Prevention, the only key to combat COVID-19: Health Minister

Countries across the world are experiencing a second wave of COVID-19 with a global surge in cases due to negligence in adhering to COVID-19 preventive measures, Health Minister, Dechen Wangmo said at a press brief yesterday.

“The only way to combat this is prevention.”

Lyonpo said the second wave in Europe is caused by the new strain of COVID-19 virus that originated in Spain triggered by complacency to follow preventive measures avoiding large gatherings, increased travels and failing to wear facemasks.

“World over, the second wave of the pandemic has officially started. One reason is clearly the onset of the cold season. The other, of course, is the growing indifference among people,” said the Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering on his Facebook page.

Additionally, colder weather heightens the risk of contracting COVID-19, as it does other respiratory viruses.

Moreover, the post states that with the blessings of His Majesty The King, the government introduced flu vaccination for everyone starting October 7 and it would protect from seasonal flu to reduce burden on the healthcare system, while also minimizing possible exposure to COVID-19 in avoiding visits to hospitals and flu clinics.

Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that spikes and infections are in the northern hemisphere and there is risk of more COVID-19 infections due to the colder weather given the confinement of people at homes.

Studies have found that cases are surging because of the colder weather and COVID-19 fatigue settling in and there is a potential risk of 30mn new confirmed cases and a loss up to 1mn lives to COVID-19 globally.

A Czech biologist, Professor Jaroslav Flegr found that decrease of every degree Celsius (1.8 degree Fahrenheit) in temperature represents a 3% increase in COVID-19 virus transmissibility. Additionally, other 17 studies found the similar results.

Additionally, Lyonpo said that when rich and developed countries globally are not able to control the virus, for Bhutan a small economy with limited health capacity, the only option would be to adhere to preventive measures strictly.

“If there are five to six deaths in the country, then the country would mourn,” said Lyonpo.

To prevent a second wave, Lyonpo said prevention measures are key since it is a shared responsibility between the government and people.

Additionally, she said the government’s role is to make testing kits readily available and accessible and ensure that an individual adheres to COVID-19 preventive measures and visit flu clinics for testing if one has flu symptoms.

On the possibility of a second lockdown, Lyonpo said there would not be intense nationwide lockdown but a smart lockdown as “we have a good surveillance system that geographically locates the area that needs supervision.”

However, she said if there is nationwide lockdown, it might last for a few days because there is need to consider the social and economic costs.

For mass testing, Lyonpo said the data is ready and if one individual from a family needs testing, the ministry would do it.

“If we keep the public compliance then we do not have to act like other countries where they impose severe lockdowns; we hope we do not have to tread the path,” said Lyonpo.  Lyonpo also said the country has 55 flu clinics and every medical center in the country is equipped with adequate testing kits.  Additionally, she said medical professionals are trained in treatment of COVID-19 patients, intensive care units, and use of personal protective equipment.

There are 482 bedded COVID-19 wards in the country to accommodate the patients simultaneously and 42 ICU beds.

From 200 vaccines developed globally, 47 are in third phase clinical trial but are not prequalified by the World Health Organization to give to people.

As of yesterday, there are 358 COVID-19 confirmed cases, of which 222 are Bhutanese and 136 foreigners with a recovery rate of 93%. Currently, there are 25 active cases in Phuentsholing hospital.

Thukten Zangpo from Thimphu