During the virtual press conference hosted by the PMO, the issue regarding the shortage of quarantine and isolation facilities was raised. The same issue was raised by the Health Minister the previous day, stating that some first contact cases are in home quarantine due to shortage of quarantine facilities in the country.
To which, Cabinet Secretary Sangay Duba assured that throughout twenty dzongkhags there are enough hotels and back up facilities to be used as quarantine facilities.
“For Thimphu it won’t be a problem, but for places like Phuentsholing it will be a problem if the cases increase. For now, we are managing with the existing facilities for quarantine and isolation. Similarly, we are going to utilize the hotels in Punakha to quarantine those from Wangdue district. In short, there shouldn’t be an acute shortage as we could always use hotels from nearby districts, but in the worst case scenario we are prepared to accommodate people in non-hotel facilities like schools although such places will need a lot of uplifting in order to make them hospitable, “said Sangay Duba.
Technical Advisory Group member Dr Tshokey said, “We initially started with four national quarantine centers namely those in Gelephu, Mongar, Phuentsholing and Thimphu which was more than enough in the beginning. But later on during the two outbreaks, we had to use a lot of hotels from Thimphu, Phuentsholing and Gelephu. During the last Jomotshangkha outbreak, we managed by using community halls and central schools as quarantine facilities. Based on our experience with managing asymptomatic and mild cases, every district needs to identify non-hospital based quarantine facilities which are mainly hotels so that cases can be handled within that district only.”
Dr. Tshokey added that the only problem currently faced is the high transmissibility of omicron virus which might require extra hotels and schools to be identified as quarantine facilities while keeping oxygen concentrators, ventilators, monitoring devices and other necessities in check, but for now everything is manageable.
To supplement what Dr. Tshokey said, Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that there are 64 routine ICU ventilators in the country to be used for diseases other than COVID and that there are 26 ICU beds with ventilators dedicated specifically for COVID in the country.
The Prime Minister however said that no nation has ever designed enough facilities in case of natural disaster which results in mass casualty of people. Lyonchhen said that Bhutan has about 7 lakhs population and if about 1 lakh gets infected, there wouldn’t be enough ICU beds, quarantine facilities and medical supplies to treat such huge numbers of people hence the reason that living with virus is out of option unless Bhutan wants to see its young and old people lost to the virus.
Lyonchhen added that it is not important how many facilities Bhutan has, but how it manages to cope with the virus and prevent its spread.
Regarding the number of children infected by the virus, Dr Tshokey said that there were 19 cases below 12 years of age. The doctor further said that children are at more risks of adverse health effects of the virus since they are unvaccinated.