gelephu

On Monday, August 10, Tandin Wangmo got a call from Gelephu Central Regional Referral Hospital to confirm that she had tested positive for Covid-19.

She did not know how to react.

Tandin was told to share the unexpected news that night. “I did not know what to say. When I was tested positive before, I thought the result was a mistake,” she said.

The 27-year-old had visited the flu-clinic for the follow up on August 10. She was the first in the country to test positive for Covid-19 outside a quarantine facility.

Her family came to know that she tested positive for the first time. Earlier, when her quarantine period was extended after testing positive on the rapid test, she told her parents that her body was weak.

The next day, she was taken to an isolation ward in Gelephu CRRH (old block). Her parents and family members, including the neighbours who came in close contact with her, were placed under facility quarantine.

On August 11, the Prime Minister of Bhutan declared a nationwide lockdown.

“I thought I disturbed everything. This peaceful country had to face an abrupt situation. I was worried that I could have infected my family and friends,” said Tandin.

From the isolation ward window, Tandin saw Desuups and frontline officials working in the rain and sun.

“Everyone, led by His Majesty The King worked tirelessly to keep us safe. I wondered if I had undone all the efforts. The feeling hurt,” said Tandin Wangmo.

Her biggest worry was about what could happen to the country. She regretted coming home to be safe.  “I thought all these sudden changes won’t have occurred if I didn’t return home,” she said.


Inside the ward 

Inside the isolation ward, Tandin could read the frustrations of people online. She got many phone calls; many she’d to ignore. “Positive comments helped me stay strong,” she said. “Covid-19 could cause disharmony in the community. Instead of stigmatising the infected, we need to get together and support them.”

One day, after she was taken to the isolation ward, another positive case was reported from a mini dry port in Phuentsholing, which was confirmed as a local transmission later.

Prime minister Dr Lotay Tshering, in a national address to the nation right after, said that the positive case from Gelephu that resulted in nationwide lockdown was a blessing in disguise.

“I watched the speech inside the ward. It helped me stay strong, which was very important,” said Tandin Wangmo.  “It was important to be mentally strong.”


A big relief

Tandin Wangmo said she was most relieved when she heard that all her family and friends tested negative.

“I am happy and my mind much at ease. I came to know that it was only me who is infected and that I have not exposed anyone to the disease,” she said.

Tandin Wangmo was shifted to the de-isolation facility after undergoing two weeks of treatment in the isolation ward on August 25. A repeat test would be conducted in the upcoming week.

“These are all because of the blessing from Kenchosum, His Majesty the King, the government, and the people. The officials in the ward gave me the best support. The check-ups were done on time. I can never thank them enough,” she said.


Journey back home

In Kuwait around June, the Covid-19 outbreak was surging. The virus was claiming lives almost daily. The safest place, Tandin Wangmo remembers, was home.

The company she was working with had her working every day. But, somehow, she managed a break and headed home to Bhutan. She landed in Paro on June 26.

“I thought everything would be better here. The risk of getting the infection was increasing daily in Kuwait,” said Tandin Wangmo.

Like any other returnees, she was placed under mandatory facility quarantine in Paro. However, her quarantine period got extended after testing positive on the IgG antibody test.

She tested five times negative on the RT-PCR test and tested positive for the IgG antibody on three occasions. Her quarantine was extended to one month and was finally sent home on July 26.

It’s 8pm at Twins Dragon Hotel in Gelephu, Tandin Wangmo settles for her third prayer of the day, wishing for the quick recovery of those infected with Covid-19.