We’ll come out of this as a more united and resilient nation: Health Minister

Younten Tshedup 

While the whole world is struggling to cope up with the novel Coronavirus pandemic, Bhutan could not be any more prepared for the health emergency of this magnitude than it is today.

Bhutanese had just recently elected a new government that prioritised streamlining and upgrading the country’s entire health care system.

The Prime Minister, health and foreign ministers come with decades of experience in health care.

Led by His Majesty The King, the government so far has managed to prevent community transmission of the disease in the country.

A unique case

With His Majesty The King personally overseeing the entire response and containment efforts, 50 days on since the detection of the first positive case, Bhutan today has only four active Covid-19 cases in the country all within the safe boundaries of the quarantine centres.

A public health expert by profession, Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that having medical professionals leading the country’s response against a health crisis is an added advantage. “It helps in making rational and well-informed decisions when you have in-depth knowledge of the subject yourself.”   

Lyonpo said, “I feel it’s a divine intervention where such a case had to arise while the government was also focusing on improving our health system.”

“His Majesty The King is at the forefront, guiding Bhutan’s whole approach to managing the situation compassionately and selflessly.”

She said that no other country would have successfully contact-traced about 300 people in just six hours and 18 minutes. “It must have been a record.”

The minister said given challenging times; many expressed their intent to help in the fight against the disease, including those doctors who returned from their studies and are in quarantine.

“This is something innate that all Bhutanese have in common. During His Majesty’s address to the nation, the long pause His Majesty took, we all felt that pain in our hearts and a lump in our throat. I think that is what makes us all Bhutanese.”

She said that currently, every individual wants to contribute to our country and the King. “This is the biggest unifying factor and strength for Bhutan, and this is the factor that would drive us through beating Covid-19,” she said. “As envisioned by His Majesty, I think we are going to come out of this epidemic as a more united and resilient nation.”

Bhutan’s response

The first Covid-19 positive case in the country appeared on March 5.

Bhutan was one of the first countries in the region to start the preparedness plan against Covid-19 on January 11, only 10 days after its outbreak in China.

Four days later, screening at the points of entry started. Ministry’s high-level national preparedness plan was in its second phase by January 21, and the following week the national disaster committee chaired by the Prime Minister was activated.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Covid-19 as an emergency by January 30. In the next four weeks, the WHO’s rating for the South Asia region jumped from ‘high’ to ‘very high’.

While quarantine was made mandatory towards the second week of March, the ministry began surveillance since January.

Lyonpo said that if the government had delayed its response, the country could have had community transmission by now and Bhutan today could have turned into a ‘mini New York’.

She said that on the command of His Majesty, the country’s strategy was prevention. The strategy comprised of a preparedness plan, early screening, enhanced testing, and mandatory quarantine for all entering the country.

She added that this was made possible mainly through acceptance by the public and their trust in the government interventions.

“The mandatory facility quarantine for all policy is what worked the best. We were able to catch all positive cases so far from these quarantine facilities. The biggest advantage, at this point, is unity and solidarity.”

Lyonpo said that the because of the blessing and guidance from His Majesty The King, Bhutan has no option but to excel.

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