Nima  | Gelephu

Gelephu to date reported eight Covid-19 positive cases including the cases detected from the facility quarantine, containment facility, and outside the quarantine.

Of the total cases, six are frontline workers who were on duty at Bhutan-India border gate and the point of entries.

According to the health ministry’s technical advisory group (TAG), there was high risk of frontline workers getting exposed to the virus while opening the border gate for the incoming vehicles.

Indian drivers on the other side of the gate were found without a mask and the Bhutanese officials talk to them through the gate breaching the physical distancing measure.

Chief programme officer with the communicable disease division, Rinxin Jamtsho, said that the virus spreads through aerosol.

“The virus survives for hours and there are chances of transmission through aerosol created by the crowd. Police officials have to get inside India while opening the gate,” he said.

TAG recommended avoiding close contact with the drivers while talking and not allowing drivers to come near the gate.

Another high risk for the frontline officials working at the gate is while collecting documents after the dropbox used to store documents of the incoming vehicles is filled.

“It is confirmed that the virus survives on the various surface of the material. It is up to five hours for papers and two to three days on plastics. If the driver is infected, the virus would be there on the paper. There is no concrete schedule when these documents would be picked,” said Rinxin Jamtsho.

He added that there was not much risk if PPEs were being used properly but risky if PPEs are not used and if they become complacent.

“There is no evidence and there is no exact identified source of two cases here. All these should be taken into consideration,” he said.

TAG recommends the compulsory use of PPEs and to handle the documents after five days if feasible.

TAG concluded that the transmission through unintentional breach of safety protocols at the POEs could be the possible source of infection at the containment facility.

The highest number of vehicles entering Bhutan was from Siliguri followed by Guwahati and Bongaigaon, India where the Covid-19 case is on the rise. Assam reported over 150,000 cases to date.

Four drivers entered Bhutan with consignments for more than 10 times in the lockdown.

The high frequency of trucks entering Bhutan and unloading goods at designated points poses a high risky for the frontline workers if the safety measures are not in place, according to TAG.

The first community Covid-19 case from a frontline worker was detected on August 27, the second also from the frontline worker was on September 11, and the man was the secondary contact of the first case detected from a frontline worker. They were working together at the main gate.

Three primary contacts of the second case tested positive for Covid-19 after they were placed under the facility quarantine on September 17.

The test for the primary contacts are done either after three of five days of their last contact with the index case.


48 high-risk POEs and villages in Sarpang 

The assessment conducted by the technical advisory group included over 70 points of entries and villages located along the border in the dzongkhag.

TAG identified 48 villages and POEs under the high-risk category. These villages and POEs are less than five kilometres away from the neighbouring Indian villages.

Four routes that reported illegal activities were also a high-risk area.

Fifty-nine Bhutanese villages are adjacent to Indian villages and there are high chances for interactions for any kind of business, casual interactions, and smuggling.

TAG recommended the dzongkhag to carry out surveillance and study on possible involvement in smuggling, carry out public awareness and advocacies, and to strengthen security and surveillance system.

The official said it would also help in preventing other communicable diseases that were often transmitted through porous borders.

Based on the number of trips goods are imported so far, TAG identified seven shops and agents that fall under high-risk groups: Bhutan Oil Distributor, Dechen Tshongkhang, Dugar Grocery, FCBL and Gelephu Grocery among others.