Surveillance heightened amid looming threat of Covid-19 variants

Fifty percent of all the frontline workers will be tested on RT-PCR every week so that everyone – 100 percent is tested once in two weeks.

Both high and low-risk areas are on high alert because of the threat of a mutated version of coronavirus spreading in the region

Lhakpa Tshering

With the emergence of highly contagious variants that have been reported in the region, the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) for Covid-19 at the health ministry has heightened surveillance strategy in a bid to stem coronavirus spread.

While some measures appear extreme, this is just another way to boost their surveillance of individuals in a bid to help them fight against any mutations that the virus may have developed.

Health officials said that the enhanced surveillance strategy is required to have a robust surveillance system with the change of disease transmission dynamics, which is likely to continue whenever new variants emerge.

And officials also say that both high-risk and low-risk areas are on high alert as the threat of a mutated version of coronavirus spreading in the region has grown significantly.

The enhanced surveillance strategy was developed after the second nationwide lockdown to detect cases at the earliest since there were delays in the case of detection from passive symptomatic surveillance during the outbreak in Paro and Thimphu.

The strategy developed based on risk areas and evolving assessment of risk in the country is expected to prevent the transmission and outbreak among the vulnerable and high-risk population, and ensure early detection of Covid-19 infection from the general population.

Based on the current and evolving risk of transmission, the surveillance strategy of high-risk areas will be implemented for Thimphu and Paro, although low-risk areas. This is because Paro is an important point of entry and Thimphu is directly connected to Paro.

Active surveillance

At the Paro International Airport, points of entry, Mini-Dry-Port (MDP), and private warehouses in Phuentsholing, 50 percent of all the frontline workers will be tested on RT-PCR every week so that everyone – 100 percent is tested once in two weeks.

To ensure all staff at the factories and industries including mega projects in the high-risk areas is tested every week, 10 percent of the employees will be tested with a random selection of different individuals in turn.

And to ensure every active frontline worker is tested once in two weeks in both high- and low-risk areas, 50 percent of all healthcare workers including clinical, administrative, support staff will be tested every week.

While all in-patients and their attendants will be tested before admission, outpatients for invasive medical procedures and patient(s) admitted in observation will be tested before the medical procedure or on admission in observation.

In the case of unvaccinated pregnant and breastfeeding mothers visiting Mother and Child Hospital (MCH), daily testing will be conducted for every fifth individual before availing of the services.

Similarly, the passive front-line workers deployed for less than a month will have to undergo testing before and at the end of deployment while those who are deployed for over a month will be tested once a month. And the task force members and observers will be also tested once in two weeks.

Besides, bus drivers, taxi drivers, trucks and other public transport, utility drivers, gas and petroleum tanker drivers will be tested once in two weeks.

It will also conduct random testing for schools and institutions in district towns and satellite towns every two weeks.

In the high-risk household or community located close to the international border, one member of the family from each household will be tested every two weeks.

Further, to control the spread of the virus, all individuals with Covid-19 like symptoms at the health facilities, schools, and institutions in all dzongkhags will be tested on rapid antigen followed by RT-PCR if the result comes positive, and rapid antigen and RT-PCR during local outbreaks as and when reported.