Two IMTRAT officials detected, as they were ready to leave camp
Had it not been for the health ministry’s stringent protocols, the country could have seen another case of local transmission.
On September 26, two Indian Military Training Team (IMTRAT) officials in Phuentsholing tested positive for Covid-19 during the routine screening of travellers from high risk to low risk areas. The two officials were exiting Phuentsholing following the completion of the seven-day quarantine. The ministry mandates a RT-PCR test at the end of the quarantine period, which is when the two IMTRAT personnel were detected positive.
If this extra layer of surveillance (test at the end of quarantine) was not carried out, the two individuals would have taken the infection to other dzongkhags – Thimphu, Paro or Haa, where the team has bases. They have left the country.
Following the news of recent incidents at the IMTRAT camp in Phuentsholing, there is a growing concern with regard to the increasing number of cases from the IMTRAT and Project DANTAK campuses in Phuentsholing.
On October 4, 10 new cases were detected from the IMTRAT campus. The campus was declared a Red Zone on September 30 following the detection of six positive cases the day before.
What went wrong at IMTRAT?
Mass screening of people inside the IMTRAT and Project DANTAK camps in Phuentsholing was completed on August 30. However, the IMTRAT campus continues to see positive cases.
RCDC’s head and member of the technical advisory group (TAG), Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that when the first two cases from IMTRAT campus were detected on September 26, there were two possibilities then.
One, he said, could have been that some of the infected were not picked up by the tests then. These infected people could have then silently spread the disease. However, epidemiologically, this hypothesis had very slim possibility as people started getting infected more than a month after the mass testing was performed.
The possibility, according to Dr Sonam Wangchuk, was that a new infection could have been introduced in the IMTRAT campus. Meaning, someone infected could have come into the community from outside.
He said that upon investigation it was found that two vehicles had entered the IMTRAT campus from across the border on September 15 and 22. Later it was confirmed that only one vehicle had entered on September 15 inside IMTRAT.
“So, here is the issue. Our instruction from the beginning was that any vehicle entering through the border gate has to be escorted until its final destination. Upon reaching the destination, it has to be ensured that the drivers and other people do not interact during the unloading process.”
The IMTRAT vehicle was not monitored. The drivers and people inside the IMTRAT campus interacted and that was how people inside the campus picked up the new infection, according to the doctor. “Even if you look at the incubation period, the arrival of the truck and people testing positive from the campus all connect,” he said.
IMTRAT is Red Zone
IMTRAT was declared a Red Zone after it was learned that there was active infection within the community.
Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that, suspecting more cases, IMTRAT officials had sent four symptomatic samples and six of their primary contacts for confirmation to the laboratory in Phuentsholing on October 4.
All the 10 people tested positive on the RT-PCR.
Besides facilitating the tests, the two Indian organisations took care of their respective camps including the monitoring of the movement of its people and vehicles. It was also unclear how many people were residing in each camp.
Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that the entire population in the campus would be tested after 21 days. The 22nd day would be considered from the last day of detection of a positive case.
As per the records with the health ministry, 74 of the 300 confirmed positive cases in the country are IMTRAT and Project DANTAK workers.
However, besides adding to the country’s overall tally, there are other implications when positive cases are detected from these two organisations.
There are accusations that despite the closure of the border gates, vehicles and people from these two organisations freely move across the border, increasing the risk of infection to the other communities inside the country.
Also, because there is no authority for the Bhutanese officials inside these two campuses, it is unclear if Covid-19 preventive measures are followed.
Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that knowing that there is active transmission inside the IMTRAT campus, any symptomatic individuals must be immediately segregated from the rest of the groups to stop the transmission rate.
He said that if the two IMTRAT officials were not detected during the test on September 26, they could have carried the disease to the rest of the country.
“Our own strategies and protocols helped us this time. But for how long?” said the doctor. “If they don’t follow what we have asked them to, there are chances of letting the infection go out in the community. This is our biggest worry.”