Rajesh Rai  | Phuentsholing

On the first day of mandatory quarantining, the response team in Phuentsholing quarantined 26 Bhutanese, mostly students returning from Sikkim. They will be quarantined for two weeks.

This move is in line with the government’s announcement on March 16 to quarantine all Bhutanese entering the country.

Initially, people hesitated but the officials at the entry point at the main entry gate were able to explain and convince them.

Phuentsholing drungpa Karma Rinchen said they are well-prepared in terms of quarantine facilities.

“We have 22 beds in PHPA guesthouse. There are also eight CDCL guest houses,” he said.

Karma Rinchen said there are also about 104 rooms in the Everest Hotel. Of three Everest buildings, one with 48 rooms has been taken over yesterday.

The drungpa also said additional hotels such as Hotel Legphel and Hotel Sinchula were arranged as standby quarantine facility. CST hostel located at Yonten Kuenjong Academy premise in Toribari has also been already vacated and prepared as a quarantine facility.

The challenge

Considering the porous cross-border proximity with Jaigaon, the task of identifying Bhutanese entering Phuentsholing is the biggest challenge. The government also said that many Bhutanese who were coming from different places from India were hiding their travel history and sneaked into Phuentsholing discreetly risking people’s lives.

“We know that once people reach Jaigaon, it will be difficult to differentiate,” Karma Rinchen said. Drungpa Karma Rinchen said a mechanism to control such action has been proposed and discussed in a meeting yesterday.

Local people entering and exiting Phuentsholing and Jaigaon respectively would be provided a pass. People will be asked to present this pass while entering into Phuentsholing.

“People may try to cheat us but we will brief them properly about it,” Karma Rinchen said, adding that if one doesn’t produce the pass, they will be quarantined.

The passes will also have the details of the particular holder to crosscheck and confirm. The drungpa said they will review this today morning and implement as soon as possible. “This is the only method; there are no other alternatives,” he said.

Meanwhile, people’s movement in the bordering town has decreased.

In February, response teams at different entry points screened (for fever) more than 40,000 people on a daily basis. Today, the number has decreased to 28,000 to 31,000.

On March 15 and March 16, a total of 28,579 and 31,775 people were screened respectively.

Starting from February 6 to March 16, a total of more than 1.6 million (M) people have been screened. As of March 10, 1.19M people were screened. The counts are done manually.

As of March 16, a total of 3,205 people had declared their travel history in Health Declaration Forms, while 118 people were tested for fever.

Phuentsholing has become a quitter town with most business closed and the hotel industry being hit the hardest. Traffic in the busy border town has also decreased.