…risk of infecting Bhutanese minimal from the tourist: health minister 

Younten Tshedup

Risks of infecting Bhutanese by the Hong Kong tourist who tested positive after returning to Hong Kong from Bhutan is minimal, according to health minister Dechen Wangmo.

The health ministry confirmed that the 54-year-old  tourist who was in the country from March 3 to March 12, tested positive to the new coronavirus on March 22.

His guide and the driver were immediately quarantined after receiving the news of the tourists’ status on Tuesday night.

Both of them have tested negative to the virus on their first test.

Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo during a press briefing yesterday said the ministry received information on the tourist at around 10pm on March 24.

“We managed to trace the close contacts of the tourist by midnight and then placed the driver and guide under quarantine.”

While the tourist has tested positive to the virus, Lyonpo said that he could have been possibly exposed to the virus during the transit (on March 13 or 14), after he had left the country. “If he was exposed while in the country, he would have grown symptomatic a bit earlier.”

She said that almost 99 percent of the infected so far have shown symptoms for the virus within five to eight days of infection.

The minister added that the wife of the 54-year-old tourist, who accompanied him during the visit, informed that her husband started showing symptoms on March 19. Three days later he tested positive for Covid-19. The wife, however, has tested negative as of now.

“The driver and guide including the wife said that the 54-year-old was healthy and did not show any symptoms when he left the country,” Lyonpo said.

The tourist had visited the regular tourist sites in the country including the Memorial Choeten, Dochula, Gangtey, Buddha Point, Craft Bazaar, and Punakha tshechu during his stay in the country.

While there is a very low possibility of the tourist being infected while in the country, Lyonpo said that the ministry is tracing his contacts in the country as a precautionary measure.

There were 72 passengers on his flight back to Bangkok but most of them were foreigners, the minister added.


Stepping up preparedness

Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that Bhutan for now should focus and strengthen its preparedness measures as the number of Covid-19 cases increase across the globe and in the region.

She said that should the country’s situation worsen, there are only about 3,000 health staffs to cater to the public. About 600 Desuups have been trained in Covid-19 screening and the ministry targets to bring on board about 5,000 Desuups.

Meanwhile, 24 of the 48 doctors who were undergoing higher studies abroad have returned to the country and are currently in quarantine. The ministry has also compiled a list of retired doctors and health personnel too, should there be need for additional human resource.

Lyonpo reassured that regular health care services would be equally prioritised should the country enter the Red zone, adding that the country has enough medicine stock to last for nine months.

The ministry is also preparing 119 certified and clinical counsellors to attend to those in quarantine centres.