Neten Dorji | Trashigang

Trashigang dzongkhag’s Covid-19 task force locked down Merak and Sakteng gewogs in Trashigang after two highlanders from Merak tested positive for Covid-19 yesterday.

They were moved to an isolation ward in Mongar yesterday evening.

On the eve of May 19, a 60-year-old man tested positive for Covid-19 on an antigen test.  Later, he and a 71-year-old man, who is one of his primary contacts, were also confirmed positive on RT-PCR at Mongar hospital.

Highlanders returning from high-risk areas to low-risk areas are subject to routine testing at Serkem La between Shingkhar in Samdrupjongkhar, and Merak. The men tested positive at Serkemla while returning from Shingkhar.

The first group of 64 highlanders from Merak and Sakteng, including the two men, returned home with their livestock after an antigen test. Except for the two men, all tested negative.

All their primary and secondary contacts were placed under facility quarantine in Merak.

Of the 64, 40 are from Merak and the remaining highlanders are from Sakteng and are on the way to their village. They are placed under home and jungle quarantine.

Sakteng Dungpa, Sangay Dawa said, it is difficult to pinpoint the source of infection.

“Looking into the first case detected from Merak gewog, only two things are possible,” he said. “Either someone has crossed the border with the virus or they are infected while in touch with people of Jomotshangkha and Shingkhar Lauri since they interact regularly.”

He said that Khelephu and Khashiteng under Merak gewog, which is an hour walk from Shingkhar, were declared as high-risk areas for the convenience of highlanders.

According to the Eastern Covid-19 task force, generally, in a nomadic life for being pastoralist, they migrate from one place to another, mostly in rangeland tsamdro. For Guendro (winter pasture) they migrate to low land pasture as usual, like Khashateng which mostly falls under Lauri Gewog,  demarcated as high risk for Covid-19 containment protocol.

As the summer sets in, they migrated back to Yardro (summer pasture),  which falls close to Merak (at Serkemla), demarcated as low risk and considering the stringent Covid-19 protocols in place like any other frontier containment layers in the eastern region, those returnees were kept under ‘Tsamdro Quarantine’ for seven days and followed due process.

However, the 60-year-old man stayed at Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh and returned back to Merak seven months ago following health protocols.

Merak Gup, Lam Rinchen, said the man was quarantined for 21 days at Tsenkharla in Trashiyangtse and tested negative. “After checking last month in Mongar hospital, the result was negative,” said the gup.

He said the man doesn’t have any travel history after returning from Tawang. “Before he went to Shingkhar on May 7, he had a fever and headache, but he didn’t go to a hospital,” said Lam Rinchen, adding that the man had asked for treatment from a lay monk.

A resident of Merak, Phurpa Dorji said people are alert.  “I am spending my time inside home praying to the local deity for recovery of all infected patients and containing Covid-19.”

Meanwhile, after a few highlanders entered Trashigang, the dzongkhag Covid-19 taskforce placed northern gewogs, Rangjung and Trashigang towns, and other areas where some highlanders visited recently under strict surveillance. Health officials are tracing primary and secondary contracts of the highlanders who visited the towns. They started collecting samples yesterday.

Trashigang Dzongdag Chekey Gyeltshen, said that the task force had stopped the movement of vehicles in Trashigang and Rangjung towns since yesterday. However, movement would resume if the situation improves.

“Outgoing vehicles from Trashigang are temporarily restricted until the completion of the contact tracing,” said Chekey Gyeltshen. “But we allowed those vehicles coming to Trashigang following safety measures.”

Health officials said contact tracing was still underway and keeping track of the entire secondary contacts.

Sources said that the highlanders of both the gewogs would undergo mass testing soon.