Paro International Airport

Measures enhanced at border and airport as Omicron gets closer

Quarantine period increased to 21 days in Phuentsholing

The security along the southern borders and Paro International Airport are being further enhanced to stop importation of Omicron variant. Various initiatives are being undertaken as preventive measures.

This comes as many countries in the world are seeing a surge of Omicron cases which is now 2.4 percent of all global COVID-19 cases, and is also surging in India with 101 detected cases in 11 states including neighboring West Bengal.

India’s Health Ministry in a briefing on Friday said that the Omicron variant is spreading rapidly and asked people to follow protocol. It said that going by the spread in UK and France, if India had a similar spread then cases could touch 1.4 to 1.3 million a day.

This also comes as international epidemiologist Dr Eric Feigl-Ding pointed to data from England and Denmark showing a faster hospitalization phenomenon with Omicron than Delta calling into doubt theories about a ‘milder Omicron.’

A study by Imperial College London did not find any evidence that Omicron is of lower severity than Delta judged by either the proportion of people testing positive who report symptoms or by the proportion of people seeking hospital care according to the Financial Times.

In Bhutan, frontliners, containment centers, people in the quarantine and people in general are being advocated to on the risk of the Omicron virus. They are strictly monitoring and making sure that all the protocols are strictly followed by everyone.

Director General Karma Wangchuk, Department of Air Transport, Paro said that there is not much change in what they have been doing, but they have a taskforce team visiting once every two weeks. They in turn monitor and inspect if right procedures are followed at the airport, he added.

He said, “With a chance of spread of virus, we do not allow passengers to enter the terminal building. We line them up outside. The loaders in full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) will put their languages out. The passengers will than identify their language and head towards the bus who would wait near the flight.”

They will be directly taken to quarantine centers and all the formalities will be followed once they complete their quarantine. Thereby there is no personal contact between the airport staff and the passengers and this is the safer measures they have come up with, he said. 

They are being extra careful now keeping in mind the incident that took place in the past where the bus driver and for that matter the airport were blamed for spreading the virus in the community. However, the previous incident took place outside airport, he added.

None of the staff are allowed to go near the aircrafts or meet with anyone on duty. Those who are on duty (the loaders and crews) stay in the containment zone.

Once their duties are over, they will have to stay in the containment zone for 14 days. After that they will have to follow health protocol whereby they have to undergo 14 days’ quarantine. In total, they will not come in contact with anyone for four weeks, he said.

He further said, “With an Advance Passenger Information (API) system in place, they have linked with airlines and the moment the check-in is done on the other side, we will be notified. The immigration officials here will have full information on passengers on board.”  

If things are not taken seriously from grass root level then there is a chance of lapses, he said, “With the taskforce monitoring us, they will point our weaknesses according to which we will have the chance to discuss the flaws on time. We rectify those lapses that they point out.”

Domestic flights have increased rapidly in recent times whereby it’s difficult to get a seat sometimes. When it comes to international flights, the flight from Delhi is full most of the time.

They have flights flying from Delhi, Bangkok, Kolkata and sometimes from Singapore. Some come through private charter flights.

Meanwhile, Chair of Southern COVID_19 Taskforce Home Secretary Sonam Wangyel said that there are various Points of Entry along the border whereby the chances of the importation of virus is high, irrespective of variants of virus.

He said, “We see the possibility of importation of virus through three ways. Firstly, a porous border because a person might cross the border and come in anytime. Secondly, through containment centers where transshipment of goods takes place and thirdly, through people who are into illegal activities.”

He further added that they have visited the borders and are in process of securing it from the importation of virus. As preventive measures, some shrubbery have been cleared, walls are being repaired and paths have been blocked.

In addition, they are in constant touch with the foreign workers and Bhutanese returnees who are in quarantine virtually asking them to be cautious at all times.

“We have divided ourselves into 15 small groups. Most of them will go to Pasakha Industrial areas to advocate on securing porous border and we meet frontliners virtually. Likewise, we will cover all the containments centers,” he added.

With various initiatives in place, he said that they are hoping to stop Omicron virus from entering Bhutan. However, it is going to be difficult and challenging as the variant is highly transmissible, he said.

Nevertheless, before it comes into the country, they are hoping to get fully prepared and almost 50 percent of battle against the Omicron virus is taken care by then.

The initiative and preparedness program applies to all the other Southern Dzongkhags and Dzongdas are taking the lead in advocating to the people on the new variant. Duty deployment at vulnerable places will be enhanced and new Out-Posts are being built. 

Meantime, he said, “We had to increase the number of days in quarantine to 21 days again because we do not want to take any risk by keeping it at 14 days. We have realized that even if a person received both the doses, it is possible that a person will be carrying the virus.”

In recent times, a foreign laborer from the quarantine tested positive whereby almost all of his primary contacts tested positive. Six of them had received both the doses of vaccine and they still tested positive.

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