Health ministry has spent Nu 1.1 billion for Covid-19 containment efforts so far   

Younten Tshedup 

With growing evidence suggesting that flu vaccines could provide certain protection against Covid-19, the government will start vaccination for the public in November.

Protection here primarily means reducing the strain on the health care system and hospital resources in the event of the second wave of the pandemic.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo during a press briefing yesterday said that the ministry has started to provide flu vaccines to the high-risk population – health workers, pregnant mothers, people with comorbidities, elderlies above the age of 65 and children below the age of two – beginning last year.

Lyonpo said that the flu season in the country peaks by mid-October and that is when the priority groups receive the vaccination. In the following two months, as the rest of the population also starts getting the flu, the mass vaccination would begin.

The vaccines would cost the government more than Nu 120 million.

So far the health ministry alone has spent about Nu 1.1 billion for Covid-19 containment efforts. The cost incurred is for the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE), test kits, testing reagents and ventilators, among others and does not include the cost of quarantine.

Fight against Covid-19 continues   

Save for a few high-risk places (southern locations), as the country resumes its regular activities, Lyonpo cautioned of the impending threat should people let their guard down.

With the movement of people now allowed across the country, Lyonpo said that the biggest concern for the government now was the detection of multiple cases from various parts of the country.

The minister said that if people were not careful, the overwhelming number of cases could collapse the health facilities in the country.

“We have seen this happen in some of the most developed countries. And given our limited resources, we cannot afford to be casual.”

Almost 10 months into the pandemic, Lyonpo said that the world knows only little about the virus and there was no specific treatment yet.

“These are unprecedented times, which we are experiencing for the first time in history. As a small country, in such situations, we must focus and prioritise on preventive measures.”

Lyonpo said that if people could sincerely follow the Covid-19 guidelines and safety protocol for at least three to four months, the country would pass the threshold. “These few months are very critical for all of us.”

The minister called for collective responsibility to get through these trying times. She said that while most of the countries have started to impose fines for not wearing face masks, the government did not want to follow a similar path.

“For the health ministry, we want to empower our citizens so that they can make the right choice. This is also a means for sustaining our interventions put in place.”

However, Lyonpo said that despite the numerous requests and pleas from the government, if people don’t follow the safety protocols, at some point in time, enforcements have to come in.

“But I personally think this won’t happen. Our people have been very supportive especially during the lockdown.”

New testing methods

As experts continue to learn about the novel Coronavirus, new information continues to evolve. One such evolvement has been in the field of testing.

To begin with, the reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test was the only testing mechanism to detect Covid-19 initially.

Lyonpo said that as experts began to learn new knowledge about the virus, they came up with the rapid diagnostic test (RDT) that uses blood as samples for testing. Recently another rapid testing method (antigen) was discovered.

All three methods are currently in use in the country.

Now there are reports about Covid-19 tests being conducted using saliva and breadth as samples. Lyonpo said that although not widely used, these methods have been piloted in some of the countries.

“For now the literature is limited on these methods. We have to see and understand the efficacy of the test – its sensitivity and specificity,” the minister said.

“If these methods are better than what we currently have, we would definitely consider it.”