A week is a long time in these COVID-19 times and this is what was exactly proven when Bhutan was sent scrambling as it on 25th March first learnt that a 54-year-old Hong Kong tourist who was in Bhutan from 3rd to 12th March tested positive for the virus on 22rd March and is currently hospitalized in Hong Kong.
A day later on 26th March Bhutan got its third COVID-19 case and first Bhutanese case after a female student, in quarantine, who came back from the UK tested positive.
Then if that was not enough on 29th March the MoH announced Bhutan’s fourth COVID-19 case in the form of a student from a European country who was already under isolation.
Hong Kong case
The Ministry of Health on 25th March placed a guide and driver under quarantine and has conducted tests after it emerged that a 54-year-old Hong Kong tourist who was in Bhutan from 3rd to 12th March tested positive for the virus on 22rd March and is currently hospitalized in Hong Kong.
The driver and guide who had prolonged contact with the tourist have all tested negative.
This brings up the possibility he may also have contracted the virus in between Bangkok and Hong Kong while going back. The Health Minister said that according to medical experts he could have got the virus on March 13th and 14th while in transit. Lyonpo said the guide and driver said he was fine while exiting Bhutan and 99 percent of cases symptoms visible within 5 to 8 days.
However, health officials are not taking any chances and the first contacts are in quarantine.
His wife in Hong Kong is yet to get tested but she is planning to get tested too.
The Center for Health Protection, Department of Health under the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government said that the tourist had a travel history to Bhutan and Bangkok from Feb 28 to March 12.
His visa details though show he was in Bhutan form 3rd to 12th March.
The Center for Health Protection said that the 54-year-old had the onset of symptoms on 19th March.
The Center says that his travel history during the incubation and infectious stage was Bhutan and Bangkok. The man is hospitalized in the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Hong Kong.
As soon as the MoH received the information on the late night of 24th March, it deployed its team to do contact tracing and got in touch with the guide and driver who were placed in quarantine by around midnight with the samples taken for testing by around 1 am.
The MoH also got a travel itinerary of the tourist.
The Health Minister Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that on 3rd March the Hong Kong tourist went to Memorial Chorten, Sabzi bazar and Town and stayed in a hotel in Thimphu
On 4th March he went to Takin zoo, Craft Bazar bazar and Tango.
On 5th March he went to Punakha Tshechu and stayed in Uma. He also went to Dochula and Gangtey.
There were 72 people in the flight with him but most of them are tourists said the minister.
Bhutan’s third COVID-19 case in the form of a female student came back to Bhutan 22nd March from the UK. She had cough and fever and so the MoH started testing her from Wednesday. The test first came positive at 8 pm and then it was reconfirmed at 10 pm said the minister who said the patient is in isolation now.
The first 11 contact of the students were the air crew and are in quarantine. Then 21 students in the same flight are already in quarantine said the minister.
The crew of 11 who went home had secondary contact of 44 people with family members and they are in self quarantine.
The COVID-19 positive student was put in a facility quarantine and not in self-isolation clarified the minister. She had a roommate who has been put in a different room.
The health minister said that the positive case was with her friends for 3 to 4 days before coming here. She was then put in the same room with the same friend as they already had prior contact, the minister said.
On the American woman the minister said she is well though with a runny nose and she has started treatment for COVID-19 symptoms management with some anti-viral regime.
Lyonpo, in response to a question said it is not possible to test all tour guides and drivers as it will be like looking for a needle in a haystack.
“We cannot test everybody without a known case of exposure. Each test costs Rs 4,500 in India and up to USD 1,000 abroad,” said the minister
Lyonpo said that Bhutan’s testing is the gold standard. “We are testing primary contacts even if WHO recommendation is not there unless they have symptoms,” said the minister.
The minister said that all the three COVID-19 cases are imported cases and there is no evidence yet of community transmission which would be a more serious issue.
Update: A fourth COVID-19 case and Bhutan’s second Bhutanese case was detected on 29th March when another female student who was under quarantine was also detected positive. She has been moved into isolation and is stable.