Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

The country registered 82 new cases, its highest one-day Covid-19 cases ever in 24 hours, yesterday as authorities placed Phuentsholing town under a three-day lockdown starting yesterday morning.

The residents woke up to the news after a 37-year-old woman, an expatriate worker at a local restaurant was detected positive from the community at the core town. She was detected positive from the samples collected on January 6 during routine enhanced surveillance.

Ever since the longest lockdown was lifted on August 10, 2021, Phuentsholing did not see any positive case from the community for 144 days.

But with the Omicron variant spreading faster and the number of cases increasing in neighbouring areas across the border in India, residents in the town lived with heightened apprehension and speculation.


What next?

This is the fourth lockdown in Phuentsholing since the virus appeared in the country in March 2020.

How long the lockdown will continue depends on the result of the contract tracing. If new cases are detected from the community during the ongoing contact tracing, it is only natural the lockdown will be extended.

Over 300 people were contract-traced yesterday. They have visited the restaurant in the last seven days. The results will be ready by today morning.

A member of the Southern Covid-19 Task Force (SC19TF), Rixin Jamtsho said if there are no cases or just one to two cases, the restriction will be lifted in phases and not undo everything at once.

“However, our case investigation and review report of the index case shows that she has not travelled or mixed with friends outside and all the primary contacts have tested negative from which we are hopeful that the spread is not large enough to extend the lockdown,” he said.

“But we can’t assure or say anything with full confidence at this point of time.”


Case details 

The woman is an expatriate from Alipur, West Bengal, India and worked as a cook at Lucky Restaurant and Bar. She has been in Bhutan since 2019.

The expatriate woman has also been vaccinated with the booster dose.

According to the officials, she started showing symptoms on January 6. She had a sore throat but recovered. She also claimed that she hardly got time to go out to meet with people in the restaurant as she was most of the time busy in the kitchen. Her employer and co-workers did the shopping for the restaurant.

Meanwhile, most of the customers who visited the restaurant are from the outskirts of Phuentsholing town.

In what could be a relief, four primary contacts, who are co-workers and family members of the owner, have tested negative.


Risk to other dzongkhags

West Bengal, our closest neighbouring state of India alone reported more than 14,000 cases in the last 24 hours.

Also, Bhutan is still importing foreign workers and daily imports and exports continue. There is a risk of breaching protocols due to porous borders.

On January 5, two men had breached protocols at Sorchen checkpoint and tried to go to Thimphu without undergoing the seven-day mandatory quarantine. One of them had even been to Thimphu.

Including the community case from Phuentsholing, according to the health ministry recorded Bhutan recorded 82 new cases yesterday. Of that, 12 are Bhutanese and 70 non-Bhutanese.


Sixty-six individuals who tested positive from Wangdue yesterday are all expatriate workers.

They were construction workers for the Punatsangchhu Hydroelectric Project II (PII). A total of 106 workers were moved to Wangdue from Gelephu starting December 30.

According to the PII management, the workers were brought in three batches.

The latest batch reached the containment area in Rurichhu, Wangdue by January 4.

Samples for tests from workers were collected and sent to Thimphu on January 6. The health ministry yesterday declared that 66 had tested positive.

While, many in Wangdue are worried over a possible lockdown, officials said that the workers didn’t have contact with locals and were directly moved to the quarantine facility in Rurichhu.

The PII official said that the containment area was secluded and had strong security. “There is no settlement nearby and we have strong fences and de-suups and police for security.”

PII management also brought in 160 workers last year following the required Covid-19 protocols.

The individuals who tested positive are asymptomatic and are placed under observation.


Gelephu town yesterday

Following a positive case from the community in Phuentsholing yesterday, 161 people who travelled from Phuentsholing within the January 3 and  7 were tested for Covid-19 in Sarpang.  

The 26 persons, who tested positive for antigen test, tested negative on confirmatory RT-PCR test. 

More than 30 trucks and light vehicles travel from Phuentsholing and Gelephu on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays every week via India facilitated by the officials from Road Safety and Transport Authority in Gelephu and de-suups.

The testing for individuals with travel history to Phuentsholing was conducted to rule out the infection in the dzongkhag as per the Covid-19 medical requirement.

Travels for urgent and emergency cases were also facilitated. At least 100 people travel between Phuentsholing and Gelephu in a week.

Meanwhile, there are four active imported cases in Sarpang to date. The recent one was an imported case reported on January 6. 

Additional reporting by Nima from Gelephu, and Phurpa Lhamo