MPs call for harmonizing Covid-19 protocols

The Tashichhoeling Member of Parliament (MP), Dil Maya Rai requested Health Minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo during the question and answer session of the parliament yesterday to harmonize the Covid-19 protocols and make them as user friendly as possible with the least bureaucratic hurdles for travelers, businesses, and villagers from the remotest parts of the country.  

She mentioned that harmonization is needed most in high-risk areas like the Dzongkhags along the southern and eastern regions. 

“I would like to implore if it’s possible to institute something like a “One Stop Shop” for all citizens to be able to register for quarantine facility without having to bother their literate relatives or elected leaders who in return are taken as stepping on the toes of the COVID task forces,” she said. 

She said that especially people in Samtse have had the highest mental illness issue over the past three years. “The quarantine protocols keep on changing. The facilities in quarantine centers are not the same in all quarantine centers. Will this not increase mental health illness?  In the future, there will be more mental health illness than COVID-19 positive cases in the country,” she added.  

Representing the Health Minister, Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Tandi Dorji responded that though the government is putting efforts at the best, there might be some lapses in the middle.  

“Moreover, people coming from Samtse, we know that they are facing some problems,” the minister said.  

Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji said the government has instituted a toll-free number 1010 to address any issue and there is also a toll-free number in every dzongkhag. People can contact a toll-free number for those illiterate people and they can also seek help from the local government. 

Lyonpo mentioned that the issue with Samtse is that there are only three hotels and they can accommodate only around 100 people, but the taskforce team received around 1,652 people requesting to travel to the low-risk areas in this month only. In the previous month, 1,864 people have requested registration and they have to wait for a long time. 

Lyonpo said that the government has now initiated that those people who register to travel to low-risk areas, after testing done down there only, are brought to quarantine facilities in Thimphu and Paro and it has been almost one month now. 

Lyonpo said that the quarantine facilities in Thimphu and Paro are all booked. 

According to the minister, in a month around 40,000 to 50,000 people have been traveling from high-risk to low-risk areas. Some people have traveled three to four times a month. When asked to bear the quarantine facility expenditure themselves, people are not happy. The government has been urging people to avoid unnecessary travel in the southern areas. 

Lyonpo also said that if the quarantine protocols are not strict there are chances that the virus may spread and if the protocols are strict people are not happy. “So the protocols are comfortable for the people.” 

MP Dil Maya also said that during the second lockdown, the toll-free number 1010 was not responding and people from remote areas have been asking the MPs.

She mentioned that recently 13 positive cases have been reported in Sipsu from quarantine facilities. 

As the outbreak has happened from sharing the toilets, the MP asked if the government could separate toilets for those in quarantine facilities.  

Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji responded that the government will look into the matter.   

According to the MP from the Bartsham-Shonphu constituency, Passang Dorji (PhD), some have even waited for a month for a quarantine facility and it is not to blame anyone as the situation itself is bad and the government is putting their efforts too.  

He said there are only two ways to prevent the COVID-19 by strictly following COVID protocols and after receiving the second dose of vaccine.  

“I feel that after receiving the second dose of the vaccine, people staying in a quarantine facility will be reduced,” the MP said, adding that people are traveling because of emergency cases and for their livelihood.  

MP Ugyen Dorji from the Dewathang-Gomdar constituency mentioned that in the case of Samdrup Jongkhar, people from the rural areas have to go to Samdrup Jongkhar town or either to Dewathang town for quarantine facilities, if they cannot stay at the quarantine facility in gewog centers.  

The Lyonpo responded that hotels need to qualify for quarantine facilities and there is a standard of procedure to use as quarantine facilities. “So the rooms in the gewog center don’t qualify for quarantine facilities.”  

MP Ugyen Wangdi from the Dremedtse-Ngatshang constituency said if the government could explore quarantine facilities at gewog centers and using government buildings, it would reduce expenditure since the quarantine facilities are booked.  

The MP also questioned why there is a shortage of quarantine facilities in Thimphu and Paro since there are lots of hotels in these two places.   

The minister said that though there are more hotels in Thimphu and Paro, only a few hotels have been registered for providing quarantine facilities. This is also because the government has to bear the expenditure. Only below Nu 2,000 to Nu 800 per night hotels are registered.  

“Some hotels are reluctant now because people staying in quarantine facilities have broken things inside the hotel rooms,” Lyonpo said. 

According to MP Ganesh Ghimiray from the Phuentshogpelri –Samtse constituency, people coming from Samtse to Thimphu are mainly for medical treatments. If the government could provide a specialist and equipment to Samtse hospital, people traveling to low-risk areas like Thimphu will decrease.  

Lyonpo Dr Tandi responded that specialists have reached Samste and equipment will be sent in this fiscal year to Samste hospital. “We are also planning to send specialists to other dzongkhags too.”  

The minister also said that the government is facilitating the transport of vegetables and that in the future the toll-free number 1010 will be used to address any issue besides the COVID-19.

Dechen Dolkar from Thimphu