…all three Bhutanese patients are in stable condition: Health Minister

Younten Tshedup  

Early detection and containment approach, which Bhutan has adopted to fight against Covid-19, has worked well for the country.

While the three Bhutanese who have tested positive to the virus were already placed in designated quarantine facilities upon their arrival in the country, the first two patients have recovered.

Sandi Fischer, the partner of the first index case, Bert Hewitt, have tested negative to the virus twice. She is now considered recovered.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo during a press briefing yesterday said that the tourist is ready to leave the country. 

However, given the flight disruptions across the world, Lyonpo said that it is not certain when she can return to her country.

Bert Hewitt has also tested negative to the virus recently after he was air evacuated to the US on March 13.

With the couple recovered, Bhutan today has three Covid-19 cases detected in students who have returned from the US and Europe. All three are currently in stable condition in the isolation ward at the national referral hospital.

Lyonpo said that is important for the public to know from where the positive cases came. “So far, all the positive cases have come from the quarantine centres. We still do not have any community transmission.”

She said that a few more cases are expected from the quarantine centres as there were people coming from various parts of the world, with some returning from high-risk countries.

A total of 3,218 Bhutanese have returned from 34 different countries so far. All of them are in quarantine.

Lyonpo said that for those coming from high-risk areas, even before moving them to the quarantine centres, their samples were taken for testing immediately after their flights lands in the country. “The last case was detected in this way. After knowing the group was coming in from a high risk area, we immediately took their samples for test.”


Extended quarantine period

Clearing the ambiguities surrounding the new 21-day quarantine period, Lyonpo said that decision was reached following scientific reasoning and the advice received from the ministry’s technical advisor group (TAG).

She said that there was about 11 percent possibility that a person after being released from the 14-day quarantine could sill tests positive later. “Extending the period to 21 days brings about almost 98.9 percent surety that the person would not test positive later.”


Preparing for worst case scenario

The ministry has come up with three specific plans in the even the country enters the Red zone.

The minister said that once the country enters the Red zone, the objective would then shift to maintain zero fatality (zero death) and provide early clinical treatment. This would then put pressure on the limited health staff in the country.

Human resource management, she said, would be critical during the pandemic as support from international partners would be limited.

For this she said that about 48 doctors who were pursuing higher education outside were called back. 41 of them have reached the country so far.

About 92 students studying MBBS in counties like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have also arrived last month. Those MBBS graduates waiting to join the civil service, doctors in the armed forces and agriculture ministry including retired doctors and nurses have also been identified by the ministry.

With the backup plan to address the shortage of health professionals sorted out, the ministry in collaboration with the Royal Society for Senior Citizens has also devised an elderly programme.

Under the programme, the ministry is collecting data of all the elderly population across the country to provide them with timely support during times of a lockdown.

The elderlies and people with underlying health conditions are considered the most vulnerable group to Covid-19.

Also, the ministry has arranged counselling services for those in the quarantine centers in case they require any support. About 75 percent of those in the quarantine centers are students. “With these three new measures, we are tackling the problem with a whole-of-the-nation approach,” health minister said.


Ventilators and personal protective equipment 

While the shortage of ventilators globally has killed many Covid-19 patients globally, health minister said that more than the number of ventilators, Bhutanese should be worried if there are enough operators to use the devise.

Lyonpo explained that not all the Covid-19 patients would require the support of a ventilator. “About 80 percent of Covid-19 positive cases don’t need them. Of the 100 infected, only about 5 of them would need ventilators,” she said. “Most positive cases recover after taking the medicines.”

There are 68 ventilators in the country and 28 more would be arriving soon, she added. The ventilators would be placed at national referral hospital in Thimphu and at the Mongar regional hospital to offer critical healthcare services.

Lyonpo added that a team of health officials would leave to the south and east to evaluate the extent of preparations in different places.

On the personal protective equipment (PPE), she said that the ministry for now has enough PPE sets and were available in places where they are needed.