Health ministry confident about COVID-19 second wave preparedness

Health

MoH has used Nu 1.2mn on COVID infrastructures so far and no separate budget has been allocated for the second wave

Not much is known about the surge in COVID-19 cases during the winter but just in case, the government is preparing additional health infrastructure to fight against the pandemic in case there is a second wave, according to Health Minister Dechen Wangmo.

According to the health ministry, it had been prepared for the pandemic even before the first case and within these 10 months the ministry has prepared more. “We have more resources at hand and more than anything people are mentally prepared. The only help we seek at this point of time is people’s cooperation,” he said.

However, if there is a second wave in Bhutan, it will all depend on people’s behavior how the country will fight it, said Health Minister Dechen Wangmo. “Behavior change is key to preventing the spread of the disease.”

“We have trained our health workers, stocked up our test kits and medical supplies and we have also had enough time to plan and strategize our probable moves in the coming few months,” she said, adding that all the ministry needs at this juncture is support from the public in abiding with the safety protocols.

Meanwhile, a MoH official said that though Nu 1.2mn has been used in COVID infrastructures so far, there is no separate budget allocated for the second wave. The expenditure incurred for preparedness and response to COVID-19 has been funded by the government till now and “it will remain the same irrespective of the time of the pandemic.”

Hotels

According to the health official, the preparedness measures including the surveillance activities are well sustained. “We have good number of isolation beds to accommodate more positive cases, if there is any surge in the cases,” he said, adding there are 482 COVID ward beds and 42 ICU beds in the hospital.

Health officials added hotels are identified to accommodate the asymptomatic and positive cases. They are confident that the country will have access to the vaccine like any other country when the vaccine is ready at the global stage.

The ministry is prepared and ready to accommodate all in quarantine facility, “We have hotels on standby that have come forward to offer as facility quarantine.”

With 123 hotels already in use as quarantine facility and accommodating 40-50 beds each, another 78 hotels are already on standby in five dzongkhags, which means these would be used as quarantine facility, as the number of cases increases.

Of the 52 hotels that have been offered as quarantine facility in Thimphu, 29 are occupied while 23 are on standby, another 19 out of 25 hotels in Paro are on standby, and 13 out of 45 hotels in Phuentsholing are also on standby.

As a backup, a total of 15 hotels in Punakha and 10 in Wangdue have been also readied and kept on standby.

This means around 10,050 quarantine beds are available for the COVID patients so far. MoH is also exploring to create facility quarantine at CST and Gedu college in case the number of cases increases in Phuentsholing.

“Another 4-star hotel in Thimphu has offered as isolation rooms, while another 4-star hotel in Paro has also agreed to be used if the government runs out quarantine facility,” said a health official.

Testing Kits

According to the health minister, they are paying US$ 12 per testing kit and they have enough testing kits. So far, around Nu 2.62mn was used for Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test kits and Nu 9.7 mn for Rapid Diagnostic Test Kits (RDT).

“We now have five COVID-19 labs in Bhutan including the recently established one in Dewathang Hospital, Samdrup Jongkhar.  As of date, we have tested 87,482 people by RT-PCR test kits and 97,493 by RDT test kits in these 5 COVID-19 labs.”

As part of the solidarity, MoH received 50,000 test kits from the Government of Switzerland, worth around Nu 4mn. “This was the first consignment received and the second will be arriving soon making the donation worth Nu 8.10 mn in total.”

“We received around 417 RNA (ribonucleic acid) extraction kits and 417 RT-PCR kits as a part of the GOI support to the Bhutan for the COVID-19 response,” she added.

Lyonpo said they are striving so that there is no second wave of the Covid-19. “Globally it is seen that after a wave, a second wave (of Covid-19) occurs. But if it comes, we are confident that we have enough PPE kits, N95 masks, and ventilators.”

Only around 73,455 people were screened at the 54 flu clinics across the country. The flu clinics are equipped with rapid antigen testing facilities to detect positive cases.

“Right now, with the seasonal change, more than 200 people are visiting the flu clinics to do checkup for headache, flu and cough, among others. The health ministry has provided facilities. So unlike in the past, we urge people to visit the flu clinics as much as possible,” said Lyonpo.

People are urged to visit flu clinics if they have any symptoms of fever, chills, loss of smell and diarrhea. In case of a second wave, the health ministry requests people not to move out of their zones and not to mingle with neighbors while visiting shops during the times specified in their movement pass.

However, the government hopes a second wave will not occur if people follow the COVID-19 safety norms strictly.

Lyonpo said the situation in the country today is in control. “We are continuing with the tracing, tracking and testing. If the results are negative, then there is less risk. It depends on the number of positive tests from the community.”

“Lockdown is the most effective and efficient means of breaking the chain of transmission, however, it does not guarantee that there would not be any transmission,” said Lyonpo.

Additionally, Lyonpo said the cases would spike if the people go back to crowding, refuse use of hand sanitizers, facemasks, and do not wash hands plus if they are not careful of where one is going.

“People should take the issue seriously in absence of a vaccine right now. Basic health precautions like hand washing, using masks and avoiding crowds should be adapted as new behaviors,” said Lyonpo, adding that the first lockdown enabled to contact trace the contacts of the infected individuals otherwise, it would be difficult because a person travels to various locations.

Kinley Yonten from Thimphu

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