Health ministry closely monitor expats at entry points

Positivity rate within the cohort stands at less than 8 percent

Younten Tshedup

Of late, incoming expatriate workers have become the new source of Covid-19 positive cases in the country. Of the 386 foreign workers who entered the country since October 1, 30 of them tested positive for the virus so far.

With at least one person testing positive from this incoming group every 24 hours, there is a growing concern that if the trend continues, it could compromise the entire disease containment efforts.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo assured that for now, whatever the government was allowing, the country’s health system could handle it.

Lyonpo said that the ministry was closely monitoring the trend of the incoming labourers. She said that it was important for people to understand that the proportion of people applying to come in, those getting the approval for the travel and those entering the country, there was almost 50 percent reduction in each of the stages.

The reduction, Lyonpo said, was because of the mandatory requirement of negative Covid-19 test results before their travel. Once the expatriate workers enter the country, they also have to go through the required 21-day quarantine.

While in the quarantine, individuals also have to follow the existing national quarantine testing protocol. It means individuals are tested between the third and fifth day after their arrival, and then on the 14th and 22nd day.

Lyonpo said that the ministry keeps a close eye on the positivity rate within the cohort.

“For now, the positivity rate is around 7.7 percent. Whatever we are allowing, our health system can absorb for now,” she said. “But if the positivity rate jumps to above 20 percent or the moment we know if it is beyond our absorption capacity, we will immediately stop this.”  The minister said that subsequent tests are also performed to prepare for the next group of incoming labourers. “If the majority of the cases are detected during the 14th day, then the date of the next batch of incoming labourers are deferred.”

Lyonpo said that if the positivity rate jumps to over 20 percent, for example, it would be a significant concern for the ministry. “Once people test positive here, they cannot go back. Bed occupancy in the hospitals would increase, and it would overburden our health system.”

Simultaneously, if there is a community transmission, Lyonpo said it would be difficult for the ministry to handle the situation.

“For us, the health of the people is important. But then there is also a huge need for labourers in the bigger hydropower projects. We’ve to balance between disease prevention and economic development at the same time.”

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