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A  50-year-old woman died of terminal illness at the national referral hospital last week. She had tested positive for Covid-19 and was declared recovered.

Health officials clarified that the death was not of Covid-19. Bhutan’s record in terms of death cases from the coronavirus is commendable. Not a single death, because of the virus, has been reported. However, the death of the woman has raised some eyebrows. Some are questioning if the health ministry, in trying to ensure the zero death record, was hiding something.

There is now a high level of awareness of the pandemic. The message that those with underlying health conditions are more vulnerable to Covid-19 has sunk in. It is scientifically proven that the virus affects the old and those with health issues the worst. Therefore, the doubts surrounding the death of the woman and the claim that she had recovered from the disease before she died.

Recording Covid-19 death cases have been complex and sensitive. In neighbouring India, while some states are reluctant to attribute the deaths of patients with pre-existing medical conditions to Covid-19, some openly do that.  Experts have termed the death of those who tested positive of the viral infection but have a terminal illness as death ‘with Covid-19’ and not ‘of Covid-19’.

Whatever the case is, our interest or priority now should not be on maintaining ‘zero death’ status. The pandemic has claimed millions of lives worldwide and unfortunately, there would be no exception here. We understand every life is important, but we would be in a state of denial if we assume we would sail through this pandemic without any death.

With local transmission confirmed in Thimphu and Paro, the priority is on containing the transmission to ensure minimum exposure of people with or without medical conditions to the virus. The government is already on track towards containing the local transmission in Thimphu and Paro. We have already managed to control a nationwide transmission.

The case of the 25-year-old woman, who tested positive and prompted the second lockdown, had played a major role in controlling the local transmission. She alerted everyone about the silent transmission of the virus. The lockdown not only facilitated breaking the chain but also prevented the virus from spreading to rural areas, where thousands of urban residents were heading to for various reasons. We could safely surmise that there are more older people,  many with underlying medical conditions in the villages.

In terms of numbers, we have detected more than 100 new cases in just a few days. We have now crossed the 600th mark which is alarming for a country with a small population. If we can prevent a single Bhutanese from succumbing to the virus, there is nothing like it. This can be done if those vulnerable are protected and this, in turn, can be done through breaking the chain.

The efforts are right and measures recommended are simple. If we can all work together, we could achieve a lot of records.

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