Younten Tshedup

Following the completion of the 14-day nationwide lockdown, smart-unlocking protocol begins in the green zones today.

However, Sowai Lyonpo (health minister) Dechen Wangmo cautioned the public that unlocking doesn’t mean that there was no virus in the community.

Lyonpo said that everyone, especially those in Thimphu and Paro should consider themselves like an infected person until proven otherwise. Meaning, public gathering was strictly restricted despite the unlocking and relaxation of the lockdown.

She said that despite the enforcement of lockdown, people were found violating the protocols which led to further spread of the virus in Thimphu.

Citing an example, Lyonpo said that residents in Depsi area had gathered to celebrate Nyempa Guzom, a day after lockdown began in Thimphu Thromde. Similarly, in Terma Linca area, people had visited their neighbours and had shared meals.

In Olakha some of the residents had come together to gamble and share meals. “We knew this when we started getting cases from these locations. The very purpose of lockdown is defeated if people keep on breaching the protocols.”

Lyonpo said that unlike the outbreak in August that triggered the country’s first nationwide lockdown, the outbreak this time was different — deadlier and uncertain. “Until the recent outbreak, Bhutan did not have the virus in the community. But not anymore.”

The minister said that after conducting the epidemiological assessment of the current outbreak, experts in the health ministry suspects that the source of the infection could be a returnee who had come via the Paro international airport.

Officials said that there were indications that an individual could have been exposed to the virus after arriving in the country. This was also considering the individual had stayed in quarantine for 21 days.

While the ministry’s investigation is ongoing, safety measures at the airport have been stepped up to prevent any possible future outbreaks.

Lyonpo said that following the detection of the index case on December 19, the ministry, suspecting the source to be from across the border, swept all the entry points along the border. None of the individuals tested positive.

She said that based on the investigation, most of the positive cases had contracted the infection between the end of November and the first week of December. The infected individual had travelled from Paro to Thimphu, she said, adding that in Thimphu the person had been to an archery game in Dangreyna, Dechencholing from where the disease started spreading in Thimphu and then in Paro.

“The use of safety measures such as face masks, washing hands, and maintaining social distancing, prevented a massive outbreak in the country,” she said.

The minister added that the country this time around got lucky as the outbreak was detected at an early stage when the transmission was in an acute phase. “However, next time we might not be so lucky. My fear is that in the future if there is an outbreak, it could spread like wildfire. We cannot afford that.”

Preventing the next outbreak should be a collective responsibility, Lyonpo added. “The ministry will do everything possible to make testing available for the public and treat those who are infected. This is the ministry’s responsibility.”

If all Bhutanese follow the safety measures — wearing face masks, washing hands regularly, and avoiding crowds — as their second nature, and report and get tested for every flu-like symptom, it would be a more effective way to keep the virus at bay than a vaccine. “This is every individual’s responsibility.”

Meanwhile, there were no new cases detected in the country yesterday.