The man tested positive from within a contained cohort  

Younten Tshedup 

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering maintained that technically Bhutan still does not have local transmission of Covid-19 as of yesterday.

Speculations of local transmission grew following the confirmation of a positive case outside the quarantine facility in Phuentsholing on August 11.

A 25-year-old Bhutanese man working at the mini dry port (MDP) in Phuentsholing tested positive to the virus after he visited the hospital with symptoms. The man works as a loader with the Regional Revenue and Customs Office (RRCO).

With no further information as of late evening yesterday, the man was assumed to be working in the community openly, raising questions of local transmission of the virus.

However, Lyonchhen during a press brief yesterday evening clarified that the man including about 140 workers of the MDP and RRCO were lodged in a quarantine-like hostel in one of the schools to ensure that any potential spread of infection was prevented.

Considering the risks of infection to the workers at the MDP and RRCO and the possibility of them spreading the infection in the community, the task force in Phuentsholing had placed the workers in hostels since the beginning.

Lyonchhen said that as per the guidelines of the World Health Organisation (WHO), the case could not be considered as a local transmission. “Understanding the risk those people had, we had contained their movement and limited their interaction. Because they were treated as a contained cohort, we still consider this as an imported case.”

Why imported? 

The workers at the MDP and RRCO mainly engaged in loading and unloading of goods for export or import at the border. Prior to the pandemic, the work was done by foreign labourers.

Lyonchhen said that Bhutanese youth took up the responsibility after the pandemic and closure of the border gate. Their movement was strictly restricted between the dry port and their hostel. They were picked and dropped off by a dedicated vehicle at work.

When the 25-year-old man visited the hospital with symptoms on August 11, he was watchfully taken in a vehicle without any interaction with other people.

The man did not test positive during the recent mass serosurveillance that screened more than 16,000 people in high-risk areas.     

Lyonchhen said that although the source of infection is unknown for now, he could have been infected while coming in contact with a foreign driver. However, he added that the guideline doesn’t allow any such provisions for contact.

Another probability of the infection could have been through contact with contaminated goods and the man had overlooked handwashing precaution and touched his face unknowingly.

The prime minister added that it was saddening to see one of these men getting infected while in the service of the nation during an emergency situation.

“People should know that not many were willing to do this work given the risks involved. But these youths came forward and rendered their service when the nation needed them the most,” he said.

“What we are eating today and the raw materials we use for our construction are because of their labour. We all have to be thankful to these men.”

A total of 221 primary contacts of the man were traced as of late evening yesterday. Tracing was still underway.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that people were sceptical with the varying numbers of the contacts the surveillance team have traced. “The numbers here do not work as it would have been in a normal calculation,” she said. “The numbers will depend on the situation and the situation, for now, is fast changing.”

Lyonpo added that at the end of the second day of lockdown, there were no major issues. She said the ministry plans to provide regular healthcare services like institutional delivery, vaccination and treatment to cancer and diabetes, among others even during the lockdown.

Meanwhile, Lyonchhen said that the lockdown, for now, has no specific duration and would depend on the situation. He said that if all the contacts test negative and the contacts are traced in time, there would be no reason to extend the lockdown.

Also, along with the 25-year-old man, a man aged 59 and a 47-year-old woman tested positive to the virus while in the quarantine in Phuentsholing yesterday.

As of yesterday, there were 116 confirmed cases in the country of which 97 had recovered. A total of 19 active cases are in isolation.

The 27-year-old woman who tested positive to the virus outside the quarantine in Gelephu is asymptomatic and in stable condition. The 25-year-old man in Phuentsholing has fever but is also in a stable condition.