Younten Tshedup

Despite stringent measures in place, Phuentsholing remains a hotspot of new Covid-19 cases in the country today.

Although the settlements along the southern border are all considered high-risk zones, none of the areas have reported positive cases like in Phuentsholing.

This, according to Health Minister Dechen Wangmo, was because Phuentsholing, unlike other areas, had the highest population density. The maximum economic activity including very high levels of interaction among people also happened in Phuentsholing.

Lyonpo said that epidemiologically, the spread of the disease was contingent upon these factors. “Other places may not see cases as in Phuentsholing because of these reasons. We don’t have an MDP in Gelephu or Samdrupjongkhar.”

The country’s first case of local transmission was detected from the mini dry port (MDP) in Phuentsholing. On August 11, a 25-year-old loader at the MDP tested Covid-19 positive. Then began a series of positive cases from the border town, including those from the IMTRAT and Project Dantak camps.

Lyonpo said that a frequently asked question was that despite the mass testing of the residents in Phuentsholing, ‘why are new cases still emerging today?’

“We cannot say if the recent cases are new infections as it could also be infections that were not detected during the tests but are being transmitted now,” Lyonpo said.

Individual responsibility is the key to break the chain of transmission, Lyonpo said, adding that those living along the border must internalise the risk. “People living along the border must be extra careful. If a person in Gasa is 80 percent careful, I would expect someone in the borders to be 180 percent careful or even more. If we are washing hands five times a day, they better wash 10 times given all the risks.”

Lyonpo said that even if a person is infected and doesn’t show any symptoms, if he or she stays at home and limits any interaction for 21 straight days, the infection would die within the person without infecting the rest.

“That is why it is important for an individual to understand where they are. Ultimately, the protection and precaution start from you as individuals. If everyone takes this responsibility, you are protected, your family and the community is protected. Then in the process, the entire country is protected.”

Although with the increasing number of positive cases detected from the IMTRAT and Project Dantak camps in Phuentsholing, the minister said that both the organisations were ‘highly cooperative’ with the authorities.

She said that a multi-sectorial independent monitoring team consisting of health workers and soldiers regularly monitored the high-risk areas including the two Indian organisations in the country.

As of yesterday, 81 IMTRAT and Project Dantak workers had tested positive in the country.

Meanwhile, very little is known about the pandemic status of the neighbouring Indian town of Jaigaon.

Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that when dealing with an epidemic, data sharing was important. “This would help us prepare better epidemiologically,” she said. “We have always been transparent with our data because we feel it’s important to share.”