The health ministry has strengthened surveillance at the points of entry as part of precautionary measures to screen pneumonia caused by the new coronavirus that was first detected in Wuhan, Hubei Province in China.
An official from the health ministry’s Emergency Medical Service Division said infrared fever scanning and surveillance of respiratory symptoms have been in place at the Paro International Airport since January 15.
In coordination with the immigration department, collection of local contact address and health screening of passengers arriving from China at the Paro International Airport began yesterday.
The travellers were educated on the infection with the in-flight announcement in both the national airlines starting January 17.
On January 21, health officials held an internal coordination meeting to discuss preparedness and way forward.
All the health centres including the national referral hospital in Thimphu were notified to strengthen and step-up surveillance and report to the Royal Centre for Disease Control (RCDC).
An interim guideline and case investigation forms were also circulated to all health facilities.
The Chinese government first reported the outbreak of pneumonia of unknown etiology in Wuhan, Hubei Province in China to the World Health Organisation (WHO) China Country Office on December 31, 2019.
By January 7, novel coronavirus (n-CoV) was identified as the causative virus. The novel virus is now known as 2019-nCoV.
The health official said that the RCDC was prepared to handle the 2019-nCoV in their Biosafety level 3 (BSL 3) lab. “If need be, samples can be shipped to Armed Force Research Institute for Medical Science laboratory in Bangkok, Thailand.”
He said further preparedness actions will depend on the findings and recommendations of the WHO Emergency Committee Meeting which was held yesterday in Geneva, Switzerland.
The official said that the WHO has not yet confirmed the source of infection, route of transmission and incubation period for the 2019-nCoV.
“Although WHO has not officially established significant human-to-human transmission, there are media reports of human-to-human transmission whereby heath workers treating the patients are infected in China,” he said.
Since the first outbreak, the new viral illness has infected hundreds and killed at least nine in China. The virus has also spread to other countries like Japan, Thailand, South Korea, the USA and Taiwan with at least one case confirmed. Almost all the confirmed cases have travel history to Wuhan City, China.
Coronavirus is a large family of virus causing illness from the common cold to severe diseases such as MERs-CoV and SARS-CoV. The novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain.
Common symptoms of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties that may resemble the flu or cold, making detection difficult.
Severe signs of infection include pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and could be fatal, a health official said.
According to a cautionary notification issued by the health ministry to the public and health centres on January 15, if anyone has one or more of these symptoms with travel history to the affected areas or Wuhan in China within 14 days, they are asked to report to the nearest health centre.
To reduce the risk of infections while travelling in or from the affected areas, travellers are advised to avoid close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections, and practice frequent hand-washing, especially after direct contact with ill people.
They are also asked to avoid close contact with live or dead farm or wild animals, and travellers with symptoms of acute respiratory infection should practice cough etiquette that includes maintaining distance, covering coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing, and washing hands.