COVID-19 infection in Thimphu not severe, says epidemiologist

The three-day mass testing involving 40 teams collected samples from randomly selected households spread across 44 zones in Thimphu

Sixteen positive cases detected from mass testing indicate that only 0.2% of the population in Thimphu are infected by the COVID-19, therefore the infection is not really severe, said the chairperson of health ministry’s technical advisory group and epidemiologist, Dr Sithar Dorjee.

“With only 0.2% of the population infected with the virus, the spread of infection is not very bad, we are confident that it has not spread much, “ said Dr Sithar Dorjee. “We have got the pulse of the epidemic.”

The three-day mass testing involving 40 teams collected 8,821 samples from randomly selected households spread across 44 zones in Thimphu. The testing began on December 24.

The mass testing in Thimphu is done through random sampling with samples collected from selected households and an active mobile individual having high risk of contacts is tested for COVID-19, said Dr Sithar Dorjee.

Additionally, he said the random sampling method is quick and is able to complete in three days given the large and widespread population.

“We identified positive clusters through random sampling and it helped to sweep the clusters, it is cost effective and efficient,” said Dr Sithar Dorjee.

Health Minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo said mass testing in Thimphu gives an idea of the extent of spread of the infection and would allow them to plan for future mass testing.

Simultaneously with mass testing,Dr Sithar Dorjee said the health ministry conducted vigorous contact tracing and testing of positive cases, testing of targeted risk-based groups namely taxi drivers and mobile population, and frontline workers.

To get to the source of the infection, the test was also conducted at the mini-dry port and warehouses in Phuentsholing, plus the border entry points, however, all the people tested were negative, said Dr Sithar Dorjee.

The passive surveillance testing where people come to flu clinics for testing is still going on.

Lockdown is an extreme measure and is the last resort to break the chain of transmission, said Dr Sithar Dorjee.

“The positive cases were detected in multiple clusters of Thimphu and Paro and if we were to delay the lockdown by a day, the infection would have transmitted across the country,” he added.

Dr Sithar Dorjee said there were around 100,000 people moving out of Thimphu to various other Dzongkhags during the risk period from December 7 to December 20. On an average 7,000 people move out of Thimphu every day.

“In the short run, it may look extreme but then in the long run with this measure, we can stump out disease within two weeks or maximum one month,” said Dr Sithar Dorjee.

Thukten Zangpo from Thimphu