Younten Tshedup & Rajesh Rai

In the wake of the Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak in the region, surveillance and precautionary measures are being initiated in the bordering towns to prevent the disease from entering the country.

The regional referral hospital in Gelephu has started deploying staff at the border gate to spread awareness of the outbreak since yesterday.

Many people were not aware of the viral outbreak.

“Why are they spraying alcohol on us?” cried an elderly woman returning home at the Gelephu border gate. “They think I’m sick but I’m not. This is irritating.”

Officials said that many, especially those in the villages, were not aware of the outbreak. “People were reluctant to apply the alcohol-based hand sanitisers citing local beliefs,” said an official. “But there are many who were cooperative and thanked us for the initiative.”

Karma, a businessman, said that it was encouraging to see health workers taking extra efforts to stop the disease from entering the country. “I’m concerned with the news of the disease flooding social media. I hope our health system is well prepared should it enter the country.”

A series of consultation meetings were being held to discuss plans and strategies. During the second round of stakeholders’ meeting at the Gelephu referral hospital yesterday, the hospital emergency contingency plan was activated where respective staff were designated for a particular action in case of an outbreak.

Officials said the hospital is prepared to handle the situation. However, in the event of a mass outbreak, officials said that additional resources would be required for which the requisition has been submitted to the ministry.

A separate flu clinic unit would also be established within a week at the hospital.

With the first positive case of the virus detected in Kerala yesterday, officials said surveillance has to be stepped up and also strengthen the screening initiatives at the border gate.

Currently, only hand sanitiser is being used at the border gate as a basic precautionary measure. The health officials would soon use infrared fever scanning device and deploy a full-fledged medical team at the checkpoint.

Officials said that for now, it was important for the public to practice hand-hygiene, cough etiquettes, avoid crowded places and unnecessary travels and visit the hospital if they are suffering from cough and fever.

One of the officials said that with the change in the weather and overcrowding, people in Gelephu are prone to suffer from seasonal flu. “It is imperative that people take extra precaution at this time of the year especially those with chronic illness and the elderly.”

Meanwhile, there were concerns over the illegal entry of people from across the border and to monitor and screen those individuals.

The porous border is the biggest challenge in curbing this illegal entry and exit of people.

Officials said that besides setting up measures at the main gate, it would be difficult to screen those who enter the country illegally.


Most on alert against Coronavirus in P/ling

With neighbouring India declaring its first confirmed positive case of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) yesterday, Bhutanese in the bordering town of Phuentsholing have become alert.

Although the town is not on a panic mode, people have started to wear masks as prevention. Health officials have also started to screen the people at the entry gate since January 29. Many also have reduced their visits to Jaigaon.

A businessman in the town cancelled his trip to south Indian metropolitan city of Chennai.

“I was planning to go a pilgrimage with my family but I cancelled it yesterday. We should not take the risk,” he said.

Phuentsholing Diagnostic Centre’s proprietor Sonam Tshewang, who also runs the Foreign Workers Recruitment Agency (FWRA), has already started prevention measures at his office. Employees are provided with masks, hand gloves, and sanitisers since last week.

“We are planning to give masks to all the workers henceforth,” he said. His employees are also measuring the temperature of the workers coming from across the border. “We are doing everything from our side.”

Sonam Tshewang said he was worried because his office’s work involved getting in direct contact with people from across the border.

However, the regional tourists from across the border are still entering the town. Daily wage workers and foreign workers (labourers) heading to the capital and beyond still continue to arrive.

On the first day of the screening on January 29, Phuentsholing health staff screened more than 1,000 people in just an hour at the entry gate to Phuentsholing.

Initially, everyone entering Phuentsholing were screened. They were tested for their body temperature. Since yesterday, the screening was done on a priority basis. The screening commenced at 9am and concluded between 7pm and 8pm.

A doctor from Phuentsholing hospital said they were targeting tourists and the locals who had travelled outside.

“We are not screening people early morning and in the evening,” the doctor said, adding that it was because many were Bhutanese living in Jaigaon coming to work.

Hospital staff are also distributing health advisory pamphlets on the virus. Hand sanitisers and masks are also kept at the entry point. WHO’s health education banners have also been raised.

Meanwhile, if the monitoring team finds a person with high temperature and has records for suspicion, the doctor said the individual will be isolated for further investigation. As of now, the team has not found any suspect.

The number of screening staffs at the entry gate is a handful. On the other hand, the number of people is huge considering the porous border and floating population. Two additional health staff from Tsimasham, Chukha have also been placed at Phuentsholing hospital.

There are entry-exit points at Chinese Lane and Bau Bazaar. These points do not have screening. However, Chinese Lane is used mostly by locals, while only vehicles are allowed from Bau Bazaar.

Health ministry yesterday declared an advisory on the coronavirus. All have been asked to discourage employees from travelling to areas affected by the 2019-nCoV.