Guide and driver share their ordeal of 24 days in quarantine

Younten Tshedup 

There was no celebration, but when 29-year-old Sangay (name changed) returned home after spending almost a month in a quarantine facility in Thimphu, it was emotionally not less than the grandest homecoming.

At the doorstep, upon his arrival, were his one-and-half-year-old daughter and wife. His aging mother-in-law in the back, all impatiently awaited his return.

Sangay was finally home, after 24 days.

Sangay, the tourist guide who became one of the primary contacts of Bhutan’s first Covid-19 patient, reunited with his family on March 29 after he and the driver tested negative to the virus for the fifth consecutive time.

“Every single day at the quarantine center was agonizing. The fear that we might test positive haunted us,” he said. “However, the services we were provided with, including food and hospitality helped us calm our anxieties from time to time.”

For the 40-year-old driver, it was his family’s safety that worried him the most. “As the sole bread earner in the family, I could not afford to get sick,” he said. “More than myself, I was worried about my family.”


A normal day

On March 2, Sangay and his driver received their guests, the American tourist and his partner at the Paro international airport. In the next four days they were in constant touch until the 76-year-old tourist tested positive on the night of March 5.   

Sangay said that the American was already coughing when he arrived in the country. “Our guest said he had the cough for months and we didn’t suspect anything then.”

Between March 2 and 5, Sangay escorted his guest to the national referral hospital three times. “He was not feeling so well which is why we had to take him to the emergency unit on two occasion.”

Impressed by the services he received at the hospital, Sangay said the American wanted to make a donation to the hospital. “We went to hospital again on March 5, as he was not feeling good and also because he planned to make some donation.”

However, considering his deteriorating conditions, a doctor at the hospital suggested them to test for the new coronavirus. He was taken to the isolation ward. Sangay and the driver went to the car to get a nap.

Around 11:30pm Sangay started receiving phone calls from senior government officials and police from Paro and Punakha. “It was then that I knew our guest tested positive for Covid-19.”

The duo were taken to a quarantine facility and their samples were collected the next morning. The same morning, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering announced that Bhutan detected its first positive case in the country.


Inside the quarantine facility  

Sangay said the fear of testing positive deprived them of sleep at the quarantine centre. “All we could do was pray.”

Each time they tested negative to the virus, a glimmer of hope overwhelmed them. “Food was good and regular tea and snacks were served,” he said, adding that both of them had put on about 4kg when they came out earlier this week.

Prayers and prostration gave them positive energy. “We spent most of our time prostrating towards the Phajoding monastery from our room. Other times we were following the news on TV and internet,” he said.

The news of the partner testing positive came as the final blow. “We were scared since we were in close contact with each other,” said the guide.

The fifth test came negative. They were allowed to go home. But Sangay and his driver were worried. “We didn’t want to take the disease out to the community,” said Sangay. They requested for extended quarantine. Health officials assured them that they were good to go and provided a certificate to authenticate their status.


By the god’s grace   

Both Sangay and the driver attribute their safety to the prayers and blessings their family members including all Bhutanese offered to them while they were quarantined.

“We cannot thank enough for what His Majesty The King, government and all the Bhutanese have done for our safety. We are the few lucky ones to receive all the care from The King himself,” said the driver.

Sangay said that having a healthy body could also have played a part in not getting infected. “It is important for all of us to take good care of our bodies, eat healthy and exercise.”

In his message to the public, the driver said that the disease is not life threatening and people should not panic. “If you know how to maintain self hygiene, you would not get the disease. Even if you do, this virus would not kill you.”

Meanwhile, Sangay shared that the 57-year-old American woman who is in touch with him has been appologising to them and the country for all the troubles.

“It wasn’t their fault. All we want is to see them leave our country in good health.”

The mission that began in early march is incomplete. The American woman always wanted to hike up to the Taktsang monastery. “If it is possible, we will fulfill that dream together when she recovers.”