Tshering Palden 

Bhutanese have little to worry in terms of preparedness for prevention and response to a coronavirus outbreak in the country, health officials say.

“But the best option is to follow the preventive measures and be safe,” health secretary Dr Ugen Dophu said.

He said that the ministry has placed adequate measures in terms of both screening and response in case of an outbreak.

Health officials at a press briefing yesterday said that screening is underway at all the entry points in the southern dzongkhags and daily reports are filed. Health officials from the ministry recently inspected the sites to evaluate the level of preparedness.

Health officials said that they would continue to monitor the preparedness and response status at all the entry points.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said, “The ministry is preparing for the worst situation of the nCoV outbreak.”

She said should it be necessary, resources would be mobilised from traditional development partners, World Health Organisation, and UNICEF.

WHO assessment says that the region is at a high risk of getting infected while China remains at very high risk.

The minister said that Tourism Council of Bhutan refunds the royalty paid by tourists who are cancelling their visits and Drukair is refunding their airfare. “Usually those tourists don’t get refund. These agencies are making the exception out of goodwill because of the situation,” lyonpo said.

Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo also thanked the monastic community spearheaded by the Central Monastic Body for the continuous prayers and rituals conducted to abate the risks of the disease.

According to WHO, no new country reported cases of 2019-nCoV in the past 48 hours.

Head of Royal Centre for Disease Control, Dr Sonam Wangchuk, said the centre is fully equipped and have resources enough to carry out tests for 40 individuals at a time.

An international tourist in Bumthang who was suspected to be infected with the virus was confirmed to be negative. 


Infrastructure Preparedness

The old Mother and Child Health Unit at JDWNRH has been identified as the isolation facility in Thimphu. The facility has 20 beds for isolation and five critical care units.

Two isolation rooms have been identified at Paro hospital, eight in Phuentsholing hospital, four in Samtse hospital, and another eight in Samdrupjongkhar hospital. Gelephu regional referral hospital has 10 isolation rooms and four critical care units. 

The Medical Supply Distribution Division in Phuentsholing dispatched five oxygen flow meters, 1,300 N95 masks to JDWNRH, and  1,000 disposable face masks, 500 N95 masks, chlorine, intravenous cannula and intravenous drip sets to Paro hospital on January 31.

In addition, the Department of Medical Supplies and Health Infrastructure have moved four beds, two D type oxygen cylinders and two ventilators from Wangduephodrang hospital to JDWNRH.

Two oxygen flow meters and two electric suction machines have been moved from Punakha hospital, and a portable ventilator have been mobilised from Gelephu hospital and shifted to the national referral hospital.

The ministry will also obtain two thermal scanners to be placed in Phuentsholing and one on standby in Paro airport for mass screening within the week.

The ministry has also placed orders for equipment, infection control consumables and personal protective equipment worth Nu 18.68 million out of which 50 percent of the consignment has already reached the ministry and remaining will arrive this week.

The National Disaster Committee chaired by Prime Minister has been activated, the National Preparedness Plan has been developed, distributed and is now fully implemented by the health centres, mainly at the points of entry.

The Royal Bhutan Police, Immigration officials and Desuups have joined the health workers in screening the public at the points of entry.

Technical advisory group (TAG) for nCoV has been formed which meets regularly to provide recommendations to the health ministry to ensure evidence-based decision making through situation analysis, risk assessment and literature review by the TAG.

The Health Emergency Management Committee meets every day to coordinate the national interventions in regard to any health-related emergency is coordinated by the committee. The committee will meet every day to update on the situation of 2019-nCoV.

Sensitisation on current situations of 2019nCoV and precautionary measures for tour operators, journalists,  parliamentarians and monastic body has also been carried out.

Health minister Dechen Wangmo said that the government has not really explored the option of cancelling international flights to and from affected areas as per WHO’s recommendations on international travel.

An advisory from the ministry states that reports circulated on social media of outbreaks in nearby areas of Bihar, Assam, and Siliguri were false.

“Treat the Ministry of Health’s website and social media handles as the single source of information,” health secretary Dr Ugen Dophu said.

Other ministries have issued notifications to postpone or cancel any international meetings or conference.

Officials said that since India had reported confirmed cases, there was a risk of missing the screening due to porous borders.

The 2019-nCoV is currently without antivirals (medicines) or vaccine, and asymptomatic cases are reported to be the source of infection with an incubation period of 2-10 days.

There have been reported cases in the region like Sri Lanka, Singapore, Thailand and Nepal where Bhutanese travel for business and pilgrimage purposes.

“That’s why Bhutanese should not travel unless absolutely necessary,” health secretary, Dr Ugen Dophu said.