Younten Tshedup 

Health ministry officials, as of last night, have traced and tested about 55 primary contacts of the 47-year-old patient and another person who tested positive for the novel coronavirus in Kolkata, India.

The contacts include 35 staff at the Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) hospital in Lungtenphug and nine family members of the 47-year-old patient. He was admitted at the RBA hospital since last month. Eleven   primary contacts of the 55-year-old man who was escorting a patient were also tested.

All the contacts tested negative on the rapid antigen and antibody tests. As of 8pm yesterday, the results of the RT-PCR test were awaited.

The 47-year old patient and the escort travelling to Kolkata, India, tested positive for Covid-19 upon reaching Kolkata on November 27.  They tested positive prior to their admission in one of the hospitals in Kolkata.

The two individuals are in isolation in Kolkata. Officials at the liaison office in Kolkata said that while the escort was asymptomatic, the patient has developed a mild fever and he also has had cough for about three weeks now.

However, officials said that the symptoms could also be due to his existing health condition. He is a cancer patient.

Officials said that while they had requested for a retest for the two individuals, testing protocol in India differed from one hospital to another.

One of the officials said that once a person tests positive, a retest is conducted only at the end of the isolation period, which ranges from five to seven day or sometimes after 14 days.

On November 27, a group of 45 patients, escorts and other passengers flew to Kolkata from Bhutan. Prior to their flight, all passengers were tested as a requirement before travelling outside. Travel is allowed only if a person tests negative.

The 55-year-old man who was escorting his sick wife arrived from Phuentsholing to Thimphu on November 25 in a private vehicle as an emergency case. Both tested negative on the RT-PCR test in Thimphu the next day. The 47-year-old man had also tested negative on RT-PCR before leaving for Kolkata.

Officials in Kolkata said that except for the two individuals, most of the referral patients were admitted in different hospitals after they tested negative for Covid-19.


Contact tracing

Following the information about the two positive cases, the health ministry started contact-tracing of the contacts in Thimphu and Phuentsholing.

Health officials said that if the two individuals had contracted the disease when in Bhutan, which is unlikely, at least some of their primary contacts should also test positive. The possibility of contracting the disease upon arriving in Kolkata also remains open for now.

However, officials are considering that there could have been some contamination of the samples during the test,  meaning this could also be a case of false positive similar to that which was reported in October this year from Kolkata.

Two Bhutanese referral patients tested positive on arrival in Kolkata last month. However, during the retest, both patients tested negative.

Following the news from the health ministry, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering in an online update said, “Such news, at a time when the entire world is battling the second wave of Covid-19, and resorting to more lockdowns and closing of borders, amplifies our worries.”

Lyonchhen said more than the first case of Covid-19 in the country, which frightened the entire nation, people should be more careful and vigilant now.

“As I share the words of caution, His Majesty The King who is making relentless efforts to protect the nation from the pandemic is touring southern districts again. If not for anything else, it is the guilt we feel from witnessing all the sacrifices His Majesty is enduring that should force us to act responsibly.”

He added, “These are distressing times. And as we sail through the winter months, we have to be more attentive and take care of our family and loved ones.”