Nima Wangdi 

Since the lockdown began on January 16, new Covid-19 cases from the community have been reported in 12 dzongkhags and the virus is spreading to more dzongkhags, Sowai Lyonpo (health minister) Dechen Wangmo said on national television yesterday.

Of 136 new cases declared yesterday, 15 were from the community: two from Gelephu in Sarpang, five in Thimphu, six from Phuentsholing in Chhukha and two from Samdrupjongkhar. Of the total, 134 were Bhutanese.

She said people should know that the Omicron spreads fast. “During the second national lockdown, there were only 1,300 cases in four months. This lockdown, the country recorded 1,500 within 14 days.”

“This shows how fast the Omicron spreads and we must be cautious,” Lyonpo said. The Delta variant was eight times more infectious than the first variant that originated from Wuhan in China. “Omicron is four times infections than the Delta.”

Lyonpo said, Phuntsholing in Chhukha, Lobesa in Punakha, Gelephu in Sarpang Samdrupjongkhar and Wangdue are red zones. “Phuntsholing has 350, Lobesa 22, Sarpang 313, Samdrupjongkhar 183 and Wangdue 469 cases.”

She said Thimphu, Paro, Pugli and Gomu in Samtse are yellow zones. Thimphu has 87 and Samtse has five cases. “Rest of the dzongkhags are green zones.”

“Likewise, Dagana has four, Mongar has two, Pemagatshel has eight, Tsirang has two and Zhemgang has one,” Lyonpo said.

Lyonpo said the health ministry is worried about the health conditions of the patients with rising cases. “We have formed a national clinical team in Thimphu which is composed of a Pediatrician, Physician, surgeon and laboratory experts.”

“We also have teams in Mongar, Gelephu and Phuentsholing,” she said. The ministry is also dispatching specialists from JDWNRH, technical experts and executives from the health ministry to different regions.

Lyonpo said critical patients were moved to better hospitals. “An 84-year-old cardiac patient was evacuated from Dewathang to Mongar, a mother and a child are being monitored in JDWNRH, one person undergoing dialysis in Phuntsholing and two in Wangdue were also shifted to Thimphu.”

Another heart patient in Samtse was also shifted to Phuentsholing.

Almost 9,000 stranded people have registered. Lyonpo urged people to refrain from travelling if not important. “Some people, pretending to be stranded have travelled to different dzongkhags during this lockdown which is bad. As per our protocol, stranded are those who are stuck on the way.”

Lyonpo said public screening was completed in Punakha. People in the rest of the dzongkhags will be screened starting today until February 5. For Thimphu, the three-day screening starts today during which 15,000 samples will be collected.

She said the sample from a household should be the one who has been mobile, experiencing covid-19 symptoms, or unvaccinated persons. “Those who have tested three days before or who recovered from the virus need not test.”

“The movement of residents will be restricted within their own zones during the mass screening,” Lyonpo said every one of us should be responsible for stopping the spread of this Omicron.

Lyonpo said the virus spread could be stopped only if the people cooperated.

Bhutan recorded 4,225 Covid-19 positive cases since January 16, and out of that 1,442 are still active.

Meanwhile, the National Assembly yesterday conducted a three-hour virtual plenary on the current Covid-19 situation in the country with the Prime Minister, ministers, Opposition Leader, members, and the secretariat staff.

Members sought clarification on several issues especially regarding stranded passengers, the possibility of allowing multiple grocery shops to open to reduce crowding, economic and social stress caused by the blackout, board examinations for classes 10 and 12, and misuse of movement cards, and online application of E-movement pass, among others.

Members also sought clarification on the formalities of antigen testing for foreign workers and quarantine facilities.  Members also raised the issue of the need for a Parliamentary platform for discussion during such pandemic times and the need to revive the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Covid-19 preparedness and response.

Lyonchhen said that the government was focussing on containing the spread of disease. “Under the current predicament, controlling the virus had to be accorded priority over the social and economic aspects,” Lyonchhen said, according to a press release from the National Assembly secretariat.

Lyonchhen said that in spite of the trying situation, wherever possible the government has been trying to resolve the problems being faced by the people and to cite, the government has been assisting stranded people through the issuance of movement passes.

Lyonchhen informed the gathering that people were impacted and there were genuine cases. However, he said, some people have been misusing the movement passes and more stringent regulation is required. He urged the MPs to be vigilant and take on the responsibility of educating and informing the people.