Mass testing started in the town with about 30,000 people

Younten Tshedup

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering confirmed that there is a local transmission of Covid-19 in Phuentsholing during a press conference yesterday.

This is following the detection of four new cases outside the quarantine-like facility at the RRCO’s mini dry port (MDP) in the already marked red zone, Phuentsholing.

Two men aged 32 and 33 years, a 38-year-old woman and a five-year-old child (second child case) tested positive on the RT-PCR during the active surveillance test, which started on August 15.

These people had no direct contact with the positive cases detected from people within the MDP and also did not have any recent travel history outside the country.

In absence of a source of exposure, the cases established that there is a local transmission in the town.

Also, a 28-year-old man who is a primary contact of the index case from the MDP tested positive taking the overall tally of positive cases to 138 and active cases to 36.

Lyonchhen said that after testing more than 1,200 people during the active surveillance, 18 people tested positive for IgG antibody, meaning they had past exposure to the virus. One person tested IgM positive meaning he or she had recent exposure.

These cases were detected during the active surveillance, which was initiated in addition to the ongoing contact tracing of those who have tested positive from the MDP. The active surveillance was conducted to establish if there is an outbreak in the community.   

Thimphu under radar

On an average, about 1,500 vehicles left from the Kharbandi check post in Phuentsholing to rest of the country everyday. Majority of these vehicles were Thimphu-bound.

Considering the movement pattern between Thimphu and Phuentsholing (very high frequency), Lyonchhen urged anyone with travel history to Phuentsholing since August 1 to call the toll-free number 1023 and register for a test.

This was because the index case who was detected on August 11 from the MDP could have been infected with the virus at least 10 days before he showed symptoms. Meaning the chances of spreading the virus was likely since August 1.

Speaking to Kuensel, Lyonchhen explained that irrespective of symptoms, any individual who visited Phuentsholing and returned to their respective dzongkhags since August 1 has to call 1023 and register themselves.

“You don’t have to come to any health facilities. Call this number and we’ll send health staff to collect the samples at your residence.”

Lyonchhen said that for now testing the entire population in Thimphu (over 130,000) would not be practical and realistic given that none so far, including the contacts of the Gelephu woman and the positive cases from the MDP who are in Thimphu, has tested positive to the virus. “For now, we want to start from people who have visited Phuentsholing. If all of them are negative, there is no point testing the rest of the population,” Lyonchhen said. “If we do detect one from Thimphu the possibility is that he or she would have been to Phuentsholing.”

Should there be any indication of a possible positive case in Thimphu, the prime minister said screening would be conducted in a zone-wise manner. “Things should be much faster in Thimphu because of the lessons we have learned from Phuentsholing.”

Lyonchhen said that unlike Phuentsholing where there was enough evidence to start a mass screening, there are no evidences or indication of a local outbreak in Thimphu so far.

In Phuentsholing, he said a woman outside the MDP facility tested positive. “The moment we got an indication, on the command of His Majesty we went full out on conducting mass screening. We have 20 teams testing currently in Phuentsholing, this has never happened before.”


The economy is  bleeding

For every individual the government is conducting two tests amounting to more than Nu 1,800. This does not include cost of consumables (syringes, needles and other equipment) and PPEs. A single-use coverall costs about Nu 1,000, which has to be changed at least twice in a day.

Lyonchhen said that the government for now has around 70,000 RT-PCR kits and around 250,000 rapid test kits. “We placed orders for more kits worth around Nu 600 million.”

“We have been operating on a fiscal deficit and this is in addition to that fiscal deficit. We are bleeding,” the prime minister said.