Tshering Palden

As words of the nationwide lockdown spread in the early hours yesterday, many left the capital city and headed for their homes in other dzongkhags. Similarly those in the neighbouring dzongkhags rushed back to the capital as the government announced travel restrictions. 

The Prime Minister’s Office announced on its Facebook page that the government was declaring a nationwide lockdown. A 27-year-old woman who completed quarantine and was released after testing negative has tested positive a fortnight since her release.   

She had returned from Kuwait on June 26 and was placed in a mandatory quarantine facility in Paro. She tested positive for Covid-19 on August 10 in Gelephu. 

The woman tested negative five times between June 29 and July 25 on PCR even after testing positive on the rapid test (IgG). In keeping with the health protocols, she reported to a flu clinic in Gelephu on August 10 where she tested positive on RT-PCR.

She was immediately isolated at the Covid-19 centre, while contact tracings were initiated right away. A total of 97 contacts were traced as of 5:20am

The country went into lockdown to trace all those who came into contact with the woman. Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that community transmission could not be ruled out. 

At a press conference late yesterday evening, Lyonchhen said that His Majesty The King was relieved that Bhutanese across all dzongkhags despite the sudden lockdown adhered strictly to the lockdown conditions on the first day of nationwide lockdown. 

PM urged all Bhutanese to wear face masks to be safer from the Covid-19 infection. 

Lyonchhen said that the lockdown was likely to continue up to a week and that it would depend on test results of those who came in contact with the woman who tested positive. 

The Prime Minister was on the radio, speaking in multiple dialects, spelling out details of what people are required to do and how those needy could get help. Ministers were on the national television sharing information on how those across the border could enter the country legally. 

De-Suups, health staff and other volunteers attended calls for help as residents remained strictly indoor. 

The economic affairs ministry ensured that there is adequate stock of essentials items in the country  (rice, oil, pulses, sugar, milk powder, salt, toiletries, etc.) to last for another six months. Respective dzongkhags have their own Standard Operating Procedures (SoP) for distribution of essential items. All 20 dzongkhags have their required stocks as far as at gewog level.

Restricting vehicle movements

Individuals were caught up in multiple situations. As travels came to halt, some were caught halfway through the journey, while others were stranded in neighbouring districts they had visited for official duty or leisure.

Truckers were fixed in hotels they had parked for the night. Public transports and private cars were stuck in transiting districts. Traffic police made exceptions and let them pass on a case-by-case basis. 

“But such is the inherent feature of the much dreaded lockdown. To immediately break the chain of transmission, during which the government will identify and isolate suspects for further medical investigation, one has to stay where you are,” the Prime Minister’s Office wrote on its official Facebook page. 

As the lockdown came in full force, agencies facilitated public transports to complete journeys and assisted critical cases like transporting a body to cremation ground.       

“But for now, we request you to put up with the inconvenience, make a little adjustment and help us in fulfilling the spirit and purpose of lockdown. For others, if there is a way for you to help those commuters stranded in your community, please do so,” the press release stated “Together, let us overcome this phase as soon as possible.”

The economic affairs ministry informed that there was adequate stock of essentials items in the country to last for another six months. The ministry stated that all dzongkhags have their required stocks as far as at gewog level.

Contact tracing 

Of the 211 primary contacts of the Covid-19 positive woman, 82 were found as high risk and 129 were categorised as low risk. There are 81 individuals identified as secondary contacts. Of the total contacts traced, 55 are in quarantine facilities, and 52 have undergone the RT-PCR tests.

As of 12:30pm last night, the health ministry traced 210 suspects who had come in contact with the 27-year-old woman, who tested positive for Covid-19 in Gelephu.

The contact tracing team had been mapping contacts since 9pm the day before. Poor use of Druk Trace app, which slowed the tracing, and impassive response from individuals who were contacted were some of the challenges faced, the press release from the PMO stated. 

Of the 210 contacts, 111 are in Gelephu, 86 in Thimphu, six in Tsirang, three in Paro, one in Zhemgang, one in Bumthang and two in Trongsa.

PCR tests for 25 primary contacts have been conducted so far and all are negative.

Lyonchhen said that if all contacts test negative for the virus and samples from the community also test negative then the lockdown would be lifted sooner. 

He said that the government would make anything to do with the Covid-19 transparent. “We cannot blame the woman who tested positive. It’s not her fault. At such times we’ve to pray for her health.”

Five people from a hotel in Rilangthang, Tsirang who came in contact with the positive case from Gelephu are under home quarantine.

On July 30, the 27-year-old woman stopped for lunch at the hotel on her way to Sarpang. All five contacts tested negative on the rapid diagnostic test and are yet to receive RT- PCR results from Gelephu hospital.

Three De-Suups volunteers in Paro who came in contact with the woman who tested positive yesterday were all quarantined. Two of them were on quarantine duty and the other came to pick them after the duty was over. 

The De-Suups gave lift to the 27-year-old woman who had completed the mandatory quarantine. She had no one coming to pick her up from the hotel and the De-Suups dropped her till the taxi parking.

Two De-Suups were put in quarantine centers in Paro yesterday and necessary rapid and PCR tests were conducted. The results came out negative. The third contact lives in Thimphu who was also tested with negative results.

A woman and her child from Gelephu are currently in a quarantine facility in Trongsa as she was identified as primary contact with the positive Covid-19 woman.

The lgG test showed negative; however, their swab samples were sent to the National Centre for Disease Control for PCR test.

The woman was in Gelephu and came into contact with the positive tested woman before her return to Trongsa on July 31.

She was in Trongsa until August 7 and left for Bumthang with her child and sister. She returned to Trongsa on August 10.

The woman had stayed in a hotel with a friend who also had a school going child.

The tests for all the secondary contacts of the suspect will be done after confirming the results of the primary contacts.

Currently, all the suspects and her friends in contact along with their children are quarantined in the same hotel they halted. Until the quarantine, the Covid-19 suspect had visited several shops in the town.

The mother and child are put into a quarantine facility as they were identified as primary contact with the Coivid-19 positive woman at Gelephu. Her sample is sent to Thimphu for testing.