… PM seeks residents’ support until all Covid-19 risks are eliminated

Phurpa Lhamo  

To rule out any residual Covid-19 cases in the community, Bajo and Lobesa towns in Wangdue and Khuruthang town in Punakha and the areas surrounding them would be cordoned off and movement restricted.

Vehicles travelling via these areas cannot stop on the road after crossing Thinleygang until they are past the demarcated areas. “If possible the commuters should refrain opening their vehicle windows,” Lyochhen Dr Lotay Tshering said.

Within 24 hours, Wangdue recorded 110 new Covid-19 positive cases from the community. It doesn’t include the index case—the water tanker driver, employee of the Hindustan Construction Company (HCC), a construction company employed by Punatsangchhu Hydroelectric Project I (PI). The man is currently in quarantine.

  Residents close to Rurichu in Wangdue, where more than 100 Covid-19 cases emerged yesterday, turn up for a test at a flu clinic yesterday. The dzongkhag recorded 110 positive cases yesterday alone.

Residents close to Rurichu in Wangdue, where more than 100 Covid-19 cases emerged yesterday, turn up for a test at a flu clinic yesterday. The dzongkhag recorded 110 positive cases yesterday alone.

Out of 800 tests carried out yesterday, Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said that 108 were employees of PI and PII. He said that all were now moved to isolation and that they don’t pose any risk of spreading the virus.

While majority of those who tested positive from the community are expatriate workers, officials are trying to determine how many are Bhutanese.

A task force has been set up led by the Economic Affairs Secretary Karma Tshering for regular strict monitoring and surveillance.

The Prime Minister also said that all residents in the three towns will be tested since these towns are closest to the site of the outbreak of the virus and many contacts had been around these places.

Lyonchhen said that those who want to leave the area before everyone has been tested should undergo quarantine and produce a negative Covid-19 test result. 

Community case

On January 15, a 35-year-old expatriate employee (water tank driver) of HCC with PI tested positive on RT-PCR. The man had been working with PI for about a year.

As blackout was announced in 14 dzongkhags on January 16, Wangdue dzongkhag officials collected more than 800 samples from various sites in Wangdue.

On January 17, 110 individuals from the total samples in Wangdue tested positive. This is excluding the index case.

According to sources, of 110, more than 55 were from HCC labour camp; around 20 from HCC officer’s colony; 12 from HCC workshop; and around seven from Bjimthangka town.

Containment area in PII

On January 7, an alarming 66 individuals tested positive from Wangdue. However, all were expatriate workers who had entered Wangdue from Gelephu and were in quarantine facility in Rurichhu.

Workers for the PII were moved to Wangdue from Gelephu starting December 30. A total of 105 expatriate workers reached Rurichhu by January 4.

According to a PII official, the project was in need of workers since the majority of workers left Bhutan due to the pandemic.

As of November 13 last year, the project was in need of around 2,000 workers to meet the July 2023 dateline. The project still is in need of 1,500 workers.

The official said that with limited quarantine facility in Phuentsholing, it was decided that the workers be brought directly to the containment area in Rurichhu.

After assessment of the containment area by the technical advisory group (TAG), and further submission of report by the dzongkhag taskforce, the national task force approved the import of the workers for PII.

In the first batch, 58 Indian workers entered Bhutan on April 17 last year from Phuentsholing. They were tested at the border and entered a two-week quarantine in Rurichhu.

The second batch of 102 individuals came to Bhutan on November 28 last year. The PII official said that for the second and third batch, only those who had received the two doses of vaccines were allowed to enter Bhutan.

“They (expatriate workers) should produce the vaccine certificate and bring the QR code as well. That QR code will be scanned and checked to verify if they have actually received their vaccines.”

He added that those who received only a single dose were quarantined in Gelephu. Those who did not complete 28 cooling-period after the second jab were also quarantined in Gelephu.

As of yesterday, around 17 people who received the first jab are still in quarantine in Gelephu.

The individuals in the second and third batch were brought through the bubble mode.

In the bubble mode, a vehicle was sent to Gelephu to bring the expatriate workers directly to Rurichhu.

In the current case, an HCC bus with a driver left for Gelephu. After entering Gelephu, the driver left the vehicle at the first gate of the checkpoint and returned in a different vehicle to Wangdue.

Among the expatriate workers, a driver was also designated to drive the bus to Rurichhu.

The bus was escorted by de-suups from Gelephu until the Darachhu checkpoint, from where Wangdue de-suups escorted the workers to Rurichhu. The vehicles didn’t stop anywhere during the journey.

The workers were to be kept in the quarantine facility for three weeks.

A PII official said that the CCTV cameras were used to monitor the containment area.

“The security is in three layers— for the innermost, we have the de-suups, then the police in the outer layer and we have PII security persons in the periphery.”

However, it is not known how the water tanker driver got exposed to the virus.