I will choose life over livelihood: health minister

Yangchen C Rinzin

The home ministry may have lifted the restrictions on the entry of foreign workers, but the number of skilled foreign workers entering the country would depend on the health ministry’s capacity to test and availability of test kits.

Health minister Dechen Wangmo yesterday said that test kits are not readily available in the market even if there is enough money and it’s not easy to bring in more kits. “We do have adequate test kits but not enough to use indiscriminately,” said the minister.

The entry of foreign workers in the labour category will also be allowed once quarantine facilities have been identified and approved. This means the earlier ban on the entry of foreign workers issued on March 6 due to Covid-19 pandemic is revoked.

Lyonpo said that the ministry’s priority is to ensure there is enough test kits to prevent from getting local transmission. The labour ministry, the minister said, must ensure that they get genuine skilled labourers and discuss with health ministry on the test kits available before approving. “If it is to bring in 1,000 foreign workers, our test kits will not allow that because it’s hard to get test kits,” she said.

Lyonpo said that whether it is workers or tourists or Bhutanese entering the country, the most important is following the health ministry’s guidelines, which is compulsory test after reaching, 21-days quarantine and test before releasing.

The home ministry also announced that foreign workers coming to Bhutan have to fulfil the 21-day quarantine period. Home quarantine will not be allowed and the employer or labour agent must bear all cost relating to quarantine, testing and medical treatment/intervention or evacuation.

Lyonpo said how many labourers to bring or how to bring will depend on labour ministry’s guideline, but once they enter the country, the health ministry’s guideline must be followed. “How many the ministry allow will be determined by how many test the health ministry can conduct,” Lyonpo said. “For instance, if there is need for critical foreign workers we must allow and test, as this is affecting the country’s economy.”

When asked if health ministry would choose economy over public health, the minister said that if the ministry were to choose life or livelihood, it will be the live of people.

“For us, we’re not going to compromise our guidelines for livelihood. If it is something I can buy anytime, it’s ok, but it’s not so, how can I waste this precious commodity for our people.”

This is why Lyonpo said that allowing of foreign workers do not mean 1,000 of labourers are now going to enter the Bhutan. The government will decide where the workers will be quarantined and who will bear the cost of quarantine, as well as treatment cost should the person be tested positive for Covid-19.

“For now we bear the treatment for positive patients for anyone as per the guidelines. However, if the number of foreigners coming to Bhutan increases and test positive then we might have to relook and come up with another guideline.”