Health Minister Dechen Wangmo

Community transmission is inevitable: MoH Minister

A four pillar strategy to prevent community transmission

The Health Minister Dechen Wangmo on the sidelines of the COVID-19 press brief sounded a stark but important warning that the community transmission of COVID-19 in Bhutan is inevitable and only a matter of time.

She said the only unknowns are on when it will come, where it will come and how it will come.

The minister on a personal note also said that even if the schools reopen she would not send her eight-year-old son to school given the risks and many unknowns around the virus.

She said there is still no conclusive answers on how the virus transmits, what the vaccine is and how it jumped from animals to humans.

The minister made this comment in the backdrop of a worsening caseload in the number of cases and deaths both internationally and in the region.

As schools reopen and as the country adapts itself to the new normal, the Ministry of Health (MoH) has developed a community transmission mitigation strategy.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that it is very important to stop the spread of community transmission of COVID-19 in the country.

The goal of the four pillars strategy is to prevent or slow the spread of coronavirus to protect all individuals, especially those who are at an increased risk due to severe illness and underlying medical conditions, and to minimize morbidity and mortality of COVID-19 in the community level, such as schools, workplaces, and healthcare organizations.

It also aims to empower institutions and community to implement the mitigation strategy, emphasizing individual responsibility for implementing recommended personal-level actions, minimizing social and economic disruptions, and ensuring access to essential health care and other social services.

Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said under the first pillar, testing is to be intensified to prevent community transmission. Testing has also started in Gelephu in addition to Mongar, Thimphu and Phuentsholing. RT-PCR test is now done in the four regional hospitals. Earlier it was just RCDC where RT-PCR test was done.

Lyonpo said that a new Antigen Testing, which is done through nose and mouth, will show the result in 30 minutes. If the Antigen Test is negative then the RT-PCR test will also be negative. It is very effective in emergency use, said Lyonpo.

The Rapid Test Kits is available in all the hospitals in the country, and RT-PCR is made available in the four regional hospitals and Antigen Testing will be available in the border areas in the first phase. People will be trained on how to conduct the Antigen Testing, especially in the southern borders and in a few weeks’ time, Antigen Testing services will be provided in the other dzongkhags as well.

The second pillar will cover the need for enhanced surveillance, where the identified staff in schools is trained on how to take care of the students if there are cases and to report any kinds of symptoms so that testing can be done.

Offices have been asked to identify COVID-19 focal people. This includes movement of people and transport.

Another one is the passive health based surveillance. Lyonpo said any person with flu symptoms coming in the hospital is to be tested immediately.

Third, is to enhance surge capacity. In case there is community transmission, and the number of cases increases, and if the patients do not have symptoms then they will be kept in isolation centers and not in hospitals.

And if there are serious cases, then they will be taken to the COVID-19 wards in the hospital.

DeSuups will take care of those asymptomatic and not serious COVID-19 cases. And symptomatic cases will be brought to COVID-19 ward. Lyonpo said the hospital has 635 COVID-19 beds, in severe cases there are 54 ICU beds and adequate ventilators in the four regional hospitals.

The fourth pillar will promote behavior change, like social distancing, wearing facemasks, washing hands, and not gathering in groups. MoH will focus on the four pillars and inform the people of strategy through 553 election boards across the country including television, print and social media.

Lyonpo said that the currently there is no cure or a vaccine for coronavirus and so utmost care must be taken.

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