Younten Tshedup 

The 47-year-old man who tested positive for Covid-19 in Kolkata, India, last week, is expected to be retested today, according to Bhutanese officials at the liaison office in Kolkata.

Should he test negative, he would be the fourth Bhutanese to be associated as a false-positive case in Kolkata.

Confusion and panic overwhelmed many Bhutanese last weekend when news of the two individuals — a patient and an escort — testing positive went viral.

Rumours were rife that another lockdown was imminent, as contact tracing was initiated in Thimphu and Phuentsholing, triggering panic buying in the capital. It, however, subsided following the news of one of them, 55-year-old escort, testing negative after a retest on November 30.

But besides the public panic and fear of another lockdown, there was a bigger issue with such inconsistent test results. It has happened in the past too. 

Despite holding a certificate of a negative test result, Bhutanese referral patients and their escorts are tested for Covid-19 once again, prior to their admission in respective hospitals in India. A combined test of rapid antigen and RT-PCR in Kolkata costs Nu 1,500.

If a person tests positive, he or she is moved to isolation. Officials from the Kolkata liaison office said that although the patient doesn’t have to bear the expenses, treatment expenses for Covid-19 is added to their referral package.

This means that the duration of stay in Kolkata increases by indefinite days until the person tests negative. Also, a retest cannot be availed immediately after a person tests negative. Depending on the individual hospital, a person after testing positive for Covid-19 has to be in isolation for at least a week.

At the end of the isolation, a retest costing not less than Nu 1,500 is done again. Only after a person tests negative, he or she can begin their actual treatment.

So far the government has spent Nu 3.5 billion for the Covid-19 response, including the cost of quarantine, purchase of PPEs, and procurement of food and other essentials, among others.  


Testing protocols

The Covid-19 antigen and RT-PCR test kits used in India are apparently the same as those used in Bhutan to screen and diagnose positive cases. But officials said it is uncertain how the tests are performed there.

In Bhutan, whenever there is a positive case, a test is repeated especially if there are no epidemiological or clinical risks associated with the person. Repetition of tests includes the use of new samples and engaging different testing protocols. Only after the final results, officials from the Royal Centre for Disease Control make them public.

The national referral hospital in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic has drastically reduced their referrals. Only urgent cases are referred today.

After the onset of the pandemic, JDWNRH has referred two groups of patients and escorts to Kolkata. Before the pandemic, about 15 patients were referred every week.

Following the recent incident, officials from the health ministry said that they have reinforced the instruction and communication on risks of travelling outside to patients and escorts before their departure.

Officials said that the ministry has also reviewed and reinforced the process of patients’ accommodation and movement during their stay in Kolkata, including taking care of themselves during hospital consultations.

“We also provide good education and instructions to be followed while they are in India. We make sure patients and escorts have access to basic PPE such as facemasks,” said an official.

Meanwhile, it was learnt that the 47-year-old man who is a cancer patient was in stable condition. Bhutanese officials in Kolkata said that the patient had developed some symptoms including cough and fever when he reached Kolkata.

However, officials said that they could not establish if the symptoms were that of Covid-19 or from his existing medical condition.