Pandemic phase-II: Civic responsibility begins

Health Minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo

Pandemic strategy will now focus on protection from prevention and containment

LHAKPA TSHERING | Thimphu

Global leading epidemiology and public health experts say the only way to protect the collective rights to health in the current pandemic situation starts with balancing individual rights and personal responsibility.

Everyone plays a part in stopping the spread of the virus by following preventative measures such as washing hands, avoiding crowds and practicing social distancing, staying home, and getting vaccinated. The government and health officials also agree that it is what is needed at the individual level.

In the last two dark years since the first Covid-19 case was reported in the country, the pandemic has taught us to be good citizens and exercise civic duty when public health restrictions are in place.

In the context of the pandemic concerning moral responsibility, phase II of the protection response strategy is to emphasize individual responsibility for the common good. This means the health of our family, community, and economy depends on each of us taking individual actions to help others.

Health Minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo in a Facebook live session said that the preparation is in full swing. “We are very closely working with the National Taskforce on evolving to phase-II,” she said.

Lyonpo believes that public knowledge is much more today than it was a few years back. “Today as we stand we know a lot more about this variant. There is a lot more evidence today than we did two years ago. That’s why we are saying we will transition into phase-II of our intervention,” she said.

The intervention of a new strategy, Lyonpo said, will focus on preventing premature mortality of Covid-19. “This is where we need to clinically manage patients very efficiently and we have set up our health emergency operation centers,” she said, adding that they have also a clinical management team who looks at all the positive cases across the country.

Lyonpo added that each district in the region has hospitals and they are working to deploy more health workforce most efficiently to provide good quality of healthcare and prevent premature mortality. “I don’t think we can eliminate or eradicate the virus because once the virus is there, it is going to stay,” she said.

Lyonpo emphasized ‌everyone must realize that the foot soldiers on the ground are very limited. “We have just about 3,000 health workers to cater to 700,000 citizens. So we absolutely do not have the luxury of a well-equipped health workforce,” she added.

She said Covid-19 is not the only battle we are fighting. “We have to fight cancer, diabetics, and diarrheal diseases in the BHU. So this is where we are really trying our best to do.”

The nature of the pandemic itself demands that individual responsibility be needed to help stop the spread of the virus. Taking this simple responsibility would bring hopes and light of better days ahead to everyday activities.

“Our people are also highly educated on how to protect themselves from the virus,” Lyonpo said. “So I think now we need to have a greater participation from the public in helping us prevent transmission and prevent you from getting the disease.”

Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect everyone eligible from Covid-19. “Going forward, the biggest protection we have is the vaccination. 

“We managed to roll out both the doses and suddenly there was evidence of booster dose and its significant benefits in the population. That was the time when again we introduced the booster vaccine,” she said.

Lyonpo also highlighted that public solidarity and support have been instrumental in the response to the pandemic in the first phase. “We did very well with the greater support from the public. We managed to contain, prevent the disease, protect our population with vaccination, and we are on the safer ground now than we did two years ago,” she said.

“So when we implemented this strategy, of course, we took a very stringent quarantine testing and isolating protocol whereby everyone is tested and isolated, we did community screening to ensure that our community is free of the virus,” she said.

Finally, she added that the first phase of the response Bhutan adopted was prevention and containment strategy where we didn’t have vaccines and didn’t know about this virus a lot. “Very little scientific evidence and information were available to the public of this virus then.”