Drop in COVID-19 testing not showing true picture of infection rate

As the Ministry of Health (MoH) has now changed the testing protocols and is conducting less number of tests in Phase II compared to Phase I, the true infections figures are not available. 

More than 40 percent of the cases are reported to be asymptomatic, so people are not aware that they are infected, and furthermore, many other symptomatic cases are mild, therefore, people may not come forward for testing, said an official from MoH.

However, the MoH official said the COVID-19 testing is not entirely done away with. MoH encourages the Rapid Antigen Testing (RAT) for symptomatic individuals. He said many of them come forward for testing at their designated Flu Clinics or PHCs so that they can know their status and follow proper COVID-19 prevention protocols.

Furthermore, MoH also carries out regular passive surveillance for hospital admissions, to get a fair idea on the degree of outbreak in the communities.

The official reiterated that the ministry conducts passive surveillance through random testing. However, with the full relaxation measures in place, the transmission will rapidly spread across the country, and it is inevitable to see an increased number of cases in the coming days till it reaches the peak of infection in the population.

In order to keep an eye on how the virus is spreading in the community, MoH is monitoring the daily trend of test positivity rate of Rapid Antigen Test (RAT), which is conducted through the passive surveillance strategy. The magnitude of RAT positivity rate in the districts and thromdes indicate the extent of spread of COVID-19 in the community.

The MoH official said though the government is providing extra protection to vulnerable populations (VP) in the country, still then, these groups of population are at risk.

Furthermore, evidence continues to strongly show that people with comorbidities and elderly are vulnerable to severe illness or death from COVID-19. Even in Bhutan, almost all deaths from COVID-19 occurred in people with comorbidities.

Therefore, MOH strongly recommends those individuals with comorbidities and those who fall under VP be taken care in the reverse isolation facility, or they should minimize interaction with the general public and follow COVID-19 preventive measures, especially in the next 4 to 6 weeks when there is a rapid transmission in our communities.

COVID-19 positive patients are transferred to the designated COVID-19 isolation hospitals in the country. Currently, the country has a National COVID-19 Hospital in Taba, Thimphu, RIGSS Isolation in Phuentsholing, CRRH Isolation Hospital in Gelephu and ERRH Isolation Hospital in Mongar.

Patients admitted in the COVID-19 isolation hospitals are usually moderate to severe cases, mostly with medical conditions.  Asymptomatic and milder cases are managed either in the isolation facilities or home, depending on the severity and presence of comorbid conditions.

Meanwhile, the country has so far reported 42,856 COVID-19 cases, of which a total of 23,705 male and 19,151 female have been infected. 33,132 people have recovered, and 14 COVID-19 deaths have been recorded. Currently, there are 9,710 active cases with 6 severe or moderate cases.

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