Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing 

As more Covid-19 cases emerge from Core 4 zone in Phuentsholing, which covers most of the town, the zone has become the centre of curiosity and concern among people.

Until yesterday, Core 4 had seen 40 positive cases from the community, primary contacts, and frontline workers. The lower market (Deki Line) area has become a hotspot.

On May 11, a kitchen staff of a facility quarantine located at the heart of the town tested positive. It was learned that after the individual’s sample was taken at the restaurant, the staff went home as usual. The next day, her result came positive. Two buildings where the kitchen staff and the hotel owner live were cordoned off immediately.

Many residents in the town are asking how did the kitchen staff get infected despite the protocols in place? Why was she let go home after her samples were taken before the result?

A resident, requesting anonymity, said the highest risk of spreading the virus in the current crisis was from the frontline workers and people working within containment areas.

“This is because they do not stay in the contained area and are allowed to go home,” he said.

The three drivers, who operated between Mini Dry Port (MDP) and Sorchen transhipment area, and tested positive recently have been going home after work.

It was also because of this particular incident and few other positive cases from the community that had the mass screening plan deferred.

As of now, no one knows how the kitchen staff got infected. In a similar case earlier, a quarantine facility (hotel) manager and a catering (restaurant) owner tested positive. The restaurant was supplying food to the hotel.

After this incident, there has been a growing concern among residents in the town. There are still a few hotels that depend on catering services.

A resident, Namgay said the facility quarantine must have their own kitchen attached as catering from another restaurant was risky.

“I have seen restaurant people not maintain social distance while delivering the food,” he said. “Once one starts working as a frontline or even in the quarantine facility, they shouldn’t be allowed to go home.”

Covid-19 airborne?

After the lockdown started on April 16, Phuentsholing saw 139 positive cases, excluding those coming from abroad, as of yesterday. Of this, 25 frontline workers from quarantine facilities tested positive.

Even if there was a breach of protocol, measures could have changed the situation. However, if there was no breach of protocol, some residents said the virus may be airborne.

The hotel where the kitchen staff tested positive on May 11 had all frontline duty personnel test positive. The building also has another hotel attached and all four frontline workers in this hotel also tested positive. These hotels have narrow corridors and congested rooms.

Meanwhile, under the current protocol, most of the cooks don’t stay in self-containment mode because they don’t mix with the duty personnel. Prepared meals are dropped at a particular place from where frontline workers collect.

Recently, Sowai Lyonpo (Health Minister) Dechen Wangmo said that most community cases were reported from the Core 4 zone in the main town. She said the virus this time was stronger and highly transmittable.

“About 10 percent of the total positive cases in Phuentsholing is from the community,” she said, adding that 61 percent of the cases were primary contacts.

Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo also said that MDP, Pasakha Industrial Estate and quarantine facilities were the riskiest places in Phuentsholing and needed extra caution. However, Pasakha has not seen a positive case for more than 20 days now since the outbreak was contained. For the past 48 hours, Phuentsholing has not recorded any positive case from the community.

Sources say not a single Covid-19 patient was in need of critical care as of yesterday.