Bhutan still has no death case due to the pandemic, health officials say    

Younten Tshedup 

A 50-year-old woman, who had recovered from Covid-19 succumbed to her pre-existing terminal illness at the national referral hospital yesterday morning, Kuensel confirmed.

The woman was suffering from Neuromyelitis Optica, an autoimmune disease affecting the spinal cord and nerves of the eye. The referral patient returned from Kolkata recently.

She tested positive for Covid-19 while in quarantine.

Health officials said that given her deteriorating condition due to the progression of the medical condition, the woman was put on a ventilator at the JDWNRH’s Covid-19 isolation ward.

According to a health official, the woman tested negative twice on RT-PCR during the routine testing while in isolation and had also produced antibodies against coronavirus. She thus qualified to be put under the recovered category as per current criteria.

Although technically she had recovered, she could not be de-isolated, as would have been done with a recovered case, since she required continued medical care due to her pre-existing medical condition.

This according to the health expert was because the woman was already on ventilator support and could not be moved to a regular intensive care unit (ICU) without undergoing the mandatory de-isolation after recovery.

Health officials clarified that the death was not due to SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19 but because of her own medical condition. 

As of yesterday, officials said that death from the pandemic in the country still remains zero.

Meanwhile, 38 new cases were detected yesterday of which 29 were from Thimphu, taking the total number of cases detected since the lockdown to 110.

The 29 new cases in Thimphu were detected from the mass screening that started on December 24. Over 1,800 people were tested during the mass screening yesterday. The screening is likely to end tomorrow after which mass testing in Paro would begin.

Those detected from the mass screening, around 23 of them had some link to those who tested positive for the virus earlier. Of the 29 cases, 13 were detected from Dechenchholing, four in Changangkha, seven in Changjalu, two each from Motithang and Kabesa, and one from Debsi clusters.

Three close contacts of cases in Paro also tested positive yesterday including one from Trongsa who is a close contact of case in Paro Shaba. Two individuals in Trongsa and Haa, also close contacts of the Paro case, tested positive yesterday including two in Bumthang.

Of the 38 new cases yesterday, two were expats detected in a quarantine facility in Phuentsholing. The total Covid-19 tally in the country as of 6pm yesterday stood at 559 cases of which 442 had recovered.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo last night said that although the cases have been increasing over the last few days, it was because a substantial number of tests were being conducted. Following the lockdown in Thimphu Thromde, over 13,000 individuals were tested so far.  

Lyonpo said that the cases would start dropping after 14 days if the lockdown was effectively implemented. “We would like to request people to follow the lockdown protocol sincerely to break the chain of transmission. Otherwise, the cases would keep increasing even after 14 days.”

On the source of the outbreak, the minister said that it was difficult to establish an individual as the source of the outbreak. However, upon investigating the positive cases so far, it was highly likely that the transmission of the virus started towards the end of November and the first week of December.

Lyonpo also said that it was highly unlikely that the transmission had started from those who had come out of the quarantine or from those positive cases who had already recovered.

“Unlike other countries, in Bhutan individuals coming from outside are tested on the day of arrival beside the tests on the seventh and 14th day.  They are again tested at the end of the 21 days before they are released.”

Lyonpo said that a person in Bhutan is declared recovered and sent home only after he or she tests negative twice on the RT-PCR in 24 hours and, after keeping them in de-isolation for another 14 days.

Lyonpo also highlighted the importance of properly wearing a face mask and urged the public to avoid gatherings as far as possible, as people were now allowed to come out in their zones.