MoH spends Nu 1.25bn on COVID-19 measures

The government will ensure that COVID-19 expenses are met, according to the health minister

Government spending on measures to counter the coronavirus pandemic has crossed Nu 1.25bn as of now and the expenditure will keep on increasing for testing kits and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) among others, according to the Ministry of Health (MoH).

The government is not going to compromise on the COVID-19 budget to meet the expenses even though no budget was earmarked for the COVID-19 response.

According to the ministry’s records, around Nu 1bn was spent on PPE, almost Nu 988mn on reserving essential food items and commodities, and Nu 430mn on quarantine facilities. Additionally, Nu 380mn was spent on improving road connectivity and construction of temporary shelters, and around Nu 700mn on general activities.

Health Minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo said that the government has spent Nu 3.5bn on preventive measures for COVID-19 since March last year and they are still compiling the budget records as of now. The expenses mainly include procuring testing kits, PPE, reserving essential food items, expenditure for quarantine facilities, and improving road connectivity and construction of temporary shelters.

“It is the government’s responsibility to mobilize resources to ensure expenses are met and people’s wellbeing is taken care of during a crisis like this,” Lyonpo said, adding the government will ensure that COVID-19 expenses are met.

However, the health ministry has spent around Nu 1,244.657mn and is yet to compile the expenses incurred during the second lockdown alone. With increasing expenditure for mass testing and vaccine, spending has risen against a limited budget, a health official said.

According to the official, with the expenses increasing and the government bearing the entire cost for the COVID-19 tests, they received suggestions that those who could afford to pay should do so for the test kits during mass testing.

“Each test, especially RT-PCR, costs Nu 3,500, and the antigen test kit costs US$ 10-30,” said the official, “With this, the country will have three different tests for COVID-19.”

The government has so far spent more than Nu 75mn on testing kits for the novel coronavirus. There are three testing methods currently in use – Reverse transcription-polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) that uses a machine, Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) using test kits, and antigen test kit.

The RT-PCR test costs about Nu 3,000 while the unit cost for an RDT is about Nu 1,000. National Situational Update on COVID-19 on Thursday showed no new cases in the last 24 hours. The national recovery rate as of Thursday is 99.18%.

As of Thursday, around 492,337 people have been tested. A total of 310,437 RT-PCR tests and 181,900 rapid tests were conducted in the country.

According to the health minister, in addition to RT-PCR and Rapid Test Kit, antigen testing which will show results in 30 minutes will now be used. “It is accurate like the RT-PCR and available in-country and soon it will be available in other places apart (flu-clinics) in the country,” she said.

Rapid antigen testing is still being carried out in 52 different flu clinics across the country. “Tests may be rolled out in the rest of the dzongkhags later based on need and situation,” she said, adding that the ministry has enough antigen test kits and that all district hospitals have received it as well.

According to the National Budget Financial Year 2020-21 report, Nu 206mn was provided for procurement of PPE and drugs, and on flu clinics; about Nu 988.677mn for stocking of essential food items and fuel, more than Nu 88.92mn for quarantine facilities (logistics and food), and Nu 74.46mn for others.

Meanwhile, a government spokesperson affirmed that the budget requirement for health and safety has been met and funds to provide for increasing expenditure on additional resources have been mobilized from internal and external sources.

The government received around Nu 135.43mn as aid from voluntary contributions made by the public, business entities, and international organizations earlier and is yet to compile the funds received.

The amount would be used for COVID-19-related activities through the National Resilience Fund (NRF). As of now, more than Nu 90mn was contributed by individuals within Bhutan, Nu 50mn by international agencies, and US$ 26,300 by individuals abroad.

Kinley Yonten  from Thimphu