Authorities penalised two medical screening centres and a labour agent for deliberately manipulating the medical test results of two foreigners. The action is lenient, going by what people are calling for. Some want their licenses to be cancelled, and others are calling for sterner actions like filing a criminal case.

Although restricted to a few social media comments, breaching protocols, especially medical protocols is a serious issue. If medical records could be manipulated to ease the entry of foreigners, it is indeed a serious breach. We should understand the logic behind the protocols. Medical screenings are made mandatory to not restrict entry of foreigners. It is a preventive measure.

Bhutan is dependent on expatriate workers. The construction industry could come to a standstill without the expertise of foreign workers. We are talking about thousands of them working in all sectors. Labour agents and diagnostic centres are established to streamline the entry of foreign workers. Leaving it to the health authorities alone was seen as an impediment.

Streamlining the entry and exit of thousands of foreign workers was a good initiative to improve services by reducing bureaucracy and helping the private sector, largely dependent on imported workers. Shortchanging the decision is dangerous. The irony is that the foreign workers who tested positive were coming to work as food quality inspectors.

Stringent measures to save the population from diseases should always be a priority. We have just come out of the Covid-19 pandemic. We know the impact of a pandemic. The memories are fresh in our minds of how it can derail development plans and worse, put the whole country to a standstill. The recent case may involve only a few workers, but the implications cannot be underestimated.

For instance, after decades of managing tuberculosis, it is still a threat. Despite our efforts including nationwide programs to contain tuberculosis, there are reports that TB is coming back. Although not verified, many are attributing it to foreigners or Bhutanese returning from abroad.

Strict medical screening of foreign workers is important at all times. Manipulating or cheating to bypass procedures, to save a few hundred ngultrums, could cost the country millions if not derail our development plans. There are grand plans and visions for the country to transform into a 21st-century economy.

The call is for all to reap the benefits of the opportunity and play our part in realising our dreams. Shortchanging protocols or procedures is a severe threat. The recent incident, localised or small it may be, could be a lesson. It calls for stringent measures without affecting services.

In the medical field, ethics is of paramount importance. The diagnostic centre is a small step in privatising some of the medical services. If they breach or resort to unethical means, it will have larger complications even as we start talking about privatising medical services.