Of the 23 cases, 11 are in the isolation ward, six have recovered and another six are in de-isolation

Younten Tshedup 

Two more Bhutanese have tested positive to Covid-19 taking the total number of positive cases to 23 as of yesterday.

The two women, aged 28 and 30, who arrived in the country from the Middle East on May 11 tested positive while in the quarantine centre in Thimphu.

The fourth Bhutanese who tested positive for Covid-19 on March 28 was discharged on May 20 following the completion of two-week de-isolation period. She now joins the five others who are declared as recovered.

With six people under de-isolation in a hotel, there are 11 patients in the isolation ward at the national referral hospital.    

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo during a press briefing yesterday said that while many positive cases have recovered from the disease in Bhutan, the majority of them were young and with a strong immune system.

Lyonpo said that the vulnerable population, which includes the elderly, people living with comorbidities and disabilities and pregnant women including families with children, have to be more cautious and strictly adhere to the health advisories.

“Should our situation worsen, the objective then would be to prevent deaths. And for this, we need to look after our vulnerable population,” she said.

Emphasising the need to be extra vigilant in the light of the increasing positive cases and the deteriorating regional and global situation, Lyonpo said that additional measures have been put in place based on the risk assessment conducted by the ministry.

Because of conditions such as high population density, close proximity to the border and illegal movement of people across the border, Lyonpo said all communities at the border have been identified as high-risk areas.

She said that should there be a community transmission, it would possibly be from the border areas.

Lockdown contingency plan 

While the country has not recorded any community infection for now, Lyonpo said that there is no guarantee that the situation would remain the same.

In a hypothetical scenario, the Health Minister said that if there are X numbers of positive cases in Dechenchholing area, the government would immediately cut off the community from the rest and start investigation including contact tracing.

She said that if there were indefinite number of people who have travelled out of the community to various parts of Thimphu, the whole of Thimphu would be under lockdown. Accordingly, if people from the same community had moved to other dzongkhags, those dzongkhags would also be under lockdown.

However, Lyonpo said that if the X number of individuals had followed the health advisories and not travelled out of the community, the whole dzongkhag would not be locked down. “In this case, we would have the benefit of locking down only the particular community and not the rest of the dzongkhag,” she said, adding that these are some of the advantages of following the public health advisories and measures that are in place.

She said that in the event the country enters the red zone, the arrangements would come in multiple phases – cluster lockdown, dzongkhag, region or the whole country lockdown. The idea is to break the link of transmission, she added.

Lyonpo said that despite several advocacies and reminders on mass gatherings and non-essential travels, people are still not taking the health advisories seriously.

“People should understand and carry out a risk assessment at the individual level. If you have grandparents and children at home, you should take the responsibility to ensure their safety,” Lyonpo said. “The government and health ministry cannot come after each individual. That would undermine the individual’s decision-making right and we don’t want to do that.”

The minister also urged people to use the Druk Trace app. “Not many are using the tracing app. If the situation worsens or should there be a community infection, the app will help to trace people and prevent the spread of the disease.”

Meanwhile, on the reopening of schools, Lyonpo said, “I would not recommend opening schools for the next few weeks. As the health minister, I am not comfortable. We must feel the pulse of the epidemic and then decide.”

She said that the health ministry has completed a risk assessment exercise and submitted the prerequisite conditions that should be in place to the education ministry and Prime Minister’s Office. “If these prerequisites are not in place, the schools cannot open.”