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Southern Bhutan in Red Alert

By Phurpa Wangmo

Even as the Prime Minister assured the nation that all eligible population will be given the second jab of vaccination within the next four weeks, the country’s southern border towns have seen heightened pace of covid-19 infections over the days.

The country, as of yesterday, had 261 active cases with majority of the cases or more than 90 percent being reported in the southern provinces of Samdrup Jongkhar, Phuentsholing and Samtse.    

A total of 82 individuals tested positive for Covid-19 in the last three days in Jomotshangkha Drungkhag under Samdrupjongkhar.

As of Friday, nine villages under three gewogs in Jomotshangkha completed their first round of mass testing. A total of 152 individuals turned positive from around 1,700 samples that were tested in the communities.

Officials from the Ministry of Health said that all the cases have had contact with each other directly or indirectly in five successive social gatherings (in three communities) before the lockdown on May 21.

Additional sources from Ministry of Health claim the task force in Samdrupjongkhar has established four isolation facilities near the respective villages based on the catchment area to isolate all positive cases.

The Jomotshangkha Covid-19 Task Force had declared a complete lockdown in Jomotshangkha dungkhag following eight positive cases detected earlier on May 21. All eight people who tested positive were primary contacts of the 60-year-old man who tested positive for Covid-19 in Merak gewog on May 19.

The contacts had gone to Merak to attend a funeral of a relative when they had come into direct contact with the primary infected person who is a resident of Merak.

Elsewhere in Phuentsholing, even after almost a month-and-half of lockdown, the frontier town continues to report Covid-19 positive cases from the community.

On May 22, Phuentsholing was divided into three mega zones. People were allowed to move within their respective mega zones but not enter other zones.

Until Friday, Phuentsholing recorded a total of 210 cases out of which 27 are frontline workers.

Meanwhile, in northern Bhutan with 12 more people testing positive for Covid-19 on May 26, the total number of positive cases in Merak gewog in Trashigang has now increased to 32.

Health officials said all primary and secondary contacts were within pasture quarantine and do not have contact with people in proper Merak. They are still conducting contact tracing and investigating the cases.

While Trashigang has declared a strict lockdown of the region, the Sakteng Drungkhag incident commander, Drungpa Sangay Dawa, said that they decided to set up one health base camp in the pastureland in consultation with the eastern task force and technical advisory group (TAG).

He said all infected patients in the pasture will be treated by the TAG team from the health base camp for 21 to 30 days and that all health facilities would cater from the camp.

According to drungkhag officials, if the herders face a shortage of essential items, one member from each household would be allowed to drop essential items till Serkemla.

Meanwhile, with the recent spike in cases in Phuentsholing and Jomotshangkha, and partially in Merak, the government and the Ministry of Health are on a high alert especially given the intensity with which the virus seem to be circulating in these regions which are close to Indian settlements and frontier towns.

Concerned with the rising cases, the Prime Minister on May 21 last week updated the nation on the rising number of COVID-19 cases, and the disconcerting pattern that threatens to move to the interior parts of the country.

He said the nation should be ever vigilant and come forward to support His Majesty’s effort who is trying every means in his capacity to curb the infections from spiralling in our country.

“Our beloved King is slogging day in and out to ensure that our borders and people are safe from the harm posed by the dreaded virus. We, as caring citizens of this nation, should also do our part in helping spur His Majesty’s efforts so that all of us, as a nation, come unscathed from the pangs of the pandemic,” Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said, adding the people should continue to hold their guards as the times are treading have become perilous.

The Prime Minister also cautioned the nation to be ready in case the number of cases continues to rise and should a national lockdown be initiated again. He reminded the people to be prepared and not be taken aback if the government suddenly declares a national lockdown.

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