The Prime Minister Dasho Dr Lotay Tshering before Losar announced to the people of Bhutan that starting mid-April 2022, the country will not resort to lockdowns, even after the detection of COVID-19 cases in the community. However, the new strategies will be recommended by the Ministry of Health (MoH) Technical Advisory Group (TAG) and the National COVID-19 Taskforce (NC19TF).
An official from MoH said the health perspectives on this strategic shift would be an urgent need for the general public to strictly comply with the COVID-19 preventive measures to ensure that they can keep a check on the virus without lockdowns.
MoH will vaccinate all the eligible population with the authorized COVID-19 vaccines as a preventative measure, and Trace, Test, Treat where mild cases will be home quarantined with appropriate protocols, and isolate severe cases.
While with the announcement of no lockdowns, there were concerns for the vulnerable population where there are more than 90,000 people living with comorbidities, more than 52,000 elderly population above 65 years old, and more than 129,000 children under 12 years in the country as per the data recorded by the health ministry.
For these groups of population, the health ministry will have specific strategies to protect them and will be formally communicated later. In addition, the health ministry has been identifying and line listing the vulnerable population in the country and prioritizing COVID-19 vaccination for these groups.
The Virtual Clinical Management Services have been initiated with special importance and considerations for the vulnerable population and targeted public health advocacy for these cohorts will be continued.
The southern parts of the country remains as high risk areas, and has been detecting positive cases every day and also the southern regions have detected the highest number of positive cases from the start compared to other dzongkhags.
Chukha has so far detected 3,706 people with COVID-19 positive, Gelephu has reported 1,501 positive cases, Samdrup Jongkhar has 2,526 and Samtse has 942 as of 9 March 2022.
Prime Minister’s announcement made it clear that after the completion of ongoing exams for Classes X and XII and the roll out of vaccines for children between ages 5 and 11 from mid April, the country will not resort to lockdowns.
The shift in the strategy of COVID-19 response in the country means a change the way of managing the disease, in terms of quarantine, trace, test and treat, among others. The change in strategy is still pinned on the overriding policy of saving every life from COVID-19, as commanded by His Majesty.
The lockdown will be enforced in two special cases. One, in the case where the hospitalization rate and bed occupancy in COVID-19 isolation wards reaches the threshold point, lockdown will be enforced, and two, in the case of any new lethal variant in the future is detected, that too will trigger lockdown.
“This calls for communities and individuals to shoulder the responsibility of protecting themselves and communities at large from infection. More details will be divulged phase wise,” stated the Prime Minister Dasho Dr Lotay Tshering.