Younten Tshedup

As of yesterday evening, 27 people in Phuentsholing tested positive for Covid-19 of which four cases were detected outside the RRCO’s mini dry port (MDP).

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo, during a live session on BBS television yesterday, said that the situation in Phuentsholing was deteriorating.

Given the situation, Lyonpo said that besides testing all the contacts of the positive cases from the MDP, the entire population in Phuentsholing will be tested.

“Upon the completion of the tests, we’d then know the extent of transmission and the pulse of the epidemic in the community.”

Of the 6,500 samples collected from the town in the past three day, about 5,000 samples were tested so far.

“So far we have four confirmed positive cases and 40 individuals who have tested positive on the rapid diagnostic test (RDT). This further established that Phuentsholing has a local transmission.”

Lyonpo said that the contacts of the index case from the MDP have been identified in 12 dzongkhags so far. Three individuals, contacts of positive cases in Phuentsholing, have tested positive in Paro. The latest was a 59-year-old man who was detected yesterday.

Lyonpo said that based on the extent of local transmission in the community, the priority would then be to prevent deaths from the virus. For this, she said that it was important to break the chain of transmission, which could be achieved only by following the lockdown protocol.

“We know that it has not been easy for the people of Phuentsholing but the priority now should be to break the chain of transmission. If we can stay inside our homes for 21 days, we can achieve this.”

The minister said that the surveillance team is facing a difficult time in tracing the contacts of the positive individuals mainly because the movement of people prior to the lockdown was extensive.

Thimphu’s situation

Although for now the situation in the capital remains comparatively lenient as compared to Phuentsholing, it could change anytime.

Lyonpo said that since Thimphu and Phuentsholing could be considered epidemiologically as a single unit given that more than 1,000 vehicles ply between these two commercial hubs daily.

Considering the threat, screening for the Thimphu residents is also underway starting with individuals who have visited the border town on or after August 1.

Lyonpo said that as of yesterday afternoon almost 800 people from Thimphu had registered by calling the toll-free number 1023. So far none have tested positive to the virus.

“Symptomatic individuals are tested first,” said the minister. “However, our aim is to test all those who have registered with us.”

Lyonpo also requested those who travelled to Phuentsholing to be honest with the travel history as many were seen registering in the hope to get tested even without recent (on or after August 1) travel to Phuentsholing.

She said should there be an indication of a local transmission in Thimphu, the community’s surveillance system would be activated whereby all the 130,000 plus population in the capital would be tested.

These are extraordinary times, said the minister. Following the preventive measures like wearing masks, maintaining social distance, regularly washing hands with soap should become the new normal henceforth.

“If individuals do not take the responsibility, we cannot control the spread of this disease,” the minister added.

Meanwhile, Lyonpo also clarified that all essential health services such as child immunisation programmes would continue despite the current situation. However, she said that while going for the routine immunisation, mothers should practise all the precautionary measures.