Says protocol had been the same for the past two years

Phurpa Lhamo 

The government is investigating how the Covid-19 virus spread from the quarantine centre in Rurichhu to the community, according to Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji.

The Foreign Minister, who appeared on national television to clarify doubts on Covid-19 last evening, said that no protocols were breached to date and the frontline workers had been doing their job diligently.

“Because of the nature of the virus, the disease could have spread through goods, air and other means,” he said.

On letting workers enter without testing at the point of entry, Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji said that all individuals entering Bhutan were not tested at the entry point,  but only after a week or two in quarantine facilities.

“Anyone (Bhutanese or foreign workers) entering Bhutan were not tested at entry points because all of them have to stay in quarantine. We don’t test and quarantine them. Even when entering other areas from red zones or high-risk areas, they are not tested.” He said that the individuals were tested after they were quarantined.

“We have been following this protocol for the past two years,” he said.  

However, in the past, workers entering Bhutan were required to present an RT-PCR test report at the point of entry.

In September 2020, the health ministry notified that all individuals travelling to Bhutan were required to produce a Covid-19 negative certificate on arrival into the country. “The test should be carried out by RT-PCR from certified laboratory not earlier than 72 hours (3 days) before embarking or the initiation of journey from the country of origin.”

The protocol for entry of foreign workers and other foreigners into Bhutan also requires all foreigners including foreign workers in the professional and skilled categories to produce RT-PCR negative test certificates performed within 72 hours before entry at the port of arrival.

“Migrant workers from India who do not have access to RT-PCR testing may submit a rapid antigen negative test certificate,” the protocol states.

Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji said that while individuals were required to produce a test report conducted within 72 hours in the beginning, the protocol was changed.

He added that it wasn’t true that the protocol was removed because workers couldn’t afford it. “Charges for quarantine and tests were borne by the contractor.”

Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji said that when producing test reports at the point of entry, there were chances of presenting false test reports. “In some cases, while they tested negative on entry, they were identified positive when inside. Even if they test positive, they are kept here, treated, and then sent to work in Bhutan.”

According to the recent version of the national covid-19 testing protocol (December 2021), returning patients and attendants are tested at the point of entry. Others are tested after a few days in quarantine.

The change in protocol, however, has left some questioning the foreign minister’s statement. A source said the single rule on testing of individuals at the point of entry since the pandemic began was not true.

This was because prior to the latest batch of foreign workers brought through Gelephu, two batches of workers who entered Bhutan from Phuentsholing were required to produce a test report conducted within 72 hours. 

Meanwhile, on the increasing number of Covid-19 cases in the country, Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji said that people shouldn’t be worried as movement has been restricted which will help contain the spread.

“The cases we are seeing right now are mostly contacts of those who tested positive earlier.”