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Younten Tshedup 

While the seven-day quarantine protocol is an inconvenience for many, experts say, it is the most effective way to prevent another local Covid-19 outbreak.

According to Health Minister Dechen Wangmo, the country is divided into high and low-risk areas based purely on the epidemiological risks of the places. “There is no political or any other social reasons for this.”

With no new community transmission case, people are demanding the government to do away with the seven-day quarantine protocol for those moving from high-risk to low-risk areas. Many have taken to social media to express their disgruntlement.

Today, a person travelling from a high-risk (southern dzongkhags) to a lower risk area must be quarantined for seven days before they are allowed to travel. The protocol came into effect as a part of the unlocking phase two months ago.

Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that the protocol continues because of the risk the country still faced. The biggest risk she said was from the 700km plus porous border in the south. “If we can completely seal these porous borders, then there is no worry. The concept of high and low-risk areas will also not exist then.”

However, Lyonpo said that even today, there are several cases of people illegally crossing the border. She said that violation of protocols still continues and people are caught interacting illegally with those across the border.

“The first local transmission came from the Mini Dry Port in Phuentsholing. We are an import driven country and we cannot stop imports. Facilitating it comes with a certain risk of transmission as we cannot monitor every single individual,” the minister said.

Besides these factors, the minister said that the risk of asymptomatic spreaders was ever-present in the country. Lyonpo said that without the knowledge to clearly outline the risk across the border, the testing protocols used there and the prevalence and outbreak of the disease across the border, the ministry was not confident to declare the country as ‘risk-free’.

 

What does science say?

Many scientific studies reveal that people who have been in a city or region that has a high number of Covid-19 cases should go into a 14-day quarantine (self-quarantine). For those who’ve been in contact with someone who tested positive for the virus, health officials request that they self-isolate from 14 days.

The 14-day period is based on the virus’s incubation period – the time between the person being exposed to the virus and when the symptoms appear. Incubation periods vary from one virus to another, meaning people start developing symptoms at different rates.

The SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, mostly has an incubation period of five days. In addition, about 97 percent of the people who contract the virus have shown symptoms within 11 days according to the World Health Organisation.

By setting 14 days for the quarantine and isolation, officials are allowing extra time for people to be certain they are clean.

However, in Bhutan for those coming from abroad, the quarantine period is 21 days.

Lyonpo said that for a country like Bhutan, another outbreak of the disease would cause major challenges.

“That’s why our primary objective is to prevent an outbreak, which is why we are taking the extra precautions,” she said. “We apologise for the inconvenience especially for those living along the border areas. But it’s their sacrifices that have kept the rest of the country safe for now.”

Lyonpo also added that the seven-day quarantine was applicable for all Bhutanese irrespective of their social status or connections. Anyone who violates the protocol will be prosecuted, she added.

Only emergency medical referrals, and those moving to attend death of an immediate family member are allowed to travel without being quarantined.  

Before travelling, individuals are tested for Covid-19 with the rapid antigen test. Samples for RT-PCR tests are also collected. Individuals are also monitored for eight days after they arrive at their destination. Another test is performed on the eighth day.

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