Yangchen C Rinzin 

The National Covid-19 Task Force will head to Paro to review the standard operating procedures (SOP) and to identify why school buses were used or quarantine requirement was done away with, according to Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji.

However, this will be done only if the lockdown ceases in Thimphu next week.

Lyonpo told Kuensel that there could have been a miscommunication between dzongkhag taskforce and national taskforce, which is why the reviewing team will try to see why the dzongkhag taskforce used school buses to ferry passengers when there was a clear instruction not to do so.

Earlier Kuensel learnt that there were no protocols for the frontliners, including testing and isolating themselves before leaving for home. The drivers who ferried passengers from the airport till quarantine centres were also sent home directly, without staying in the quarantine or testing.

“We’ll have to also see why one of the school bus drivers who tested positive was not tested in the beginning when he visited flu clinic with symptoms,” Lyonpo said. “Quarantine for driver was also discontinued. We’re told there was a letter to discontinue, but we don’t know who sent the letter.”

Lyonpo added that the outbreak of local transmission occurred in three different clusters, one among school students, one from the driver who was serving airport to ferry passengers, and another among students at Zorig Chusum Institute in Thimphu.

Even after a month of lockdown and local transmission, the taskforce is yet to come out with a report on the source of outbreak.

“While the evidence indicates spread was likely from Paro airport, it’s difficult to identify the lapses because we had cases from Kalikhola too. So, we don’t know how the spread actually occurred,” Lyonpo said.

Earlier this week, Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said that despite the best efforts there could have been some lapses in dealing with the pandemic. He said it was difficult to place the blame and responsibility on one individual.

“I alone take all the blame and responsibility for the lapses,” he said.

Lyonpo Dr Tandi clarified that the review that was completed was for entire 12 SOPs existing for both Paro airport and along the Southern borders, not on the alleged “lapses” happened in Paro.

“The review was done to find additional measures needed to strengthen the existing measures,” he said. “Initially, while reviewing other SOPs, I and chief election commissioner were supposed to go and review the SOP at the airport, but we couldn’t go because of the lockdown.”

Lyonpo added that although SOPs were efficiently implemented, some measures might have been overlooked and the review would help the taskforce rectify that. For instance, there should have been a partition between the driver and passengers. There wasn’t.

“We had just kept one row of seat empty to maintain distance, asked passengers to wear facemasks and we thought this was enough,” Lyonpo said. “Some drivers had made partition their own using clothes or plastic. Now proper partition would be compulsory.”

It was also decided that taskforce should ensure there is a designated bus and driver only to ferry passengers from airport. “Although school buses were disinfected earlier, using school buses were never a part of the SOP,” Lyonpo added. “That’s why we have to review how the order to use school buses was issued.”

The review has also decided to identify Paro airport as a high risk area like Phuentsholing and other southern dzongkhags. This means people working at the airport will have to stay in self-containment zone, implement quarantine measures, and test after two weeks before going home.

Lyonpo said that the taskforce was also looking into possibilities such as taking passengers directly to the quarantine centre and complete the immigration procedures after 21 days. “This is to minimise the contact as much as possible between passengers and airport staff.”

The taskforce has decided to conduct test on all truck, taxi and public transport drivers probably once every week and random testing in schools and institutions.

“Every lockdown is a lesson and we’ve to strategise SOPs from the lessons learnt. We’re trying to work on the shortcomings while implementing SOPs,” Lyonpo said.