Countries around the world are finding out that one of the best strategies to deal with the COVID-19 virus is to conduct large numbers of tests followed by contact tracing, quarantine, isolation and treatment.
The World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros A. Ghebreyesus himself gave the message of ‘test, test and test’ on 16th March following similar advice by doctors in Wuhan, China.
Bhutan has conducted 5,100 tests according to the Health Minister Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo. Of this around 1,200 are RT-PCR tests which take longer and the rest around 3,890 or so are rapid tests. This number includes around 2,500 tests for DeSuups.
This is the highest in the South Asian region when compared to the population. Bhutan’s test becomes even more than when extrapolated to tests per million population.
By comparison as of 10th April 1 pm, Nepal has tested 55 per million, Bangladesh has tested 34 per million, India has tested 129 per million and Sri Lanka has tested 152 per million.
So when it comes to the region Bhutan is doing well and even better than Thailand at 1,030 per million or Myanmar at 26 per million.
However, when compared internationally Bhutan can still do a little better.
As of 10th April 1 pm, Mauritius has done 5,292 tests per million, Malta has done 31,100, Cyprus has done 11,822, Bahrain has done 32,379, Lithuania has done 13,243, Iceland has done 95,718, Singapore has done 11,110, Norway has done 22,326, Ireland has done 10,734, South Korea has done 9,812, USA and Spain are at around 7000 plus, Italy has done 14,114 tests and Germany has done 15,730 tests per million.
An additional factor is that while Bhutan has tested 5,100 people it may have to test another 5,000 or so Bhutanese who are coming back and this itself entails around 5,000 more tests.
The MoH currently has around 3,900 rapid test kits remaining and enough material for around 4500 RT-PCR tests.
However, there is good news for Bhutan as the country will be getting around 100,000 test kits according to the Foreign Minister Lyonpo Tandi Dorji.
Lyonpo said that while Bhutan has placed orders (27,200 test kits) it will also be receiving tests kits from various developmental partners.
Lyonpo said, “When developmental partners and others ask us what they can do for us, we ask them for test kits and PPEs instead of any financial assistance.”
As an example, Lyonpo said that South Korea’s Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) usually gives USD 200,000 in annual grant to Bhutan in the form of vehicles. This time around the Foreign Ministry has requested for tests kits and so KOICA will be giving Bhutan 17,000 rapid test kits. Similarly, other countries like Singapore, USA, Canada and others are expected to help provide test kits.
Of the around 100,000 test kits around half or 50,000 are almost here while the rest are on their way according to the minister.
Bhutan has also requested for PPEs for protecting medical staff and these are also expected to be sent.
The Foreign Minister said that the Rapid Test Kits have a specificity of above 90 percent plus. He said that if a person tests positive in the test then a re-test is done using the more detailed RT-PCR test.
The Health Minister said that unlike many others Bhutan has been testing asymptomatic people since other countries do not do such tests due to the scarcity of testing kits.
She said that of the 100,000 tests kits around 30,000 may be the RT-PCR tests.
Lyonpo said that currently people coming from high risk countries are tested at the airport.
The minister said that with so many tests done so far and with no local cases it is an indication that there is no local transmission yet.
Lyonpo said that once the test kits come in, testing will be further ramped up and it will be done based on risk profiling. She said that tests could be done at the point of entry itself. She said that more tests could also be done to rule out any local transmission.
The minister said that the tests kits could be used to also open up certain economic activities.
She said, “For example we could test a whole area like Haa and find no cases there and then they can continue with their normal activities.”