Health ministry “fairly confident’ on the absence of local transmission in other dzongkhags

Younten Tshedup   

Restaurants and bars are teeming with crowds. Shops and public institutions are swarmed by shoppers and clients. The Norzin Lam area is buzzing with people like before. This is Thimphu, after almost two months since the first-ever nationwide lockdown was enforced.

Life in the capital, including some other dzongkhags, has returned to normal today. With no indications of any local transmission of Covid-19 in these places, restrictions are slowly being lifted.

Epidemiologically, Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that except for the high-risk areas in the south, the ministry was ‘fairly confident’ that there were no community transmissions in the rest of the dzongkhags for now.

The reason, Lyonpo said was because the surveillance system put in place did not indicate any worrying trend in these areas for now. Of the many, the surveillance includes regular testing of the frontline and health workers, screening for Covid-19 at the flu clinics and hospitals.

However, the minister cautioned that this does not mean that people should compromise with the public health measures that were slowly gaining momentum among the public.

“I think our confidence to say this probably comes from the way we are all adhering to the public health measures. We are now using the face masks regularly, maintaining physical distance and regularly washing our hands. This should be the way forward.”

The situation in the south (high-risk), however, had a different tale. “We are still not able to feel the pulse of the epidemic in the high-risk areas,” Lyonpo said. Issues mainly concerning the long (700km) porous border in the south did not give the ministry the confidence to pull the areas out of high-risk for now.

Lyonpo said that to keep the lifeline of the country’s economy running, trade continues through these southern dzongkhags. “There are still possibilities of outbreaks in these places, which is why it is very difficult for us to come to a conclusion for now.”

She added that having these areas marked as a red zone, reinforced by layers of surveillance was the sensible assessment for now.

Last week after the completion of additional 14 days of quarantine in Red Zone, 271 people inside the Project Dantak camp in Phuentsholing were tested for Covid-19. No new cases were detected from the camp.

Lyonpo said that as per the findings of the test, the ministry had submitted its recommendations for the next course of action at the Project Dantak camp to the national Covid-19 task force. The recommendations were as per the national surveillance protocol.

The national task force headed by the Prime Minister could not convene to discuss the next course of action for Dantak camp as the task force members including the Prime Minister, Royal Bhutan Army General and Chief of Police were in the south.

The task force is expected to meet soon and decide the new status of the current Red Zone Project Dantak camp in Phuentsholing.

The Dantak camp in Phuentsholing spreads across the international border. Certain section of the camp is in the Indian territory, which might not be properly guarded.

With the Covid-19 status of the bordering town Jaigoan not clearly known, it can be assumed that there are potential positive cases in the community.