The requirement existed during the initial phase of the pandemic

Phurpa Lhamo

Protocols related to bringing in workers were the same, apart from the initial phase of the pandemic when workers were required to present a Covid-19 negative certificate, Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said. 

Lyonpo said that when the pandemic began, imported workers were required to come with a RT-PCR report no older than 72 hours.

He added that the standard operating procedure (SOP) didn’t serve its purpose because if workers tested positive, the workers couldn’t enter India and would have to be isolated in Bhutan; there were also chances that they tested positive after entering Bhutan, despite their report declaring otherwise.

Thus, the RT-PCR requirement was done away with.

Lyonpo said that while he wasn’t sure of the exact date; the information was conveyed by the national Covid-19 task force.

The decision was taken in the best interests of the nation with consultation, he added. “We are guided by the technical advisory group (TAG), which has been managing Covid-19 in Bhutan.”

In the past, individuals had pointed out that some of the workers entering Bhutan from Phuentsholing had to produce RT-PCR test reports when entering Bhutan. To this, Lyonpo Tandi Dorji said that while it wasn’t the norm, if the regional taskforce or the contractors decided, it was up to them. However, it wasn’t advised. 

The construction company with Jaypee had brought more than 500 workers from India through Phuentsholing until last year. According to an official, workers were required to bring Covid-19 negative certificates, but the protocol was later changed. “I don’t recall when exactly it was changed.”

Today, when bringing workers through Phuentsholing, based on the sequence of registration by the employer with the Regional Labour Office, the foreign workers are being inducted after health screening and drug testing at Pemaling.

According to a Southern Covid-19 Taskforce official, the workers are then tested for Covid on the 7th and 14th day of quarantine. “If the foreign workers have a double dose certificate (COWIN), they are being quarantined for two weeks, and if single dose, they are being quarantined for 21 days.”

The foreign workers don’t need to produce an RT-PCR test report, but have to produce the vaccination certificate (COWIN) at the time of entry.

The Southern Covid-19 Taskforce official said that the RT-PCR was initially required, but was discontinued later in mid-2021, since it was posing risk of Covid-19 transmission at the point of entries and community.  “Many foreign workers producing RT-PCR negative results were turning out to be positive during the scheduled testing in the facility quarantine, showing that the certificates produced used to be unauthenticated.  Further, the frontline workers had to handle lots of documents and often interact with the foreign workers.”

This, according to him, was decided after a meeting at the Ministry of Health.

According to the current protocol, no antigen tests are conducted, as the tests don’t serve the purpose of screening for normal people due to its weaker sensitivity.

“It has a high probability of a false negative for people without symptoms. Further, there are diplomatic issues if they tested positive, as we can’t send them out once they are tested positive within the country,” the official said.