Says same measures whatever the variant
With a rise of cases in Phuentsholing and with cases in Samdrupjongkhar, Samtse and now Merak-Sakteng there has been increasing rumors of a National lockdown being planned by the government and the Central COVID-19 Task Force.
However, the Foreign Minister and member of the Task Force Dr Tandi Dorji said that neither the Task Force nor the government is planning a National Lockdown due to the above cases.
He said that a lockdown will be imposed only in the case of a high risk of community transmission spread across Dzongkhags.
Lyonpo said that it will be smart of people to prepare for a lockdown at any moment based on the cases or transmission but the Task Force definitely has not planned a lockdown at the moment.
The minister said that they are monitoring the current outbreaks closely and tracing the contacts.
He said if cases are there in a community only then that community can come under lockdown, but if there is a wider spread then an entire Dzongkhag can also come under a lockdown.
The minister said that they had their Taskforce meeting on Thursday and there was no agenda of a national lockdown nor was it even discussed.
The minister said that even though the outbreaks in Phuentsholing had multiple clusters it did not lead to many cases as they were expecting thousands of cases for so many clusters.
Lyonpo said that as a precaution large numbers of tests were conducted in Phuentsholing with over 30,000 tests. He said that tests are going on in other places like Thimphu with frontline workers, school students, highway travelers, shops and others being tested.
Though Bhutan is yet to get the results of the genetic sequencing of the COVID-19 cases there is strong suspicion within the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NI-TAG) that the highly transmissible variant B.1.617 also known as the Indian variant has entered Bhutan which may explain the rise in cases despite a first dose vaccination.
Early reports from the UK suggest that the Indian variant which has spread to 44 countries could well be even more transmissible that the UK variant there leading to an uptick in cases despite an impressive vaccination drive there.
The UK is ramping up its vaccination drive and even reversing plans to bring about relaxations mainly due to concerns over the B.1.617 variant.
In Singapore, the government there also saw an uptick in cases due to the B.1.617 variant and it is reporting that more children are being impacted this time.
The Foreign Minister said that whatever the variant Bhutan’s measures like 21 days’ quarantine, sealed borders, masking up, social distancing etc are meant to protect against all variants.
He said that other countries are more worried because many of them do not have the strict measures in place like Bhutan and they also do not do lockdowns like Bhutan.
Lyonpo said that Bhutan will be putting in place its gene sequencing facility with some technical assistance after the second dose as they then want to keep a track of variants and how well the vaccine is working against new variants.