Mass testing in Thimphu will be announced if required 

Yangchen C Rinzin 

Confusion led to a rush. The Covid-19 testing stations in Thimphu yesterday were overwhelmed.

The health ministry has identified 10 stations in seven “super zones” in Thimphu Thromde to test the city residents who had travelled between Thimphu and Phuentsholing on or after August 1.

Many Thimphu residents, however, had understood the effort as mass screening for Thimphu and visited testing stations.

A clinical microbiologist with the national referral hospital, Dr Tshokey, said that this could have happened because of the Google Form that was shared among the Thimphu residents for efficient testing of Covid-19 in Thimphu.

“We want to make it clear that the testing stations are set up for only those residents who have registered for testing and have travelled between Phuentsholing and Thimphu,” Dr Tshokey said. “People should understand that the government has not yet announced mass screening for Thimphu and the Google Form is just a ‘preparatory measure’”.

A total of 3,673 people who had travelled to and from Phuentsholing have registered with the health ministry. More than 600 individuals have been tested so far. All the results have been negative so far.

Dr Tshokey said that definite time for mass screening in Thimphu was not decided yet. “All this is only for data collection in case the government decides to for mass testing in Thimphu.”

The Google Form mentions that the form is not a registration form for Covid-19 testing and that no additional mass testing is planned as of now.

The tests are being conducted only for primary contacts of Covid-19 positive cases from Phuentsholing.

However, it is not just the Google Form lead to confusion among the people. Many Thimphu residents said the announcement was not clear.

Many city residents had to wait for more than three days to get tested after registration and blamed poor communication among the health officials.

“I’ve been waiting for last five days and when I got the opportunity to get tested, I was told that tests were not carried out after lunch,” a resident said. “Later, they called me to say that the officials had gone to procure additional testing kits and that the testing centre was open.”

Dr Tshokey said that the individuals whose samples were collected during door-to-door screening need not come to the testing stations, which are set up only for the collection of new samples.

He said the stations would be open until 7pm every day. Individuals have to, however, come with the movement pass. “If some of the residents missed out yesterday, they can come today for the test. People should not worry about what kind of samples we collect. We will either collect blood or swab sample depending on people’s travel history.”

Many Thimphu residents were also sceptic about the health’s strategy to call people to come for testing at the testing stations. A resident living near the Druk School said that calling people for testing would risk others and defeat the sole purpose of lockdown. “What if the person has walked till the station with other people and later test positive?”

Dr Tshokey said that people should not worry as long as they practised safety precautions, wore facemasks and maintained physical distance.

“We went door-to-door and collected the samples of the residents who had symptoms, including primary contacts of Phuentsholing case,” Dr Tshokey said. “The registered individuals who are asked to come for testing at the stations are the ones who are asymptomatic.”

Dr Tshokey urged the people to be honest with their travel history and visit the testing stations in their respective “super zones”.

Health ministry later issued a clarification saying that the testing for the entire population of Thimphu would be done only after completion of testing for the registered people with travel history to Phuentsholing.

The ministry will announce about mass testing officially and all the instructions for the community at all levels will be announced formally by the National Covid-19 Taskforce.