Photo: Bhutan Real Estate

Low positivity rate of 8% in Thimphu and 7% for rest of country so far is good news: TAG

Real picture could emerge 2 to 3 weeks after opening up all offices and schools

With the restrictions opening up in phases an encouraging sign for health officials is that the positivity rate for the whole country is only around 7% while it is 8% for Thimphu.

Positivity rate means the percentage of people testing positive out of 100 who come for testing.

Technical Advisory Group (TAG) member Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that currently there are around 3,500 tests being done across the country with around 1,500 tests per day being done in Thimphu.

He said that it has been around two weeks since the country has been opened up and Thimphu has been opening in stages and they are happy to see that the positivity rate is not gone very high.

He said that if the positivity rate does not go very high then it will lead to other restrictions being opened up even faster by the PMO.

Dr Sonam also pointed out that apart from the low positivity rate another important indicator is the hospitalization rate.

As per the national dashboard on Sunday there are only 12 moderate to severe cases.

He said the beds occupied in the COVID hospitals in Thimphu with around 20 patients and others in the southern Dzongkhags are not those who need hospitalization but they are being used more as isolation facilities.

At the same time Dr Sonam also said that the current positivity rate may not reflect the true nature of the transmission.

He said that the majority of tests in Thimphu was to do with the requirement to test before leaving Thimphu for other Dzongkhags and only a small number of symptomatic people are coming forward. Apart from that drivers who move across Dzongkhags do antigen tests.

He said this may have to do with the requirement to seal an apartment for 7 days if someone tests positive which is discouraging people to come forward for tests. He said that symptomatic people are encouraged to come for testing but they are not showing up much.

Another factor is that around 46% of the positive cases are asymptomatic while even the remaining 54% symptomatic ones mainly have mild symptoms. The most common symptoms are sore throat, head ache, mild fever and some complain of an itching sensation in the respiratory tract.

Dr Sonam at the same time said that many other countries followed a similar approach with only people who are symptomatic showing up for testing.

He said the true rate of the infection would be known around two or three weeks after all the offices and schools are open.

Dr Sonam said that the low bed occupancy is due to the vaccines as Bhutan has given vaccines at the right time with even the booster doses being given.

He said that in the major thromde areas in the south around 70 to 80 percent would have been infected by now with many not even knowing it.

Another reason that Bhutan is lucky is that it had directly got the more infectious BA.2 type of Omicron which means Bhutan unlike Europe and other parts can avoid the Omicron surge followed by the BA.2 surge.

At the moment, after the 7 days sealing a family will be released without testing. The government has also implemented the 7-day home quarantine for travelers from high to low risk Dzongkhags from 21 March (see story on pg 14).

In terms of the home travel quarantine those wanting to travel to Thimphu from the south must register with their respective task forces and do a test one day before entering a 7-day home quarantine. Of those who test negative around 10 percent will be tested again and anyone testing positive will have to quarantine another 7 days and will be released without testing.

Those who test positive on day zero will not have to be tested again after the 7 days.

There have been reports of asymptomatic people who come for testing to flu clinics being turned back saying they only test symptomatic people or travelers.

Dr Sonam said the focus is on testing symptomatic people but if asymptomatic people really want to test due to some exposure or other pressing reasons then they can contact TAG.

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