Younten Tshedup

With the nationwide lockdown entering the third week, the country’s lockdown story so far has been positive.

The collective effort of both the government and community is behind the success, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) representative to Bhutan Dr Rui Paulo de Jesus.

He said that the massive testing initiated by the health ministry following the local transmission in Phuentsholing indicated the government’s seriousness to address the situation.

“Bhutan must and is using the window of opportunity provided by the lockdown to trace, track, treat and isolate all positive cases.”

He said that the uniqueness of Bhutan’s fight against the pandemic was the whole-of-the-society and government approach guided by His Majesty at the helm.

“Today under His Majesty’s guidance, Bhutan’s response to Covid-19 is second to none and serves as a testimony of how compassionate and visionary leaders can make a difference in the world.”

Dr Rui has been a part of the two tabletop simulations on lockdown conducted in July. Referring to the results of the two simulations he said, “I would applaud the government’s efforts for Covid-19 response. The government was well prepared for the lockdown.”

“I saw the true spirit of partnership, coordination and support among different sectors, well-informed leaders including active participation from the community,” he said.

He said that no matter how much one is prepared, there will be gaps. The objective of the simulation was to find out strengths, gaps and come up with a way forward for better preparedness and response.”

Vaccine possibilities

With no effective vaccines for Covid-19 authorities have said that lockdown, the most extreme form of social distancing, is the only solution to a pandemic for now.

Dr Rui said that while Russia has registered their vaccine, it was not yet prequalified by the WHO as it has not undergone Phase III of the clinical trials. “WHO is in touch with the Russian scientists and authorities and looks forward to reviewing details of the trials soon.”

He said that currently there are over 165 vaccine candidates at various stages of development. 26 of these vaccines are in human trials with at least three of the vaccine (Moderna, AstraZeneca and CanSino) going into phase III.

A phase III clinical trial would require vaccines to be administered to a huge population and study the efficacy and safety issues before approving for public use.

Dr Rui said that Bhutan will be given the same priority as any other countries around the globe when a vaccine becomes available.

WHO’s support

The country representative said that it was WHO’s priority to support the health ministry get additional resources including test kits, especially during the lockdown.

“WHO has been working with the ministry very closely before and during the pandemic. We recently handed over personal protective equipment (PPE), reagents and other equipment to support the government’s fight against Covid-19.”

The WHO on August 19 released over Nu 30.2 million (M) to the health ministry to procure RNA viral extraction kit and two RT-PCR equipment including PPEs. The ministry also received additional medical equipment yesterday?.

To support the ministry’s effort in providing essential health services amidst the pandemic, WHO recently provided non-communicable diseases (NCD) kit worth Nu 3.5M to the ministry.

“As of today although there is only very minimal disturbance on the essential health services even with the whole country under lockdown, it is vital that health services are responsive to the needs of the NCD patients to mitigate the impact of the pandemic,” said Dr Rui.

To provide virtual health services, WHO recently handed over 14 desktop computers, 16 microphones, 11 sockets and six computer tables to the health help centre in Thimphu.

Way forward

To break the chain of transmission, the country representative said that Bhutan must seize the opportunity of lockdown to trace, test, treat and isolate all primary contacts.

“Take the lessons learnt from current lockdown experience to strengthen the response for possible future lockdowns,” he said. “We must plan to live with the new normal – a proper lockdown strategy with the implementation of the preventive public health measures that will prevent future outbreaks.”

He added that it was important to ensure that active surveillance and monitoring is maintained continuously to pick up any suspected case immediately.