Younten Tshedup 

A week after the mass screening in the capital, another round of testing will begin in Thimphu today, following the completion of the two-day mass testing in Paro yesterday.

After the second round of mass screening, Thimphu and Paro could also join the rest of the dzongkhags in the green zone, with lives returning to ‘normal’ within the Covid-19 norms.

Sowai Lyonpo (health minister) said that following the mass screening, if there are still some residual cases, particular buildings or clusters would be cordoned off.

Clinical microbiologist and member of the health ministry’s technical advisory group, Dr Tshokey, said the mass screening would also assess the effectiveness of the lockdown.

“As we begin the testing today, there should not be any positive cases. But even if few are detected, they should be in the last stage of infection or in the recovery phase, which should not pose any risk to others.”

He added that if a person had sincerely followed the lockdown protocol, even if he or she had the virus, they would not have transmitted it to others.

The second round of mass screening in Thimphu will begin from today starting from the North mega zone. Testing in south, central two and one mega zones will be conducted on January 26, 27 and 28 respectively.

With people now allowed to move outside without the movement card, complacency has already begun to set in among residents in Thimphu.

Sowai Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that many countries globally are now imposing stringent restrictions because of the complacency among the public.

She said that as the unlocking began, people must understand that it was only through a collective responsibility the outbreaks could be averted.

Citing an example of how individual complacency could keep the infection alive in the communities, Lyonpo said that residents in the red buildings (buildings where positive cases have been detected) were advised not to come out of their homes and interact with neighbours.

“If you follow the advice and remain inside your house, we minimize the contact and then the disease dies inside that building in 21 days,” she said. “However, if you don’t stay inside, the infection will remain in that building for a much longer time.”

Lyonpo explained that in a red building, if a person becomes infectious on the 13th day after contracting the infection and then moves out of their house on the 14th day, he or she transmits the disease to someone else in the building or the neighbourhood.

“After infecting the neighbour, he or she would incubate for a minimum of 14 days and then spread it to someone else. So, in this process, the virus stays in the building and neighbourhood for a long time.”

Lyonpo said that if someone is not wearing a facemask or a family conducts some sort of gathering, the consequences have to be borne by the entire neighbourhood. “It is now time that we all realise that one’s action has a huge implication not only to their family but also to the entire neighbourhood where they live.”

The minister said that even after the government starts rolling out the vaccination programme, almost one-third of the population would not receive the vaccine.   “We have the responsibility to protect these groups of people who are not protected with a vaccine,” she said. “If we want to win this battle, we must all work together towards one common goal. Every individual must take responsibility to protect each other. This is everyone’s gyenkhu.”

Meanwhile, the second outbreak of Covid-19 in the country has infected 390 Bhutanese and two expats in the past five weeks as compared to 144 people (66 Bhutanese) during the first outbreak in Phuentsholing in August last year. The outbreak in Phuentsholing lasted over 93 days.

This time, the country saw 126 cases in the first week after the second lockdown of which three were from the community (no contacts). The second and third weeks saw 129 and 96 cases respectively, including seven community cases in total. The last two weeks saw 38 cases including three cases from the community.

However, positive cases have dropped in the two hotspots, Thimphu and Paro since January 12. While Thimphu continues to pick positive cases among the contacts almost on a daily basis today, Paro after detection zero cases for nine straight days, recorded positive cases in two expats on January 19.

Beside the lone case from the quarantine centre in Phuentsholing, there were no positive cases from the community yesterday.