Thinley Namgay and  Phurpa Lhamo 

With people from the highlands returning home after visiting Thimphu and Paro where community transmission of Covid-19 has been confirmed, highlanders of Lingzhi, Soe and Naro are worried.

Adding to their fear is the lack of flu clinics  in their gewog. Basic Health Unit (BHU) in these places do not have Covid-19 related facilities for testing, quarantine and isolation.

Lingzhi Gup, Wangdi said that 17 people from Lingzhi had visited Thimphu and Paro after December 7. “I am worried they might have brought the virus.” Following the notification from the government, the gewog has asked those persons to remain home.  “People are worried that if they have symptoms then we don’t have a flu clinic for a check-up.”

Lingzhi has around 500 people, the highest compared with Soe and Naro. As of yesterday, none reported any Covid-19-like symptoms.   “We have raised this concern to the dzongkhag health officials, but the officials are saying that health personnel at our BHU were not trained to tackle Covid-19 issue and they cannot do the test,” said gup Wangdi.

“I was told that there are still shortages of doctors and other health professionals to deploy in the highland communities as the Covid-19 cases are increasing in Thimphu and Paro,” gup said.

The gup said highlanders don’t have any problem with essential food items.  “We used to stock essential commodities always in advance considering the harsh winter,” Wangdi said.

Senior dzongkhag health officer, Kencho Wangdi, said that the health ministry had informed that the Covid-19 test had to be conducted in every health centre. “Lingzhi, Soe and Naro have primary health centres with one health assistant each, but there is a lack of testing facilities such as rapid test kits.”

Moreover, these health personnel are not trained to do the test, said Kencho Wangdi. “Capacity development is an issue.”

Primary health centres at Kuzhugchen, Chamgang, and Genekha are also in similar situation. 

The dzongkhag plans to train health personnel at the primary health centres by attaching them with other professionals at the flu clinics.

“They will learn to do the rapid test in case of Covid-19 symptoms. At present, they are required to stay at their station owing to human resource constraint. We will start their training once the situation improves,” said Kencho Wangdi.

To facilitate testing during the lockdown, the health ministry has opened additional flu clinics in places like Taba, Depsi, Samtenling, Zilukha, and Olakha.

Kencho Wangdi said: “With the limited population at the highland communities, the situation is better. For example, most people from Soe used to stay in Tsento (Paro) under lockdown at this time of the year. Travel records of people from highland communities to Thimphu and Paro are usually less.” 

Both Soe and Naro have five chiwogs each with more than 200 people.

Soe gup Kencho Dorji said that he couldn’t gather the list of those who visited Paro and Thimphu this month as he was stuck in Paro, which is under lockdown. “I am sure that people from Soe visited Thimphu and Paro. I am worried we don’t have any flu clinic.”

False alarm in Lunana?

Meanwhile, the contacts of a 58-year-old man who tested positive on the rapid antigen test in Lunana have all tested negative. 

However, RT-PCR to confirm the results couldn’t be conducted as the route to Lunana is closed due to heavy snowfall. 

Although chopper service could be used, because the contacts of the man have all tested negative, the RT-PCR test has been deferred. The man is said to be in good health condition today.

The man in Lunana visited the nearby Lunana Primary Health Centre with flu-like symptoms on December 25. He has been quarantined following the results. 

As recommended by the health ministry’s Technical Advisory Group (TAG), four telecom staff and six family members were tested. All of them tested negative. 

In Lunana gewog, Gasa, if a person experiences flu-like symptoms, they can avail the rapid antigen testing services from the nearby health centre. 

Earlier the health staff in Lunana were trained on conducting the antigen test. A few testing kits were also kept at the health unit in the gewog. 

Today, if additional kits are required, chopper services will be used to drop the kits, a Gasa dzongkhag official said.

In Laya, while there are no flu clinics to provide the rapid testing services, if need be, the health officials from Gasa will move to Laya to conduct the test, a Gasa dzongkhag official said. 

Today, Gasa has one flu clinic stationed in Gasa BHU.

In Wandgue, for the four highland gewogs—Gangtey, Phobji, Dangchu and Sephu—a flu clinic is stationed in Phobji gewog. 

If anyone experiences flu-like symptoms, the individual is advised to inform the local leaders, who would call health officials to conduct the tests.