Nanglam got a rude shock on the 19th of June when it found its first two COVID-19 cases as part of a routine enhanced surveillance testing in the Dungsam Cement factory premises. One was a security guard from the private security company Heruka Security Services and another was a loader.
The areas were put under a 72-hour lockdown and mass testing was carried out with 1,165 tests not only on the DCCL premises but also in Nanglam town.
Until Saturday evening there have been a total of 13 cases with 11 cases being the contact of the first two cases and all of them being either security guards or loaders.
As a part of its investigation to find out how the outbreak had happened in Nanglam, which so far had no cases, the Eastern COVID-19 Task Force looked at both the medical data of the first two who tested positive as well as some CCTV footage.
Given the stage of the infection of the first two cases the medical staff indicated that they must been got the virus between 12th and 14th June.
The Land Secretary and Chairman of the Eastern Taskforce Pema Chewang said they then checked the CCTV footage in the truck parking area of the cement plant and the 12thJune video showed the same security staff of Heruka who tested positive approaching two Indian drivers in close proximity and even exchanging something with them.
On the 14th June the same security guard is also seen approaching and disappearing between two trucks for a long time and it is suspected he may have entered one of them.
This is a major breach of protocol as COVID-19 is airborne and the new Delta Variant found in 87 percent of samples in Bhutan is even more transmissible. The security staff are briefed on the SOPs but in this case it was clearly not followed.
The Secretary said this was a breach of protocol as the only work of the security guard is to only open and close the gate and not interact with the drivers at all.
The Secretary said that the matter was discussed between the Dungkhag Task Force and the Eastern COVID-19 Taskforce and it was decided that since there was a breach of protocol leading to the outbreak in Nanglam the security company should bear around Nu 5 million in expenses incurred in testing (Nu 3,000 per test), fuel costs and other costs.
This is heaviest fine imposed so far for breach of protocol and is meant to send a message.
So far, nobody from the community in Nanglam town has tested positive because the security staff and loaders as per the protocol have to stay in a separate place and cannot mix.
The secretary said the premises around the cement plant has been put in the red zone and the factory itself is operating in containment mode.
He said the Nanglam town is in the yellow zone which allows for movement within the area but people cannot travel out.
On the 26th June which is Saturday there was one more round of testing in Nanglam when the five cases came up.
He said the SOPs are good but the problem is that people on the ground don’t take them seriously and comply.
Talking about the other areas in the east the secretary said that Jomotsangkha has not had recent cases and the recovery rate is 98 percent.
He said the same is also in Merak Sakteng where there has been no cases and there has been some unlocking.
The CEO of Heruka Security Services Pema Gyeltshen said that he would first have to get the formal decision and see the evidence and then talk.
He said that the fine of Nu 5 mn is too much for his company to bear especially since COVID-19 had not spread beyond the factory premises to the town and other places.
He said if his staff had taken the COVID-19 and spread it to other places then he is liable.
Gyeltshen also questioned the decision saying that a loader had tested positive along with the security guard and so it cannot be proven that his security guard is the source of the outbreak.
He said his company also never asked for so many tests to be done.
Heruka had bid the lowest in a DHI tender to provide security to the cement plant quoting 11,500 per month per security staff for 34 security staff for 3 years which is a tender worth Nu 14.07 mn.
The company has around 100 employees.
Heruka had just won the bid around two weeks before the breach of protocol incident and the resultant outbreak.
Earlier, a different private security company looked after security in the factory.