On quarantine in Bhutan

The qquarantine room in Paro, Bhutan. Picture by Nima

By Nima

PARO, Bhutan: The doorbell rings at least three times a day in the quarantine room in Paro in Bhutan.

It opens only while the officials monitoring the quarantine service come to check the temperature and during the meal hours. For the most part of the day, the door remains closed.

I am among 34 Bhutanese quarantined in Tsherim Resort, Paro.  The majority undergoing quarantine are students who returned home after their respective colleges and institution were closed down because of the Coronavirus outbreak.

I had to leave my college immediately after the State government of Tamil Nadu issued an advisory asking all educational institutions to close down amid the rising case of Coronavirus in India.

This time the journey home was unusual. All three airports I transited, Chennai, Kolkata, and Paro were filled with the strong aroma of hand sanitizers. By the time I prepared to board DrukAir, almost everyone wore facemask at Kolkata airport.

At Paro international airport, a line of buses waited for Bhutanese returning home and ferried everyone to designated hotels for two weeks of quarantine. Only infants and parents were exempt, asked to self-quarantine at home.

I was reading reports about quarantine and self-isolation. I read about people in Wuhan, China and in Milan, Italy singing from balconies and windows while quarantining. The next day I was one of them watching the days outside from an open window in Paro.

Everything is brought inside the quarantine room; meals, water, and daily temperature check-ups, among others. A cozy bed and all the basic amenities brought inside. The government has arranged possibly the best quarantine facility in the region.

For the past three days, I woke up to the doorbell, collected food, and stood still at the door during temperature check-ups for a few minutes and closed the door for hours.

The health officer on duty informed everyone to call him if anyone faced COVID-19 symptoms immediately. “Please don’t move out. Let us be supportive of the government.” This was the longest conversation we had here at the quarantine on the first day.

Since then, the official and the woman assisting him appeared on the door wearing more protective gear and preferred a distance and only swift contacts.

The day I entered the quarantine coincided with the date when the second positive case was confirmed in the country. It was the partner of US tourist who was tested positive months ago.

The press conferences were going on daily and the Prime Minister was addressing the press and said that those in quarantine were considered as a positive patient until proven negative, so they were placed under strict quarantine.

Although doors and windows remained closed throughout the day, the updates from outside reached inside the quarantine room through television and the Internet. Some were encouraging and others tested my mental strength.

With silent walls and closed windows listening to my doubts and suspicions, it took only two days for me to feel anxious and worried about my COVID-19 status, having traveled from two large airports in Chennai and Kolkata in India.

I receive calls from my mother daily.  Worried, as always, she would ask about check-ups and also about possible signs of infection I might be facing while at quarantine.

Despite living in one of the remote corners of Bhutan in Radhi, Trashigang, she is well informed of the Coronavirus outbreak. She is equally loaded with misinformation too.

“We never know the result when you are tested after the quarantine. The disease is spreading fast. Please pray for the medicine Buddha. They are the ultimate saviors of us,” she told the same line every time we talked over the phone.

“I am free of virus Ama. Don’t worry,” I should keep saying this for the next ten days.

As I kept watching outside the window, it rained heavily after a cluster of dark clouds filled the sky this evening but the burst of sunshine soon after dispelled the darkness. I hope it is the same way with the world and the virus.