Yangchen C Rinzin

The national Covid-19 task force yesterday decided to temporarily suspend the import of foreign workers beginning tomorrow, according to Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering.

Sharing concerns over increasing Covid-19 cases in India, the Southern and Eastern Covid-19 taskforces recommended the measure during a weekly task force meeting yesterday.

Breaking records, India set a new record of Covid-19 cases with over 200,000 cases on April 14. On April 12, India recorded 168,912 new Covid-19 cases in a day overtaking Brazil as the second-most affected country in the world.

“While India is looking into the probability if it’s the new variant, task forces in both regions shared the concern on risk of importing virus and proposed the suspension of the import of labour.”

Bhutan recorded five new Covid-19 cases yesterday where all the cases were expatriates quarantined in Phuentsholing. This takes the total active cases to 57 with 929 confirmed cases recorded so far since March 2020. 

Studying the risk involved and to ensure the virus is kept at bay, all the task force members during the meeting agreed to suspend the import of foreign workers until further notice. 

“I understand it’ll adversely affect the country’s economy, developmental activities, and us at the individual level. But we don’t have any option because it’s important we prevent a local transmission,” Lyonchhen said. “If the society is safe we can complete the work anytime.”

Meanwhile, although the task force is yet to notify the decision officially, many contractors about the decision. 

Some contractors told Kuensel that while they understand the concern of the government for the country, the decision would take them back to the same situation as in March 2020, which mean a loss in business and stalling constructions. 

A contractor based in Thimphu said that he had applied for a quarantine centre where his workers are waiting in India. “I’m still waiting to get quarantine space almost a month now and my contract period has almost ended. Now with this decision, it’s only going to affect more and I have already paid advance to the workers.”

Another contractor said that as long as the government help them to negotiate taxes and penalty for delay, the decision would only benefit the country. “Loss will always be there and we’ve been facing that since last year. Otherwise, if a worker tests positive, the contractor has to bear a loss of more than Nu 100,000.” 

Construction Association of Bhutan, Executive Director, Tshering Yonten said that although they are not against the decision, they would request the government to issue a clear notification that contractors must be given a time extension to complete the works at hand. 

“When the notification is incomplete, it’s contractors who need to face the consequences for any subsequent delays,” he said. “This is because many a time even knowing the fact some agencies levy penalty reasoning that audit would question them and some say the notification does not specify time extension.”

Tshering Yonten said that the association is also studying the effect on the construction sector due to the Covid-19 protocols. He added it would be submitted to the government to discuss what measures could be taken to minimise the losses and consider additional costs. 

The contractor spends about Nu 15,000 a worker for the tests and almost Nu 40,000 for quarantine. The CAB is also considering requesting the government to do away with it. They have also requested if the government could allow workers to get a Covid-19 test certificate and keep for only one week in quarantine upon reaching Bhutan and 10-day self-quarantine at the site. 

“But we never got the response from the government. We’re also studying on the losses due to breakage of goods, who will bear the loss, and be accountable for broken goods during the tranship,” Tshering Yonten said.