…as the country witness increasing positive cases 

Younten Tshedup

Most Thimphu residents walking and strolling along Norzin Lam and Centenary Farmers Market (CFM) these days were seen using face masks.

As per a recent inspection conducted by the health ministry on the compliance of Covid-19 safety protocols, 80 percent of Thimphu residents were seen using face masks.

However, about 10 percent of the people in these two areas were found using face masks inappropriately.

Among the shopkeepers, about 30 percent were seen not using face masks and about 15 percent were not using the face masks properly during the inspection conducted on April 21.

The use of Druk Trace App was observed to be very low with only three people out of 50 using the application while entering shops.

The inspection team also found that people did not adhere to requests from frontliners to use face masks.

The team recommended shopkeepers, vegetable vendors and all the shoppers to compulsorily use face mask, as the risk of Covid-19 transmission was high with different people entering the shops and stalls.

Public transport drivers including truckers were also recommended to   compulsorily use face masks and police on duty were asked to strictly monitor the compliance on the use of face mask and control unnecessary crowding.

About 25 shops, 20 vegetable stalls and more than 250 people walking and strolling along the Norzin Lam and CFM areas were observed during the inspection.

Health ministry’s chief of communicable disease division, Rixin Jamtsho, said that with the outbreak of Covid-19 in Phuentsholing, Samdrupjongkhar, and Samtse, the risk of transmission was high in the rest of the dzongkhags as well.

“The SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19 has been identified as airborne. This means that it would be easy for the virus to transmit if we don’t follow the precautionary measures,” he said, adding that compulsory use of face mask, adequate ventilation in the rooms and maintaining physical distance for more than a meter would greatly help in preventing the transmission.

He said that face masks of adequate quality including the cloth masks had the filtering efficiency of 63-85 percent according to some literature. “However, people should choose to wear good quality face masks. If the face mask is too thin or transparent, they won’t help in filtering the virus.”

He added that used face masks and tissue papers must also be disposed of properly.

Compliance in schools under Thimphu Thromde

The national inspecting team also assessed the Covid-19 health safety protocol compliance in schools under Thimphu Thromde where 34 schools, 19 public and 15 private schools were inspected between March 5 and 8, 2021.

The overall observation was that most of the schools saw about 93 percent adherence to the Covid-19 protocols. All schools were observed to be following 10 of the 24 basic and important Covid-19 safety practices such as hand washing and using face mask.

However, recommendations for improvement were made following the detection of a few non-adherence practices. It was found that about five percent of the students were seen not wearing face masks properly.

Although unavoidable in some school settings, physical distancing and crowding in the class rooms were a major problem. Four primary schools were found to be unaware of the process of informing the surveillance team in the event a student reported Covid-19 symptoms.

Three private high schools did not recheck temperature when the first reading was found to be higher than 38 degrees Celsius. About 95 percent of the schools did not check functionality of the device or the body position when temperature read less than 36 degrees Celsius.

Some public schools did not have proper waste bins and basic PPEs for sweepers.

Meanwhile, many public and private offices have also made it compulsory for visitors to wear face masks while entering offices. Security personnel are seen sending back individuals visiting the office without masks.

“It is difficult to turn them away but we have orders from the management not to allow anyone without face mask into the premises,” said the security guard at Bhutan Telecom Ltd. “By now people must realise that this is being done for the good of everyone.”

Rixin Jamtsho said that the ministry had nominated a focal person each in all the ministries and agencies to enforce the preventive measures. “An inspection in these offices would also be conducted soon.”