Nima Wangdi

The National Covid-19 Task Force (NC19TF) last night announced that from today residents in Thimphu can move within their mega zones following the timing on their movement cards until February 3.

“However, the people in the red buildings and clusters will be cordoned off for professional management,” NC19TF’s press release stated. The regional and local task forces can decide on relaxing lockdowns based on the situation.

NITAG member, Dr Sithar Dorjee on national television yesterday said there are only seven red buildings only in a few mega zones. “I see some risks in lifting the lockdown, unlike the green-code dzongkhags.”

“There are not many cases in Thimphu but the virus is there. Since there are cases in Wangdue, Tsimasham, Phuentsholing and in Gelephu, through which essential goods are transported, there are chances of lapses despite all the systems in place,” he said.

Dr Sithar said that they were looking into unlocking the city at the earliest, phase-wise like from within the mega zone to the opening of shops and hotels. “Like in red zones, the cluster-wise approach will be followed where only buildings or areas with virus outbreak will be locked down.”

NITAG member and RCDC head, Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that the virus was spreading to more dzongkhags now.

 “14 dzongkhags were under lockdown for 14 days and we have started mass screening to determine how to unlock these dzongkhags.”

He said, the mass screening in Thimphu started on January 28 and now they are waiting for the results of the last mega zone. “From the North mega zone, we collected about 6,000 samples, more than 11,000 samples from C1 and C2, and from South mega zone yesterday collected about 6,500 samples.”

The result from the North mega zone was clear but one from Pamtsho, which could not be covered on the first day tested positive the next day.

Seven tested positive from Core 1 and one tested positive from Core 2, which is Changzamtok, during the mass screening so far.

As to why the virus is spreading despite the lockdown, Dr Sithar Dorjee said that the people exchange their movement cards and those in the same building mingle. “Of the seven buildings with cases, people in four had travel history to Wangdue.”

Dr Sithar Dorjee said, most people think the lockdown was imposed to stop the virus completely, which is untrue. “It is done to flatten the curve by reducing the number of cases.”

Dr Sonam Wangchuk said, “If we follow the notion of Omicron being less severe, it might lead to a shortage of beds in the hospitals and hamper essential health care service delivery,” Dr Sonam Wangchuk said.

Dr Sithar Dorjee also added that while many think Omicron is less severe than other variants, the US and UK were still reporting deaths. “Lockdown is also imposed to protect our at-risk population: those unvaccinated, elderly people and people living with comorbidities, which makes 37 percent of our total population.”

He said they initially thought they could manage even if Omicron reached Bhutan with all the systems in place. “But like in Bajo in Wangue and Gelephu in Sarpang, we are now facing difficulties.”

Of the 119 new positive cases in the last 24 hours, 31 were from the community. Nganglam in Pemagatshel has the most cases from the community with 10 followed by Thimphu with nine. Chukha has six, Samtse has three, Samdrupjongkhar has two and Gelephu in Sarpang has one.

Residents in lower Changzamtog and Changidaphu were informed through the Facebook groups for their zones of Covid-19 test today. As per the earlier notification, movement during testing in the zone is restricted and shops have to remain shut.

According to the NC19TF press release, as of yesterday, Gasa, Haa, Trongsa, Bumthang, Trashigang, Mongar, Trashiyangtse, Lhuentse and Zhemgang are “green dzongkhags”. Paro throm and adjacent gewogs are “yellow areas”. Thimphu throm and adjacent Chang and Kawang gewogs, parts of Sarpang, Samtse, Pemagatshel (Nganglam) and Punakha, most of Wangduephodrang, Chukha (Phuentsholing), Samdrupjongkhar, Tsirang and Dagana are “red areas and dzongkhags”.

The inter-dzongkhag movement from the “green” dzongkhags and areas is allowed but travels from yellow and red dzongkhags and areas will require testing or quarantine as per the decision of local task forces. “For Thimphu, mandatory RT-PCR testing is required for travel.”

With more cases being detected, all drivers ferrying goods have to have a mandatory RT-PCR test with a seven-day validity.

In view of the upcoming Traditional Day of Offering on February 2, local task forces are asked to ensure strict monitoring of gatherings, and other restrictions, as spelt out in the notification issued on January 20.

Since the declaration of “blackout” on January 16 and further extension of lockdown, a total of 116,387 Covid-19 tests were carried out across the country until yesterday. A total of 1,781 cases, of which 403 were in the community, were detected since then.

Meanwhile, the ministry of health established an RT- PCR Laboratory in Wangdue yesterday.

The press release stated that, with this, there are seven Covid-19 testing centres across the country today namely Royal Center for Disease Control, JDWNRH, Phuentsholing hospital, Mongar hospital, Gelephu hospital, Dewathang hospital in  Samdrupjongkhar, and Wangdue hospital.