Omicron outbreak caused by Govt’s Bubble Mode and failure to update health and labour protocols for Omicron: Opposition Party

As per the press release issued on friday by the Opposition Party, it said the outbreak of Omicron is caused directly by import of foreign workers in Bubble Mode by the Government, and its subsequent failure to calibrate and update our COVID-19 health protocols and labour regulations in keeping with the outbreak of Omicron in India.

Omicron variant of COVID-19 first broke out in South Africa on November 25, 2021, and subsequently, was first detected in India on December 2, 2021 in Karnataka. Bhutan recorded the first case on January 15, 2022 from Wangduephodrang.

The press release stated that the massive outbreak of Omicron in the country was caused solely by the import of second batch of 106 foreign workers under Bubble Mode via Gelephu.

“Some months after the outbreak of COVID-19 in Bhutan in 2020, foreign workers had left in large numbers for home in India, including from Punatsangchu hydropower projects. Subsequent to this, the Government had authorized import (rather re-import) of three batches of foreign workers for Punatsangchu-II so far: first batch under the normal Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) mode and the second and third batches under the so-called Bubble Mode,” the press release stated.

Under the Bubble Mode, import of foreign workers was permitted exempting the mandatory 72-hour RT-PCR Certificate prior to entry into the country as well as antigen test at the Point of Entry (PoE). Only regular general medical check-ups were conducted. Further, the foreign workers were transported directly to the project, which is in the interior part of the country.

It also says that while the second batch of 102 workers imported on 28 November 2021 through Phuentsholing PoE was also brought under Bubble Mode, it did not lead to Omicron case because this group was brought in a week before the outbreak of Omicron in India. However, the third batch of 106 workers were imported via Gelephu (on December 30, 2021, January 1, 2022 and January 4, 2022) almost a month after the outbreak in India.

“The Government should have been vigilant and mindful of Omicron outbreak in the region, especially in India, and ideally, proactively updated health and labour protocols there. But it had failed to do so. It is also learnt that there was hardly any coordination among the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Home Affairs and Office of Prime Minister. The matters were largely handled and approval for import of foreign workers accorded directly by the high Office of Prime Minister,” it stated.

Meanwhile, the Opposition Party urged the government to revisit its current Bubble Mode policy and arrangements for import of foreign workers and streamline and update the health, labour and immigration protocols for import and quarantine of foreign workers, and keep updating and improving them in keeping with the changing situations.

The opposition also recommended to enforce Certificate of prior 72-hour RT-PCR and antigen test at Point of Entry and transfer for mandatory quarantine, or Conduct antigen and RT-PCR tests at the Point of Entry, and segregate positive and negative cases and put them through mandatory isolation and quarantine, quarantine of foreign workers be done only in border areas to minimize risks of spread of virus to interior parts of the country and  prioritize the import of foreign workers by priority economic sectors and critical skill needs.

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