Photo Courtesy: Bhutan Peaceful Tours & Treks

Is Thimphu safe from COVID-19

It does appear that, currently, the capital city and the other low-risk dzongkhags are safe and free of COVID-19 due to stringent protocols maintained in the southern regions, which has the four major points of entries, in Samdrup Jongkhar, Gelephu, Samtse and Phuentsholing including many minor grounds of entries.

A member of National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NI-TAG) said Thimphu is in low-risk zone, and the source of infection to be concerned about is mainly the Paro airport.

Since sealing the borders is impossible, that is why all the people coming from the high-risk places have to stay in a quarantine where all mandatory testing is done. The people working in the import and export facilities operate in containment mode. Due to strong surveillance in the border areas, Thimphu and other low-risk areas are safe.

The first COVID-19 community case in Thimphu occurred in December 2020 where the persons with the coronavirus had arrived at the Paro airport. The loopholes at the Paro airport were fixed after the scare. With all the COVID-19 protocols being followed stringently, the chances of the virus entering is very low. The good surveillance and quarantine measures will be rendered useless if the COVID-19 safety protocol is breached.

“We can say that Thimphu is safe as of now because if there is an outbreak then it should be detected by now. Also students in all the low-risk areas are tested every twice in a week, and all the health staff and travelers are tested too,” said the NI-TAG member.

According to NI-TAG, if any case from the community is detected in Thimphu then there will be no lockdown. But again, it all depends on the situation and movement of the people. However, if there is the movement of positive cases then there might be blackout to enable the process of contact tracing, but no lockdown.

“I don’t see the long lockdown which Thimphu had witnessed in early days,” said NI-TAG.

Despite the stringent COVD-19 safety protocols, it is no surprise to see the positive cases in the southern regions as there are frequent breaches in the protocols.

There are voices from the public requesting the government to mete out punishment to those who breach the protocols. However, the NI-TAG member said punishment is not a solution, instead there should be a strong advocacy in place, which heightens a person’s sense of responsibility to follow the protocol. However, there have been many people who were penalized for breaching protocols.

Since the COVID-19 virus keeps on mutating, and now with the Delta Variant, which has high transmissibility rate, the current protocol or quarantine may not work. So, sometimes, it is hard to say ‘breaching of protocols’, the NI-TAG member added.

“The influx of foreign workers is huge and they may have little idea about the protocols, so this is one of the reasons the protocols are being breached. So what had worked in the earlier days, may not work this time,” the member said.

Although low-risk places are safe, Bhutan is not safe until the whole world is safe, so every individual must adhere to the COVID-19 safety protocols and follow non-pharmaceutical interventions.

Meanwhile, the country has recorded 2,596 positive cases, so far, with 7 active cases, 2,586 recovered and 3 deaths.

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