Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

It is 3pm. Inside his house at the Chinese Lane, on the side of Jaigaon, Raju Gurung and his family were busy packing their belongings.

“I am shifting to Pasakha,” he said. “My company has arranged an accommodation.”

Raju Gurung, who is from Samtse said his employer, Lhaki Steel has provided him with accommodation in Pasakha. Raju’s father Hemraj Gurung, 60, said he will also shift to Phuentsholing from Chinese Lane. Some from the family will be sent to the village, he said.

“Although there are no corona cases here right now, it will hit us hard if it comes,” Hemraj Gurung said. “We need to take care of our safety at individual levels.”

Considering the porous border Phuentsholing shares with Jaigaon and the mobility of people in these cross-border towns, risks of spreading COVID-19 are high, in case of any positive case.

Drungkhag has asked the employers (government, corporate and private) and its management in Phuentsholing to compile and share information of those employees living in Jaigaon. The government also requested those who have families and relatives in Phuentsholing to consider staying with them.

The move was initiated so that measures could be taken in case there is an emergency.

Although drungkhag had collected the details in 2017 and 2018 during the distribution of NHDCL housing colonies, only 506 Bhutanese families were allotted the housing facilities in Phuentsholing. More than 2,000 are expected to be living across the border. No details have been recorded about how many have left Jaigaon and how many have shifted there.

Although there is no panic, Bhutanese families living across the border are gradually moving to Phuentsholing.

Pema Dorji, 57, from Lhuentse had just come home at Chinese Lane after trying his luck to find a house in Phuentsholing. He stays with his wife.

Pema Dorji said he is currently waiting for the result of a job vacancy he applied to. If there is an emergency, Pema Dorji said he has daughters in Phuentsholing.

For Ratna Maya Rai from Sengden in Dorokha, Samtse, situation is different, as she doesn’t have anyone in Phuentsholing.

“My mother is an asthma patient so I can’t take her to the village as she needs to be near the hospital,” she said.

She said she and many more are hopeful that the government agencies would help. But she is worried if unemployed people would get the assistance.

“Right now I pray that this virus never comes to us,” she said.

Bhutanese living across the border are aware of the risks and are using preventive face masks. There is no panic and their only worry is the gates being closed.

Dechen Peldon from Pemagatshel has been living in Chinese Lane for 11 years. It was just another day for her.  She was busy weaving in her house.

“I am not afraid. I am only worried the gates might close and hamper my children’s studies,” she said.

Married to a taxi driver, the family pays Nu 6,500 as monthly rent and has two school going children. If something serious happens, Dechen Peldon said she would go to her village in Yurung, Pemagatshel.

Meanwhile, employers in Phuentsholing are also providing accommodation to their employees living across the border.

Govind Gurung, 53, who works at Phuentsholing Thromde has already shifted his family in Phuentsholing after thromde provided the family an accommodation.

“We used to stay in Chinese lane. We shifted on Saturday,” he said.

Govind said he left most of the belongings at his house in the Chinese Lane so that they could move back after the coronavirus problem is solved. He said he just brought necessary items.

Mahindra Kumar Jogi, 45, another thromde employee has also been given an accommodation.

Most Bhutanese living across the border are concentrated in Chinese Lane. Other places Bhutanese live are Bau Bazaar, Deokota Toll and Manglabari.

Phub Namgay, 37, who is from Paro said he informed his sister who is living in Phuentsholing. “We will have to adjust in these difficult times,” he said.

Considering the risk factor, officials from health and other relevant agencies are working day and night in Phuentsholing.

A testing centre has also been established. Quarantine facilities have been identified. The government yesterday announced that anyone entering Bhutan will be quarantined. People are urged to declare correct details of their travel history.