The Punatsangchhu incident where foreign workers were brought in without testing for Covid-19 and the spread of the virus from the dzongkhag has dominated recent discussions. Since the tanker driver tested positive, the virus has spread to five dzongkhags. The overall positive cases in the country have crossed the thousand mark.
However, while there is demand for answers to what and how the Punatsangchhu happened, there is a bigger concern that needs our full attention. While positive cases are still detected from seven dzongkhags, Phuentsholing is seeing an increasing number of positive cases from the community. This is a bigger concern.
From just two cases from the community on January 14, the number has increased to 106 as of yesterday. Phuentsholing also recorded the highest number of cases from the community yesterday with 14 cases and 17 on January 24.
The virus is not much of a concern when it is detected from quarantine facilities. It can be contained within the facility with contacts traced and tested. The concern is when it is from the community. Given the nature of the virus like its high rate of transmissibility or the unconfirmed incubation period, it can spread even with blackouts or lockdowns.
Phuentsholing residents are already worried about a prolonged lockdown. They have not forgotten the more than four-month long lockdown last year. At the rate the border town is reporting cases from the community, it will be long before the virus is contained.
The spread of the virus could be checked with lockdowns. But as the main entry point for both export and import, the pain of locking down Phuentsholing for months is felt across the country. The cost of essentials have gone up because of protocols like transshipping goods. The impact is felt across all sectors.
Cost of transportation drives all costs. Those living on daily wages are the worst affected as the cost of essentials and house rent shoot through the roof. We have not seen a difference even when Phuentsholing was not under lockdown until earlier this month.
The border town could keep goods flowing working in a containment mode from the mini dry ports. Facilitating the flow of goods even with stringent protocols, we have experienced, leaves room for the virus to spread. Prolonging lockdowns frustrate people and make them complacent. The greed for quick money, as seen in the past, leads to smuggling, bribery and even extortion from importers. This affects the effort put in by front liners to prevent another outbreak and keep services uninterrupted.
The virus should be contained in all the dzongkhags. Phuentsholing, with increasing daily cases from the community, needs more attention.