Bhutan has one of the highest per capita testing rates globally 

Additional RT-PCR laboratory to be set up in Dewathang   

Younten Tshedup 

Most Covid-19 positive cases detected after the nationwide lockdown was linked to earlier patients, but not all.

The recent positive case in Samdrupjongkhar is one such exception.

The 18-year-old woman tested positive on September 7 after she visited a flu clinic. She had no recent travel history to an affected place owing to the 21-day lockdown.

As of September 8, all her primary contacts (23) including family members and neighbours, tested negative to the virus.

With no likely source of infection established, for now, speculations are rife.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that epidemiologically there was not much of a confusion.

She said that people must not associate not having the disease with lockdowns. “Lockdown is only a means of preventing the spread of transmission. But it does not guarantee a person from not getting infected.”

Lyonpo said that there is no guarantee that people would not get infected during lockdowns. “Can I ensure that 100 percent of the population would have stayed home and not gone outside during the lockdown? Not really.”

She said residents could have gone out and mingled during the 21-day nationwide lockdown.

On the confusion regarding her contacts testing negative, Lyonpo said that the negative results were for now. 

She said that generally, the RT-PCR test picks up the virus after four to five days post-infection.

“We have to consider the exposure duration. Probably the test has not picked up the virus because it was too early.”

Are all identified contacts, actual contacts?  

The minister said that there could be possibilities where positive individuals were not declaring their real contacts. “Whoever we are testing right now is based on the interviews of the patients,” she said. “How honest and fair are our people in sharing this vital information is subjective. People might not be telling us the entire truth.”

This, according to the minister, was the biggest concern in contact tracing.

She said that when people are not honest with their contacts, it delays and hampers the entire containment efforts.

“Anyone diagnosed with Covid-19, we request you all to be honest with your contacts as it would help us pick up the cases faster and help control the spread.”

Lyonpo said that all the contacts of the Samdrupjongkhar case were quarantined and under observation.

“We have already devised a plan for active surveillance in the thromde should the need arise. We’ve also done all the line listing of the vulnerable population, and if there is a local transmission in Samdrupjongkhar, we will adopt a similar strategy as we did in Phuentsholing.”

An additional testing lab in Samdrupjongkhar  

The health minister said that an additional testing lab (RT-PCR) would be set up in Dewathang, Samdrupjongkhar.

She said that for the ministry to respond to the epidemic at the earliest, information was essential. With issues like roadblocks and other challenges in ferrying samples from one place to another, precious time was lost.

“For this, we realised that it was only appropriate that we have an RT-PCR testing laboratory in Dewathang.”

A team left for Dewathang yesterday with the equipment. They would set it up in a few days.

Lyonpo said that it would also enhance access to reliable testing and to test people moving from higher risk areas (southern parts of the country) towards the lower risk areas.

“We want to create another layer of barrier. The idea is containment, as much as possible, so that we don’t have to do a nationwide lockdown again.”

Visit flu clinic

The minister appealed that anyone with flu-like symptoms must visit the flu clinics.

Lyonpo said that the ministry had learned that people with symptoms had failed to visit the flu clinics before.

“If the disease is detected early, you don’t spread it to your family, community and the entire nation. It is in the greater interest of everyone to get yourself tested if you are symptomatic.”

There are 54 flu clinics in the country equipped with rapid antigen testing facilities. With the Dewathang laboratory set up, the country would have five RT-PCR testing laboratories and one of the highest per capita testing rates in the world.

“If we can pick up symptoms early, then we can contain the further spread of the diseases. It is when people become symptomatic (start shedding the virus) that they are the most infectious.”

Adjusting to the new normal 

Lyonpo said that the ministry was taking the most professional and targeted strategies to contain the spread of the virus. “Things have become much systematic now, and our team has now gained more efficiency. Within 24 to 48 hours, we exactly know what to do.”

However, heading into the new normal, the minister said that individuals must take responsibility. “There are countries imposing fines for not wearing face masks. We don’t want to resort to those things,” she said.

“We are a society that has its values rooted in the belief of beyond oneself. We think collectively for others, and this is what would guide us through this pandemic.”

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