Govt doing a stress test of COVID-19 plans to prepare for Community Transmission

Right from even before COVID-19  hit Bhutan, the government started making various plans on the steps to take in case there is community transmission in Bhutan.

The government is currently engaged in a massive stress testing of its plans and is looking to improve it as the situation in the region deteriorates and community transmission is becoming a distinct possibility for Bhutan.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that this stress test of the plan is currently being led by the Prime Minister’s Office with the Health Ministry playing an important part.

“We are looking at what will realistically happen if there is Community Transmission tomorrow, if things are in place or not, if there are missing links, if there are weaknesses in the systems, how prepared are we and a general stress test of the plans,” said the minister.

In a bid to improve preparation a source in the government said that the Prime Minister has directed for the activation of a Logistics Desk in the Lungtenphu which will be coordinating all national logistics in case of national lockdown

The Health Minister said that there has always been discussions on the plans and now the focus is on what will happen in case of a lockdown with various potential scenarios including the 20 Dzongkhag level plans and also micro plans.

She said the focus is to link the national response plan with the local plans and look at various angles including logistics when something happens. She gave an example of what would happen to the Telecom logistics once there is a lockdown.

As a part of this MoH is conducting more than 10,000 rapid test kit tests or a sero-survey along the southern border and in Thimphu and Paro to check for COVID-19 antibodies (see main story).

Lyonpo said they are working out details like an information channel in terms of who would announce the lockdown and what will be the dos and don’ts for the people and their responsibilities.

Lyonpo said the process has started with the Prime Minister sensitizing MPs on community transmission and its wider implications.

“Prevention has worked in terms of it being so far so good but we have to be prepared for the worst when it hits us. While we have plans in place we are stress testing them,” said Lyonpo.

The minister said that in the coming weeks the focus will be educating the public about the lockdown and their roles and responsibilities in a lock down.

“This campaign will all be in an over arching umbrella called ‘Our Gyenkhu’ and it will be broken down to the institutional level and the public in terms of personal responsibilities. The MoH logo will not be used as this campaign goes beyond MoH and even Media Houses will be consulted,” said the minister. 

In terms of the Dzongkhag level plans the minister said that they were already there in every Dzongkhag with even micro-plans on how health services like vaccines will be delivered or other essential services will be delivered.

She said the focus is on the more vulnerable southern Dzongkhags and there too plans had been discussed with the Department of Disaster Management.

Lyonpo said that even which vehicles can move and what kinds of movement are allowed have been discussed.

She said that even region wise there is a Task Force for the south in Phuentsholing headed by the Home Secretary and another one in the east headed by the Land Secretary. They are also reviewing the plans.

She said that national logistics in terms of who will supply the food etc. are being looked at now.

Lyonpo said that there will be various categories of lockdowns. She said if there is an outbreak and it has not spread there will be a community quarantine while the rest of the Dzongkhag can go on. In case of a greater reach of the outbreak then there could be a dzongkhag, regional and even national lockdown.

She said that the lockdowns within themselves could either be strict lockdowns or there could be relaxed lockdowns.

The MoH as part of its plans has given itself 48 hours to contact trace everyone in case there is a local case. The MoH will then make a recommendation to the National Taskforce headed by the PM on whether a lockdown is needed.

In the meantime citizens though the ‘Our Gyenkhu’ program would get all the information they need including about pregnancy delivery etc.

In terms of how a lockdown would happen if a case is detected then minister said that it would depend on where the person has been and the person’s contacts.

One important element in case of community transmission is the requirement for a large number of testing kits.

Here the minister said an order has been placed. She, however, pointed out that the policy is not to stock up too much as well since the test kits had a shelf life and the technology keeps on changing.

Food and essentials

The Minister for Economic Affairs Loknath Sharma said that the government has now slowed down the import of essential goods as enough have been stocked up not only with the government but also wholesalers and even retailers.

Lyonpo said that there would be no difficulty in food distribution and Dzongkhags had even planned on which shops and medical shops can remain open.

He said the focus now is to map these and put these on a GPS system so that the people can be informed on which shops to go to in their locality through social media.

He said if a total lockdown happens in Thimphu then Thimphu Thromde and Dessups would be involved in distributing food and essential items to communities through strategic places.

Lyonpo said that the MoEA is joining the national level task force and the DDM to improve this implementation at the national level. The minister said that Bhutan has enough rice, oil and other essential item stocks for nine months with other items stocks being up to six months.

He said only fuel cannot be stocked up and so arrangements have been made. In terms of LPG cylinders in addition to the BoDs the government has 25,000 extra cylinders with the aim to take it up to 40,000 cylinders.

Lyonpo said that even local governments have stocked up as far as Merak-Sakteng and Dorokha where school halls have been used.

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