With Covid-19 positive cases increasing in Gomtu, many are left wondering what happened in the small town, which prevented the virus transmission until recently since the pandemic.

As the first two cases were detected from the Penden Cement Authority Limited (PCAL) on June 6, many blame the plant authorities for the lapses.

The two women, aged 41 and 47, were from the group of women who were in the unloading team in the plant. They unloaded raw materials coming from India. A few others in the team also tested positive later.

PCAL management said that women labourers were not working in self-containment mode because of their family obligations and the nature of the job in the plant,. They followed strict health protocols and standard operating procedures besides the strict monitoring of the business activities by RBP personnel and the de-suups.

PCAL’s chief executive officer (CEO), Tenzin, said the company also has dedicated safety and security supervisors to monitor the activities.

“As part of the routine surveillance, antigen testing and RT-PCR testing of all the employees were carried out. It was during such routine surveillance that the two index cases were detected,” he said.

He explained that the plant operated in self-containment mode only during the complete lockdown period, where women did not come for work.

Tenzin said this resulted in an acute shortage of manpower.

“The shortage of manpower is aggravated due to the border closure.”

He said Bhutanese are not available for such jobs and are also not willing to take up despite the numerous incentives considered for these positions.

Meanwhile, as of yesterday, Gomtu saw 20 positive cases with close to 200 primary contacts.

Tenzin, who is also the incident commander in gewog task force said so far there were no major concerns and all the patients were doing well in the isolation and quarantine facilities.

“Cluster screenings of the affected areas were completed and there were no positive cases. Cluster screening of other areas and mass screening was also taken up.”

The PCAL plant is currently shut down.

Tenzin said they plan to resume operation under self-containment mode but given the business setup and acute shortage of manpower, it will be difficult.

He said PCAL’s business operation is already affected by the pandemic and operation is not even 50 percent.

“The self-containment mode operation will further deteriorate the business activities and will lead to further financial loss.”

He said such losses might result in laying off employees besides other austerity and worst-case measures.

Tenzin said that given the nature of the virus and the proximity to the international border, community transmission was expected someday.

“However, public and gewog authorities have guarded the gewog for almost one and half year from the virus.”

By Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Edited by Tashi Dema