Our choice is safety protocol or lockdown: Health Minister

Yangchen C Rinzin

While the country will complete the second phase of unlocking tomorrow Health Minister Dechen Wangmo cautioned that if Bhutanese don’t adhere to the safety protocols there could be a lockdown any time.

She said residents must wear facemasks while going out and to wear them properly.

“Don’t wear facemasks just for the sake of wearing or because the government has asked you to wear it,” Lyonpo said. “There’re dos and don’ts while putting on facemasks and wearing it on the chin or hanging from one’s ear is definitely not one of them.”

Lyonpo added that wearing facemasks, washing hands and maintaining social distance is the new normal and that people must accept given uncertainty of Covid-19 virus.

“However, our advice is still don’t go out unless necessary, avoid gatherings, crowded places and wash your hands after returning home and before touching any utensils.”

The minister said that there was no assurance that there is no local transmission.”When the lockdown is relaxed, it does not guarantee that Bhutan is free of Covid-19.”

With the relaxation, it was noticed many people came out in groups and some without facemasks and did not maintain social distancing.

Lyonpo said that if a person tested negative that does not mean people won’t be infected when they go outside. “This is why safety protocols are very important to break the transmission chain.”

“If people are careless, we’ll never be able to break the chain and local transmission will recur repeatedly. It’ll take only one person to spread the virus to five people and then it’ll multiply.”

Although the health ministry decided to go ahead with the lockdown relaxation based on the negative results of the mass surveillance tests, Lyonpo said the next lockdown would also depend on people’s behaviour.

“We must understand that relaxation does not mean there is no virus in the community, but maybe, it hasn’t spread at large as yet,” Lyonpo said, adding the ministry can only monitor through the surveillance or testing.

Lyonpo said that before people become careless they must remember the sacrifices and effort His Majesty has put in personally to ensure people’s safety. “If we’re careful, it will only save the nation and country’s economy. We must be responsible for His Majesty.”

Movement of public transport including taxis and buses within the dzongkhags with only 50 percent passenger capacity was allowed in the second phase, which began yesterday.

Movement of raw materials to construction sites in public transport was also allowed and in addition, hardware shops and automobile workshops were allowed to open.

The government implemented the first phase on September 1 after completion of the 21-day lockdown and allowed people to come out of their homes for walks or  ride a cycle for the first three days.

The movement of private cars within the dzongkhag will be allowed only from September 7, in the final phase. Movement of vehicles beyond the dzongkhag will be allowed only from September 11. All offices will open and operate full time only from September 7.

Meanwhile, with many frontline workers returning home, both active and passive frontline workers are released only after testing.

Active frontline workers are those who have dealt with people and who are at high risk of getting infected. Passive frontline workers are those who are in confinement zones like attending to tollfree, working on policies, and other facilities catering services.

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