Phurpa Lhamo 

To meet the workers demand at Punatsangchhu Hydroelectric Project II, after approval from the national covid-19 taskforce and inspection by the TAG team, workers for the project were allowed to enter Bhutan.

However, Antigen tests weren’t conducted for foreign workers entering Bhutan at the entry point because of issues related to sending them back home after testing positive, said an official from the technical advisory group (TAG).

At the press conference yesterday, he said that antigen tests had drawbacks of not testing those in the early stages of infection. “Even if we had done some antigen tests, we could have missed some.”

The first batch of workers at PII entered through Phuentsholing in April. The second batch came on November 28 and the third batch entered through Gelephu by January 4.

The TAG official said that having workers contained at Rurichhu was more convenient than having them near the border.

“We have had several issues with testing of foreign workers at the point of entry. We had issues on workers testing positive and sending them back home.”

“When testing workers in Phuentsholing, we didn’t have many positive cases, so there weren’t any issues, but when bringing from Gelephu, there were concerns that they won’t be accepted back,” the official said.

The workers were segregated into vaccinated and those who weren’t. “Those who didn’t complete their vaccination were kept in Gelephu for risk assessment,” said the TAG official.

The official agreed that with over 100 individuals in a containment area and with over 50 individuals testing positive, the viral load in the air could have been heavy.

“The viral load is so heavy that it could happen to leak out somehow.”

Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said, “Since that area is the epicentre (Rurichhu) and when someone inside and outside tests positive, there was some breach in the barrier. We aren’t trying to justify that.”

However, Lyonchhen said that the containment area was an isolated and dedicated newly constructed quarantine facility, approved by the national Covid-19 task force and qualified by the TAG team.

Officials also said that the sudden surge in Covid-19 cases was because of the transmissibility of the Omicron variant and also because of the population density in PHPA area.