…until new positive cases are detected 

Younten Tshedup

The World Health Organisation (WHO) declaring the new coronavirus outbreak pandemic will not change anything in Bhutan.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering during a press briefing yesterday said that declaring a pandemic status doesn’t mean the virulence, which is the severity or harmfulness of the disease has changed.

The WHO labelled the outbreak pandemic after about 118,000 positive cases across 114 countries and 4,291 deaths from the disease since it was first detected in December 2019.

“This doesn’t change the infectivity of the disease nor does it change the management plan we have for the disease,” Lyonchhen said. “The word pandemic simply means that the disease has now gone global and every country now would probably have the case.”

Lyonchhen assured the people that a pandemic status would not impact Bhutan as all preparatory measures were already in place. “We do not have to take any different measures so long as we don’t have a new case. We’ve already put in travel restrictions and are on a very high alert mode.”

He said that the next plan of action would depend on, how the next positive case, if any, would be detected and from where in the country. “In simple words, when a pandemic is declared, we cannot contain it anymore. This however, doesn’t mean that the infectivity, management or the prognosis of the disease has changed. It simply means that more number of people are now affected.”


What is a pandemic?

It is a term the WHO had refrained to use until March 11, more than two months after the global outbreak.

A pandemic is a description reserved for an infectious disease that is spreading between people in multiple countries at the same time.

WHO director general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, had said the organisation was now using the term because of concern over “alarming levels of inaction” over the virus.

The last time a pandemic status was declared was in 2009 with swine flu, where according to experts thousands of people were killed.

Pandemics are more likely if a virus is new, able to infect people easily and can spread from person to person in an efficient and sustained way. The new coronavirus has all the characteristics and with no vaccine or treatment identified, the spread is viral.    

Lyonchhen said that Bhutanese entering the country henceforth would have to compulsorily undergo a 14-day quarantine period. Until now, only those with flu-like symptoms and people travelling in from high-risk countries were quarantined.

Because it’s a pandemic now, we have to consider all international arrivals as high-risk, added the Prime Minister.

On the status of Bhutanese currently living abroad, Lyonchhen said that if the respective countries have asked individuals to return, people should come back. 

They are asked to contact the respective embassies in the country of residence should there be any queries.

He said that travellers returning home from abroad should be honest with their travel history and declare any flu-like symptoms at the entry points. 

This is essential for the government to take responsible measures accordingly, he added.


Retest on primary suspects tests negative  

On the testing procedure, the Prime Minister said that as per international standard, a retest should be conducted only after suspects become symptomatic.

However, following the completion of the seven-day quarantine period, all the 62 first contact cases including the tourist’s partner, driver and guide were tested for a second time on March 11. All of them tested negative.

A third test would also be conducted on the last day of the quarantine period. Should the suspects test negative, only then would they be allowed to go home, according to the health ministry.

Meanwhile, the lone index patient, the American tourist, is still at the isolation centre at the national referral hospital. Additional doctors have been deployed to monitor the patient.