Bhutan: COVID-19 first transmitted in Nganglam from Indian drivers, say officials

Thimphu: The first cases of COVID-19 in Nganglam block under Pemagatshel district of Bhutan are said to have contracted the virus from drivers coming from neighbouring India, according to a report in The Bhutanese.

The region was put under lockdown for 72 hours after two persons at the Dungsam Cement Corporation Limited (DCCL) tested positive for the novel coronavirus on June 19.

Of the two COVID-19 patients, one is a security guard from a private security company, ‘Heruka Security Service’, and the is a loader. A mass screening was carried out in the plant’s premises and Nganglam town following the detection of the cases.

From the CCTV footage, it was found that on June 12, the security staffer who tested positive was seen approaching two Indian drivers at a close proximity and exchanging something. The same security guard is also suspected to have entered one of the trucks after he was seen approaching and then disappearing between the two trucks for a long time, as per the footage.

Upon investigating the source of outbreak, the Eastern COVID-19 Taskforce referred the medical records and viewed CCTV footage of the infected individuals. From the stage of infection, it was ascertained that they must have been infected between June 12 and 14.

This has now been taken as breach of COVID-19 protocol leading to outbreak of the virus in Nganglam. The Dungkhag (block) Task Force and Eastern COVID-19 Task Force imposed fine of Nu/Rs 5 million to the security company as expenses incurred in testing, fuel and miscellaneous costs. This is the heaviest fine imposed so far for breaching COVID-19 protocols in Bhutan.

Since then, COVID-19 cases in Nganglam have been increasing where bye-election for National Assembly member is to be held on June 29.

On June 22, three positive cases were detected, two more on June 24, one on June 25 and another five on June 26 from the DCCL “self-containment” area. They were primary contacts of the earlier cases.

Nganglam has reported 13 COVID-19 cases since the first two cases were detected on June 19.

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Around 70 Indian trucks come to Nganglam every day bringing raw materials for DCCL and carry cement from the project to Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and West Bengal. Last year, people from the region suggested that DCCL should remain closed for the moment to prevent an outbreak in the community.

However, Sonam Jigme, the CEO of DCCL, said that closing the project was not an option as many hydro projects and employees would be affected. The company was producing cement following the standard operating procedure.

Located in the country’s eastern region of Dungsam Pemagatshel, under Nganglam bordering Assam, the cement plant has an installed capacity to produce 3,000 MT of clinker and 4,130 MT of cement a day, making it the largest cement manufacturing industry in the country and one of the largest in the region.

Currently, the company produces three types of cement — Ordinary Portland Cement (OPC), Portland Pozzolana Cement (PPC) and Portland Slag Cement (PSC), which are sold in both domestic and export markets.

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