Photo: Zhung Dratshang

COVID-19 situation in Wangduephodrang and Punakha coming under control says TF

Shortage of quarantine facilities are a challenge

Since the lockdown began more than two weeks ago, the country has noticed an increase in COVID-19 positive cases.

According to the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA) Secretary and also the Chairman of Wangdue, Punakha and Gasa COVID-19 Task Force (WPGCTF), Karma Tshering, the COVID-19 situation in Wangdue, as of today, is generally under control with the utmost priority being placed on detecting the cases at the earliest time possible through testing, contact tracing of the primary contacts, isolation and treatment of case.

A majority of the cases reported are from the primary contacts, and a few cases from the community.

Most cases were detected from red zones/red buildings/red clusters except for a few cases detected in Bangtoedkha chiwog under Rubesa gewog, which was a yellow zone.

He said that the essential goods and services in the red and yellow zones are facilitated by the identified dedicated teams.

“In the red zones, the services and goods are delivered at the door steps. In yellow zones, the shops were identified at the strategic points within the zones for shopping of essential items. Only one member from a family is allowed to do shopping and is monitored by the Gewog Task Force. People are also allowed to attend to the household chores including the agriculture and livestock services,” he said.

Depending on the evolving evidence and epidemiological situation in different colour zones, the Task Force has already initiated the transition and testing plan since 30 January.

The team has completed the community testing in green zones and collected more than 235 samples from the households in Phangyul gewog, Nyishog gewog, Bjednag gewog, Nahi gewog, Rubesa gewog, Athang gewog bordering yellow and red zones.

He said, “We are happy to inform that all the samples tested negative. Gaining the confidence from the testing outcome in the green zones, WPGCTF initiated the safe transition and testing in yellow zones from 3 – 4 February 2022. As a precautionary measure, the community testing started from fewer households to more households in the yellow zones. The samples from one individual member from all households in yellow zones will be collected. The notification was sent to the public on the same.”

He said that based on the community testing outcome from yellow zones, the transition and testing plans in red zones will be prepared.

In terms of monitoring of the COVID-19 situation, the Task Force has been keeping everyone on the alert, in terms of detecting case, testing, contract tracing, isolation and treatment. In addition, the security personnel are monitoring the measures stringently based on the different colour zones.

He said that the key challenges in managing the containment of COVID-19 outbreak, among others, are the unavailability of facility for isolation of cases, unavailability of quarantine facilities for primary contacts and travelers, high risk of spread to other dzongkhags, and most positive cases are asymptomatic contributing to silent spread of local transmission.

Punakha Dzongdag, Thuji Tshering, said that the main red zone in Punakha is the Lobesa region, and the service delivery to the red building is done in accordance with the standard operating procedure (SOP). The other people that are not in the red building area can use their movement cards to go to the designated stores for shopping.

He said that for some chiwogs in Lobesa, essential supplies are delivered to the chiwog centers and specified shops, after which the village focal person picks it up and delivers it.

“And, in order to prevent people from traveling to the core region of Khuruthang unnecessarily, a service center has been established in Lobesa, where we provide medical services, security, and critical supplies,” he said.

He said that the TAG is directing them and advising on how to do the tests, including where and how many samples to be collected, and they are following their instructions and people under quarantine are, likewise adhering to the SOP.

“There are many stranded individuals, and much confusion. Nevertheless, we are almost through with assisting them, and we are doing our best to resolve the situation. We used to handle it manually, but now, like all other dzongkhags, we’ve implemented the ePass system, and we’ve had a lot of people registering, so it’s going well,” he said.

To confirm on which region the travellers are coming from, for example, whether they are coming from the green zone, the dzongkhags have requested the gewog administration to verify if they are coming from their area.

“So when they perform the verification, we don’t have any problems, although we did have a difficulty at first, but we’ve now figured it out,” he said.

He added that the quarantine space in the dzongkhags is overburdened as there are many people wanting to go into quarantine to get out of the red zone.

Thimphu Dzongda, Dorji Tshering, said that everything is under control in Kabesa under the Kawang Gewog, where maximum cases were reported.

The dzongkhag has the agriculture and livestock extension officers in the gewog, as well as a Bolero for essential service delivery in the red building. Shops are open in other regions, and individuals are free to move around for shopping.

The containment center has the Gup, Mangmi, and Tshogpa managing the logistics. Initial troubles, like distributing LPG filled cylinders due to a scarcity of supplies, has been resolved within a few days.

He said that the issue is primarily with stranded passengers who want to move quickly, which is addressed by 1010. “We were getting a lot of calls requesting for assistance with movement to other dzongkhags, “ he said.

He added, “We had previously identified shops and other service delivery agents in the region and how to proceed, so having a subsequent lockdown was not an issue.”

There is a committee that goes around the gewogs in Thimphu to see whether shops are charging excessively high prices, and there is also a committee that monitors and observes the adherence to COVID-19 protocols at containment centers.

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