Younten Tshedup 

With growing speculations and doubts surrounding how the novel coronavirus spreads, health minister Dechen Wangmo insisted that the disease, for now, is spread through droplets.

Lyonpo during a press conference yesterday said that as per the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) guidelines, the disease can spread from an infected person to another through small droplets from the nose or mouth when the person with the disease coughs, sneezes or exhales.

Following some viral notifications circulating online, which suggested the mode of transmission of Covid-19 was airborne, meaning it could be spread through air, Lyonpo said the ministry has not received any definite instruction on this from the WHO.

“We have a group of epidemiologists who are scanning medical literatures in consultation with the WHO. Should there be any new development on this, we’ll make it available to the public.”

Foreign minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that the information being circulated in various social media platforms stating that the Covid-19 virus can last in the open air for eight hours is incorrect.

Lyonpo explained that for a healthy person to be infected, droplets from an infected person has to touch his or her body part. If a person touches their eyes, nose or mouth immediately after coming in contact with the infected droplets, without washing their hands, then the person can catch the disease.

He said that the reason why public are asked to regularly wash their hand and maintain a physical distance of at least 1.5m is to avoid the droplets from the other person when they cough out or exhale droplets.

According to WHO, studies so far suggest that the virus that causes Covid-19 is mainly transmitted through contact with respiratory droplets rather than through the air.

The WHO is assessing ongoing research on the ways Covid-19 is spread.

WHO also states that the risk of catching the virus from someone with no symptoms at all is ‘very’ minimal. However, it states that many people with Covid-19 experience only mild symptoms.

“This is particularly true at the early stages of the disease. It is therefore possible to catch Covid-19 from someone who has, for example, just a mild cough and does not feel ill.”


The second positive  patient 

The partner of the index case who is currently under isolation at the national referral hospital is still asymptomatic to the infection.

Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that the 57-year-old American woman is in stable condition and has no other complications for now. “I’m in constant touch with her sister and we are regularly updating her on the status.”

Lyonpo said that all the 29 primary contacts of the American woman are quarantined and none of them, including the guide and driver, tested positive so far.

She said that while the patient could have visited many other places and gatherings during the initial days, her exposure time to other Bhutanese would be comparatively less including the probability of spreading the disease.

Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji explained that the fact the guide and driver who have had the most exposure time with the positive patient still testing negative to the virus shows minimal likelihood of infecting others she had come in contact with.

However, Lyonpo said that any Bhutanese showing flu-like symptoms should visit the flu clinics set up across the country for timely intervention.

Meanwhile, the health ministry is also calling back all the doctors pursuing higher studies abroad, should things become worse in the country.

There are about 48 doctors who are currently studying outside. The health minister said that many of them are returning with a few already arriving in the country and under quarantine.

The ministry is also considering calling in private physicians in the country including technicians from other departments and ministry in preparation of a worst-case scenario.