Tshering Palden

Streets in Thimphu wore a deserted look last weekend as most of the residents confined themselves at home following the government’s advice to avoid crowded places in the wake of the first COVID-19 case on March 5.

Cabinet ministers visited the bus terminal at Lungtenzampa and other public areas talking to passengers informing them of precautionary measures and calling for calm.

The Opposition Party issued a press release expressing their gratitude and offering solidarity to the Prime Minister and the Health Minister for their leadership during the difficult time. The party said that this was not the time for politicking and playing blame games but to be united in intent, effort and spirit to fight the disease.

Given that medical shops have run out of hand sanitisers, the health ministry improvised and distributed free hand sanitiser, made of spirit and glycerin. The same solution is used in health centres across the country and it adheres to National Infection Control guidelines.

Hundreds queued to collect free hand sanitisers. Desuups also drove around the town distributing sanitisers from large sintex barrels. Supporting the initiative, a man from Phuentsholing contributed 15 barrels of 500-litre capacity each for free to the government.

Today, the ministry will dispatch hand sanitisers for free distribution to Paro, Punakha, and Wangduephodrang.    

The government urged people to spare the free sanitisers for those who cannot afford and to avoid stocking. Health officials encourage hand washing as the primary method to maintain hygiene.

Following consultations and feedback from the ground, the government closed all schools in Wangduephodrang dzongkhag and Phuentsholing thromde from March 9 to 15.

The government also set up two flu clinics in Thimphu: one at the helipad at RBP premises, another in Lungtenphu. As of yesterday evening, the health ministry stated that 560 individuals visited the flu clinic at the RPB helipad ground.

Quarantine centres were also set up across the county as of yesterday.

A series of samples from suspected cases tested over the past two days also came out negative. When the government declared that all 39 samples from suspected cases have come negative on Friday night, samples from a woman in Kanglung, Trashigang who displayed flu-like symptoms had reached Bumthang. On His Majesty’s command, the samples were airlifted on Saturday to save time, subsequently, the test result came negative.

A press release from the Prime Minister’s Office on Saturday stated that more preparation works were underway to cater to the worst of situations.

“Alongside, our officials are delving into procurement and financing components, ensuring we use our limited resources in the most sustainable manner,” it stated.

Similar to the trend countries across the globe have witnessed, the government has huge concerns on the impact the reactions to the virus would have on the economy. Relevant agencies like the Ministry of Finance, economic affairs ministry and the Royal Monetary Authority were studying ways to minimise the impact.

The Prime Minister has also designated individuals to carry out studies and provide the best practical solutions.

The Prime Minister urged people to practise basic hygiene, exercise prudence and stay away from misinformation. “We will provide regular updates from the official channels, mainstream media and social media pages of PMO and the health ministry.”

To streamline the information delivery to the public and combat fake news, the government has formed a COVID-19 media team with focal persons identified from the health ministry and their contacts in the respective media houses.

The health ministry has called on all travellers to honestly declare their travel history to any of the COVID-19 affected countries.

The hotel the COVID-19 patient stayed in Punakha remains closed for the next two weeks to sanitise. The management said that it would refund all tour agents and guests who had reservations within this period.

Meanwhile, the 76-year-old American tourist remains in stable condition and was moved to the new isolation building, the ophthalmology suite, which offers better facilities.

“Away from home and petrified with the virus he contracted, it is natural we give him the best of our medical services. We also urge all Bhutanese to pray for his health and recovery,” the PMO stated.