The 14 dzongkhags open to the zoning system

…Massive Covid-19 testing in 14 dzongkhags after local case emerges in Wangdue

With only two samples testing positive from Punatsangchhu settlement out of more than 7,800 samples taken from the 14 dzongkhags, which went through the blackout period yesterday, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) announced that the dzongkhags will now open the zoning system for 72 hours with immediate effect.

The zoning system (mega zones, zones, or a practical system that suits local workgroups to implement) is seen as a cautious reopening while taking into account the likelihood of virus incubation. It will be followed by new health monitoring.

“Despite the detection of community cases in recent days, with the 224 samples from Gelephu testing negative and the 486 community samples from Phuentsholing also testing negative, we have decided to place them under a zoning system similar to that of other districts for the 72 next few hours,” the statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said.

Health workers took 6,655 samples across the country as of 6.30pm yesterday after the 24-hour ‘blackout’ period was enforced in 14 dzongkhags around 2am yesterday.

The decision came after a middle-aged expatriate worker from the Phunatshangchhu Hydropower Project (PHPA I) tested positive in Wangdue yesterday.

According to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), more than 13,000 people have left Wangduephodrang since January 10. Sample collection continued until 9 p.m. yesterday and will continue today.

Yesterday the PMO, in its late evening update, hinted that it was possible to extend the ‘blackout’ period. The notification said the government would only be able to determine “outage” status and easing measures after the results of the samples and substantial evidence.

The analysis of the samples was in progress in all the Covid-19 screening centers when this article was submitted at midnight. In Gelephu, sources said sample collection was carried out overnight.

The PMO announced the 24-hour “blackout” in Thimphu, Wangduephodrang, Punakha, Paro, Gasa, Haa, Chukha, Trongsa, Bumthang, Dagana, Sarpang, Tsirang, Samtse and Zhemgang with immediate effect.

No movement of people and vehicles was allowed unless authorized for essential purposes. Health-related emergency travel, which includes vehicles traveling to hospitals and health facilities, was permitted.

In the gewogs of 14 dzongkhags, individuals were allowed to go out and attend to important duties within the premises.

In addition to testing recent travelers at 14 dzongkhags, regular testing continued at the other six dzongkhags. The highest samples collected were from Thimphu with 1,319, followed by Paro with 1,237, Tsirang with 1,006 and Wangduephodrang with 830 samples collected.

The Ministry of Health also urged people who traveled out of Wangdue from January 1 this year to report for Covid-19 testing at their mega zone’s testing center, one from each cohort or family who has traveled together.

Testing centers are available in four mega zones in Thimphu; north to Dechencholing Upper Secondary School, south to Dr Tobgyel School, Core Area 1 (C1) to Mothithang Upper Secondary School and Core Area 2 to RBP Flu Clinic.

There were rumors that the blackout period would be extended for another 72 hours, except for yesterday. A WhatsApp group message believed to be shared between healthcare staff went viral last night suggesting the restrictions would remain and sparking speculation.

A draft proposal from the Southern Covid-19 task force in Phuentsholing on a seven-day lockdown has been leaked and published on mainstream media, causing some confusion among netizens.


Mass screening underway in Wangdue

Over 900 samples were collected last night from the community and those who came into contact with the 35-year-old man who tested positive on January 15 in Wangdue community.

The man is an employee of the Hindustan Construction Company (HCC), a construction company for the Punatsangchhu I Hydropower Project (PHPA I).

The man, who has been working for about a year in Bhutan, went to the nearest flu clinic with symptoms.

After testing positive in an antigen test on January 14, the man was kept in solitary confinement while his samples were sent to Thimphu. His results were confirmed positive on January 15.

Last night, it was learned that the man had not come into contact with any imported workers brought to Wangdue for the PHPA II project.

Wangdue Dzongdag, Sonam Jamtsho, said it was not possible the worker came into contact with imported workers as security is tight.

“We still don’t know how he got infected.”

The dzongkhag started community screening right after news broke of the 24-hour power outage yesterday.

According to the minutes of the task force meeting held yesterday, community screening was to take place in Basochhu, Langlaytsawa, Rurichhu and HCC colony.

Kuensel learned that collection of samples from the man’s close contacts was underway.


In Punakha, over 550 samples were collected from the community and those who visited the PHPA area.

According to Health Ministry guidelines, a few stranded travelers were also being tested.

Last night, no one tested positive for antigens.


        All samples tested negative in Tsirang

All samples tested negative in Tsirang

Meanwhile, more than 1,000 people went to flu clinics for Covid-19 tests in Tsirang yesterday. According to one official, this is a relatively large stake.

Most of the people who came for the test were inbound travelers and people with flu-like symptoms.

The dzongkhag conducted community screening and screening in Gewog BHUs.

In Dagana, 261 people were screened for Covid-19 at three flu clinics in Dagapela, Dagana and Lhamoidzingkha, according to dzongkhag health official Dorji Wangchuk. No positive cases were detected in any of the dzongkhags.


Following the national Covid-19 task force directive, Paro and Haa declared a “24-hour blackout” yesterday. The two dzongkhags collected more than 1,300 samples from incoming travelers, taxi drivers, frontline workers and people with flu-like symptoms.

Paro collected a total of 1,237 swabs including inbound travelers (665), taxi drivers (332), frontline workers (16) and people with flu-like symptoms (224). Samples were collected from nine gewog centers and the outpatient department (flu clinic located within Paro Hospital). A total of 161 frontline workers tested negative for rapid antigen.

According to Paro Dzongdag Karma Thinley, the dzongkhag has activated its emergency hotline (1060) and the flu clinic has been moved from the hospital compound to Melam Chenmo grounds.

He said the dzongkhag facilitated the release of 21 people who completed their quarantine yesterday as they reside in Paro. However, the dzongkhag detained 77 people as they had to travel out of Paro.

According to the dzongkhag implementation report, travel has been suspended to conduct effective contact tracing. However, movement for medical emergencies and essential services has been facilitated.

The report said gewog administrative officers monitored “blackout” protocols and facilitated contact tracing. Nine teams, including health workers and convenience workers, had been tracing contacts in the gewogs.

The health team also decided to test all symptomatic people.

The checkpoint management system record shows that 541 people traveled from Wangduephodrang to Paro as of January 10. Travelers were called for testing at the nearest gewog center. In addition, all taxi drivers have been advised to undergo testing at the nearest gewog center facilitated by the Road Safety and Transport Authority Transport Officer.

In addition to providing emergency services, the dzongkhag has also facilitated the travel of those who go to the hospital for an RT-PCR test to travel outside the country upon presentation of their travel authorization from the Department of immigration.


Health officials in Haa collected 129 samples for antigen testing which included people arriving from Wangduephodrang and taxi drivers.

According to dzongkhag health official Samten, all samples tested negative and 20 RT-PCR samples from people who arrived from high-risk areas were sent to the Royal Center for Disease Control (RCDC) in Thimphu.

He said there were no major problems in the dzongkhag and urged people with flu-like symptoms to come to the flu clinic.

The dzongkhag has issued a notice allowing people in gewogs to attend to essential tasks on their premises and avoid crowding.

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