Future lockdowns will depend on individual responsibility: Health Minister

Says Bhutan should come out as a more resilient nation after the pandemic is long gone 

Younten Tshedup 

With no new cases detected in the past 48 hours (September 2 and 3), the nationwide lockdown has proven effective in preventing further spread of Covid-19.

This is according to Health Minister Dechen Wangmo who said that the nationwide lockdown was imposed at the right time.

If the lockdown was delayed even by a week, the disease would have spread exponentially, she said.

Lyonpo said that although there were no new cases in the past two days, it did not mean that the country was free of the disease. She said that no expert could tell that Thimphu was free of Covid-19.

“This is mainly because it depends on the mode of transmission mode of the virus. Covid-19 is an infectious disease. A single individual is enough to spread it to the rest of the community.”

Giving a hypothetical situation, Lyonpo said that it would take only five days for 13 positive cases to infect the entire population in Bumthang. “It is a highly infectious disease which is why, for now, we cannot ascertain that Thimphu is free of the virus.”

She said that although, for now, there was no infection in the community, the possibility of detecting new cases in the coming days was not ruled out. “What we are saying is that there is no spread of infection in the community for the past two days.”

The minister added that the government drew its confidence to initiate the unlocking phases based on the effective surveillance, which established that there were no major outbreaks in the communities.

Besides the scientific and well-calculated initiatives put in place by the health ministry, Lyonpo said that it was also because of a ‘divine intervention’ that led to the effective execution of the lockdown measures.

“Like the Prime Minister says, for us the local transmission and lockdown all came in a proper manner, which allowed things to go as planned,” she said.

She said that divine intervention, led by His Holiness with several kurims in the country, timely lockdown, detection of cases in a proper manner, and being able to effectively put in containment measures all contributed in keeping the transmission of virus under control.

positive cases since lockdown

Positive cases since lockdown

Lessons learned 

Lyonpo said that the first ever lockdown, in itself, was the biggest lesson for both the people and the government. “It allowed us to prepare better for future lockdowns and also oversee and monitor the implementation of our guidelines in the field.”

Besides the monitoring aspects, streamlining of existing systems and improving the health outcomes were some of the other lessons learned during the entire lockdown phase, she said. “We have taken years to promote hand-washing. The people are now growing conscious of this essential public health measure.”

At a wider level, she said that the absence of readily available data was a major challenge for the ministry, especially during contact tracing of positive cases. “We don’t have a data system in place. Everything is compiled manually on paper.”

Drawing inspiration from His Majesty The King, the minister said that Bhutan ought to come out as a more resilient nation after the pandemic is long gone.

She said that in order to achieve this, the country must strive to digitise the existing system and have readily available data. “At any given point of time, we should have access to where Ap Penjo and Aum Pem, for example, are and have been. Only then it would bring us into the 21st century.”

For the ministry to make strategic and timely decisions, Lyonpo said the data was essential.

 

Journey hereon

Without an effective vaccine, the Covid-19 pandemic, experts say, is here to stay. This means more lockdowns could happen based on the severity of the outbreaks.

The Health Minister said that drawing lessons and experiences from the first ever lockdown in the country, the government was preparing a guideline for possible future lockdowns.

The guidelines, she said, would look into all issues and lapses confronted during the first lockdown and streamline them.

The health ministry is mapping what future lockdowns would look like.

“Would it be a nationwide lockdown again or just lockdowns of specific locations and regions? This would depend on how the outbreak would happen including the extent and spread of the infection,” Lyonpo said.

Lyonpo said that future lockdowns and its frequencies would depend on individuals. “If you don’t like lockdowns, you can prevent it. Even if we have the best of guidelines and protocols in place, in the end it is the individual behaviour and responsibility that would determine future lockdowns.”

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