Thimphu flu clinic kept busy with mandatory COVID-19 testing of all shopkeepers and taxi drivers

The flu clinic in Thimphu carried out 19,826 antigen testing last year, whereby 5,984 tests was done in March 2020 during the time that the first COVID-19 case was reported in the country. The second highest number of antigen testing was carried out in December at 3,070 tests.

A huge number of people visited the flu clinic because they could not visit the OPD in JDWNRH as it was closed. Many patients had visited the flu clinic for other health reasons too.

There were 2,586 antigen tests in January and 4,188 antigen tests in February done in the first quarter of 2021. After the lockdown was lifted, the number of people visiting the flu clinic increased as the health ministry made it mandatory for all the business people and taxi drivers to get tested for COVID-19 twice in a month. Civil servants and DeSuups are also tested at the flu clinic.

The doctor-in-charge of the flu clinic, Dr Dhrupthob Sonam, said more than 80 percent of the people coming to the hospital visit the flu clinic every day. The increase in the number of non-patient visitors is due to the mandatory testing, and the number is likely to increase until the health ministry stops the mandatory testing.

According to Dr Dhrupthob Sonam, earlier this week, out of 254 people, only 40 of them had flu like symptoms and other sickness, and the rest are shopkeepers, taxi drivers and others. The two mobile flu clinics in North and South Thimphu test more than 100 people in a day. There are just a few people who voluntarily visit the clinics for the test.

However, Dr Dhrupthob said last year the maximum visitors were symptomatic and contacts of primary cases. Now the number of people with the symptoms has decreased.

Antigen test is done in the flu clinic and RT-PCR is conducted to confirm the test result. Dr Dhrupthob said that sometimes the antigen test result comes positive. Earlier this week, two persons had tested positive in the antigen test, but both of them tested negative on the RT-PCR.

He explained that the antigen test is sensitive, and therefore, produce more of false positive results. The antigen test is inexpensive and produces fast result in 15 to 30 minutes. RT-PCR test is known as a specific test, and when the result is positive then it is positive, but when a specific test comes out negative then it is called a false positive.

In a specific test, if a person has symptoms and history of travel and tests positive in an antigen test and negative in RT-PCR, then the person will be tested again to rule out that it is not a false positive.

As the disease is advancing, the test interpretation can differ. Dr Dhrupthob said initially when a person tests positive on the RT-PCR then it is positive. An antibody test is done to find out whether the patient acquired the coronavirus recently or many months back.

Bhutanese travelers have to register with the immigration office to get a letter from the office to travel out. The National COVID-19 Task Force has made it mandatory for everyone to register and the task force will then decide where a person has to pay for their COVID-19 test or not, which costs Nu 3,000 per person. A waiver can be granted on the tests and the 21 days quarantine if a person qualifies for the waiver.

Meanwhile, Dr Dhrupthob said the flu clinic has an adequate number of health staff to carry out the testing. Ministry of Health is planning to construct of a semi-concrete structure to accommodate the flu clinic.

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