18 Dzongkhags unlock as 52,000 tests come out negative

Mass testing in Thimphu and Paro to unlock them in phases

22,000 mass tests in Thimphu and Paro are negative so far

With total of 52,000 people in 18 dzongkhags testing negative through mass screening (including the tests conducted in the flu clinics) National COVID-19 Task Force unlocked 18 Dzongkhags minus Thimphu and Paro.

In these 18 Dzongkhags among others, all schools, colleges and institutes will reopen with strict monitoring of the health of students and staff.

Inter-dzongkhag movements will also be allowed. Travelers, however, must register with the Check Post Management System prior to the travel.

Except for those entities which pose high risks, the shops, offices and private businesses in those districts can also open. Construction works can also resume.

Meanwhile, in Thimphu, the Ministry of Health (MoH) has started conducting mass testing from 14th of January in Thimphu at the household level. 5000 tests were conducted on Thursday and 5,430 tests on Friday and there were no positive cases were reported among them. Tests will go on till 19th January.

Based on tests the North megazone, comprising Dechencholing, Taba, Pamtsho, Jungshina, Lanjopakha, Hejo, Samtenling, Begana, Changtagang and Kabesa were unlocked into the yellow zone from 17th January

12,000 tests have been conducted in Paro so far and there were no positive cases. Paro initiated easing of lockdown from 17th January.

Naja, Dogar, Doteng and Tsento gewogs entered the green phase and witnessed similar relaxations as the 18 Dzongkhags. The remaining six gewogs and Paro throm turned to yellow zones.

Meanwhile, Shaba-Bara under Shaba Gewog, Woochu below Luni Gewog Office and Khangkhu school premises under Wangchang Gewog will continue to be under strict surveillance for the next seven days.

The South Megazone which starts from Olarongchhu workshop and covers all areas until STCBL fuel site unlocked into the yellow zone. It includes Tsalumarphey, Tshalu Barp, Semtokha, Babesa, Serbithang, Debsi, Gangchey- Nyezergang, and RTC.

Thi is after more than 5,785 COVID-19 tests were carried out in these areas recorded negative.

The objective for conducting mass testing at the household level is to assess the COVID-19 situation in the city and to facilitate the phase-wise unlocking of Thimphu.

The Foreign Minister Lyonpo Tandi Dorji told The Bhutanese that the mass testing will allow Thimphu to open up super zones where people test negative and so they can come under the unlocking progress. This is while the more affected areas with cases can still be in the red zone and under lockdown.

 “Under the His Majesty’s guidance, Bhutan has come this far and also without the public’s cooperation, this would not have been a success,” said the health minister who seemed upbeat with the results so far.

Bhutan is doing well in testing as compare to other countries. She said no country in the world has conducted COVID-19 testing at the household level.

Lyonpo said testing is very important in order to know whether they are infected or not so that’s why the ministry focused more on testing, not only during lockdown but way before that.

The ministry has conducted 135,000 tests since the first day of lockdown, averaging 5,500 tests per day.

The Health minister also said that in the future a national lockdown will not be extended or enforced with just one or two cases, but they will be picked up and sent to quarantine.

She said it is also important for the people to adapt with the safety measure by using facemasks, social distancing and hand washing as this can help curb the spread of virus. Health Minister said for COVID-19, non-pharmaceutical preventive measures are the best interventions which the ministry has been advocating since day one.

Only one individual from every household with any form of identification document (CID, Resident Permit, Driver’s license etc) will be tested for the mass testing in Thimphu.

Residents residing in Red House or Building. Primary contacts who have been notified by the health ministry. Individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 infection and individuals who got tested during the lockdown period will not be tested.

Lyonpo said that people are recovering in large batches and they will be returning to their homes, communities and workplaces and so she requested the public to exhibit solidarity and not practice any derogatory or discriminatory acts against them.

Unlocking 18 Dzongkhags

The National COVID-19 Taskforce (NC19TF) informed the nation that the persistent efforts of containing the spread of COVID-19 saw fruition, as the lockdown has proven to be effective and the disease spread has been contained to a great extent.

It said recent epidemiological evidence gives them the confidence to “unlock” the 18 Dzongkhags from existing restrictions starting 16th January 2020. This will allow the people in those districts to return to life within the COVID-19 norms that prevailed before this lockdown.

The decision is purely based on the screening programs initiated in the last three days, where almost 18,000 tests and several confirmatory ones were carried out in the districts to rule out any presence of the disease.

For the first phase of unlocking in the districts on January 6, which allowed movement within the dzongkhag, each district conducted a minimum of 300 tests on random samples. Since further unlocking meant more tests, the number was doubled by way of sweeping the districts for any indication.

These are in addition to other screenings carried out in the districts, that add up to more than 52,000 tests since the nationwide lockdown on December 23, 2020. Since then, over 1,35,000 tests have been conducted in the country altogether.

Even for areas that were indicated as yellow zones, intensive contact tracings, isolation of the cases from the community, and additional sweeps were carried out.

With all results showing negative, it served as an epidemiological evidence to conclude that the 18 districts are free of COVID-19.

However, alongside the easing of more restrictions, the health ministry has been instructed to heighten the surveillance throughout the country to pick slightest of early outbreaks.

The NC19TF has issued notification to regional taskforces and district authorities elaborating relaxations of activities, with reminders for implementation within COVID norms. The respective taskforces will decide and announce the implementation dates.

Thimphu and Paro

Mass testing of the population is being carried out in Thimphu and Paro as a major step to reinforce scanning of the disease in the community.

Announcements will be made as and when the screenings are complete.

It said meanwhile, with all other districts clean, it is evident that the possible source of cases would be the high risks areas, and Thimphu or Paro for now. Which is why all efforts will be made to seal leakages with proper monitoring and surveillance protocols, including quarantine.

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