Frequent travelers may have to bear quarantine cost themselves

The government might introduce a system whereby frequent travelers will have to bear the quarantine cost by themselves while travelling from high-risk to low-risk areas and low-risk to high-risk areas.

Till now, the government has been bearing the cost of quarantine for travellers.

So far, approximately 750 people have travelled under emergency; therefore they were not quarantined. Approximately, 1,600 people have travelled from high-risk to low-risk areas and were quarantined for seven days as of now.

Clinical Microbiologist at JDWNRH and also a member of the Technical Advisory Team (TAT) of COVID-19, Dr Tshokey, said frequent travellers are people who travel frequently for business and personal works.

He said these travellers are categorized into urgent or emergency, essential and non-essential.

Urgent and emergency travelers are those who travel if there is death in the family or if they have severe medical conditions and illness in the family. These travelers don’t have to stay in quarantine.

Dr. Tshokey mentioned that there are some people requesting for emergency travel due to an interview the next day. “But an interview is announced at least one week before and they have to plan it out so they cannot skip quarantine.”

Essential travelers are those who need to travel but are not urgent cases so they have to stay in quarantine.

The cost of quarantine for a civil servant who is at a high-risk area and is required to remain there by virtue of his profession but has to travel frequently to low-risk area because of unforeseen problem will be borne by the government.

“We also get requests from corporations that their employees need to travel to high-risk areas. But we discourage people going to tours and meetings. Even corporate employees going for tour to high-risk areas have to bear the cost of quarantine themselves.”

Additionally, from now onwards, if there are frequent non-essential travelers they have to bear the cost of quarantine themselves.

He said as of now the government is paying but the task force team will decide whether it is urgent, essential and non-essential travel.

Why seven-days quarantine and not 14 days?

Dr Tshokey said that the incubation period for corona virus most commonly spans between 2 to 14 days. “Of course there are outliers; may be it will be detected within 24 hours or may be as high as 28 days there are few cases.”

“It is learnt that most commonly, the virus is present by 2 to 7 days with a mean by 5.1 days,” he said. “That’s why the seven day quarantine was decided.

The seven-day quarantine involves RT-PCR testing and on the eighth day the person is released.

Why long will the seven-day quarantine continue?

Dr Tshokey said that there is huge concern at all levels on the inconveniences caused by the seven-day quarantine and currently there is no local transmission in the country, “but we are not free from Covid-19.”

He mentioned that quarantine is enforced mainly for three reasons: firstly, the main risk remains across the bordering towns where cases are escalating every day.

“This is apparent from the daily news reports as well as from the number of 5-10% positive cases among people entering the country from neighboring countries – India and Nepal,” he said.

He said that since a significant number of cases shows no symptoms, we may not even realize when an infection occurs. Since people are very mobile, the spread might be huge by the time we detect a case.

“Secondly, there is continued breach in protocols across the border and in strategic business locations in high-risk areas. People still cross the border, exchange goods or smuggle them illegally, despite repeated advocacy and requests. The number of cases that we hear and see in the news after being prosecuted is very small compared to the daily happenings across the border.”

“Thirdly, concerns on lapses in protocol or accidental exposures are still high in strategic locations such as the dry ports and transshipment areas.  Any exposure from this setting is a huge risk to import the infection and spread throughout the country.”

He added that the seven-day quarantine will depend entirely on the evolving disease situation and also people’s compliance in high-risk areas.

“The positive thing from the seven-day quarantine is that so far no positive case has been detected.”

According to the health minister, the district taskforce team has suggested that frequent travellers should bear the quarantine cost by themselves.

“It will be tabled in the next national taskforce meeting and discussed,” said Lyonpo.

During the meet the press session on Friday, the Prime Minister said that as of now the government is bearing the quarantine cost and travellers are kept in budget hotels which cost Nu 750 per day.

Lyonchhen said that if people wish to stay at star-rated hotels, they have to top up the additional cost. They also have to pay the cost of testing if they stay in star-rated hotels.

Dechen Dolker from Thimphu