Thimphu City

How safe is Thimphu from a COVID outbreak and how will a future lockdown take place

With the recent false alarm of two cases in Kolkata and a second wave in many parts of the world the question in many minds is on the chances of the virus hitting Thimphu and what happens after that.

“It is too early to say how safe any place within Bhutan is,” said Clinical microbiologist and Technical Advisory Group member Dr Tshokey.

He said this is because Bhutanese are too mobile. However, due to no winter break for the students there may not be much traveling otherwise people have already started moving in and out of Dzongkhags.

There are already a continuous number of people coming in from the high risk areas like Phuentsholing, Gelephu and Samtse including people from all over Bhutan who are coming to Thimphu and also going out.

Dr Tshokey said after the first lockdown, the government urged all the people that every household should have a stock of supplies to last at least for a week but every time there is some rumors going out whenever there are some positive cases, people start panic buying. He said it seems people have not listened to the advice of the government to stock up at all times.

He said the chances of lockdown is every day but how the lockdown will come and its duration, will be slightly different because everyone has learned so much from the previous lockdown.

“So people should be prepared for a lockdown every day,” he added.

“We collect samples from all the quarantine centers, from flu clinic, hospitals, and samples from patients in the morning every day and samples collected are tested in the afternoon and then the report starts coming by 8 pm to 9:30 pm. When this report comes out, we are always worried that will there be a positive case or not (in the community). So people should be prepared,” said Dr Tshokey.

Dr Tshokey explained that the lockdown will depend on the extent of the exposure.

If somebody tests positive and has not gone out of her or his house and has not exposed themselves much then it will be different from somebody who has come from Phuentsholing and tests positive and is also exposed out for a long period.

If there is community transmission in Thimphu, there would probably be a restriction or lockdown for at least 48 hours to 78 hours until all the contact tracing is done and then there would be a final decision on whether to have a localized lockdown.

Citing an example, Dr Tshokey said if a positive case is from Taba, the place might be restricted for sometimes and rest of Thimphu can continue going out or in case of a wider spread Thimphu could be cut off from other districts but other districts can continue.

However, it all depends on the situation on whether it will a national lockdown or a dzongkhag wise one.

He said people should know that every country is becoming stricter with more lockdowns. Thimphu is not safe and for that matter, no places are safe from Coronavirus. That is why every individual must be very vigilant. Every evening, the ministry receives a report and if the positive case is from quarantine center then there is not much to worry about but if it is from the community then the situation will be different.

“There is no magic wand to stop the virus,” said Dr Tshokey.

He said the concept of hand washing, maintaining physical distance and wearing a face mask is still the core standard. There are vaccines but it is still far away and so people have to enforce and reinforce the practice.

“People cannot complain that they are not used to with wearing face masks. Everyone has had enough time to practice and if some say that it is uncomfortable to wear face masks then that is irresponsibility,” he said.

He said agencies, ministries, departments, schools, institutions should take all their own responsibilities.

More positive cases mean more pressure on the health workers. He said the hospital has faced shortages of health staff before COVID-19 pandemic and with this pandemic, it has affected them much more.

Before three nurses were deployed in every shift and now, only one nurse is in one shift because staff are pulled into the COVID-19 duty.

If all the health staffs are diverted to COVID-19 duty, there will more complications and death due to other diseases than COVID. So he said non-health agencies and communities should take more responsibility.

On the border he said “Personally I think the international border will remain closed even in 2021 for some time. We will continue to quarantine people coming from outside. Probably there may be some changes if people come with vaccination but it will depend on whether they have good evidence of vaccination and with good evidence of antibody development after vaccination because some vaccine are 70 percent effective and some are as high as 95 percent effective. So it does not assure anything even if one gets the vaccination. So people coming with vaccination may be not require the 21-day quarantine.”

However, he said it needs to be discussed.

He said if everybody follows the public health measures strictly and there are no border crossings and no illegal transactions then things can go back to normal slowly.

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