Even as Jaigaon relaxes restrictions

Rajesh Rai  | Phuentsholing

Calling on the people for unity and cooperation, the Covid-19 Task Force (C-19TF) in Phuentsholing, said that Bhutanese cannot be complacent under any circumstances.

The call for unity and cooperation comes in the light of neighbouring Jaigaon relaxing restrictions on movement of people and opening of businesses.

“This is a moment in time that requires all of us to act with unity of purpose for the safety and well-being of our families, friends and communities. We cannot afford to become complacent under any circumstances,” a statement released yesterday from the task force stated.

“Above all, His Majesty The King continues to work tirelessly with unwavering resolve and commitment to prevent the importation and spread of Covid-19 and to ensure the well-being and security of the people and country in these difficult and uncertain times. Under His Majesty The King’s leadership and personal guidance, preparedness and response mechanisms have also been put in place.”

The busy Jaigaon town eased restrictions and allowed businesses to open from 10 am to 5 pm starting from May 6 worrying Bhutanese in Phuentsholing.     

The decision to open Jaigaon follows the West Bengal state government’s order on May 4, which allowed most businesses to open but with strict prevention rules in place.

Residents said this would invite people from both the towns to engage informally and pose Covid-19 threat to people from both sides.

The task force stated that Jaigaon’s gradual opening is both opportunities to normalise the flow of goods between the two countries and to be more vigilant.

“Jaigaon holds a very special and important place for Phuentsholing and for the people of Bhutan. It is a critical gateway for trade and commerce and we attach great importance to further strengthening our close and mutually beneficial relationship with the people of Jaigaon.”

It stated that during the lockdown period, starting from March 25, supply chain between the two countries was kept open and sustained on account of the full support extended by the Government of India and the State Governments of West Bengal and Assam.

The Task Force acknowledged the unrelenting support extended by the Embassy of India and the Consulate General of India in Phuentsholing.

However, it warned of possible risk with Jaigaon relaxing its restrictions. “It is extremely important to ensure that people continue to remain vigilant and diligently follow all advisories issued by the health ministry,” the statement from C-19TF read.

“Every Bhutanese citizen has a solemn duty and obligation to act responsibly and comply with all restrictions and advisories in letter and spirit. The government led by the prime minister remains actively engaged and fully committed to addressing all challenges relating to Covid-19.”

Bhutan sealed its international border on March 23. Two days later, India imposed a lockdown.

The taskforce stressed that the challenges the country faced are formidable as the border is long, open and highly porous.

It stated that police with support from law enforcement agencies, Desuups, volunteers and others are all working hard in very difficult conditions throughout Bhutan to enforce the sealing of the international border, prevent illicit cross-border activities and transmission of Covid-19.

Meanwhile, about 138 Dessups are manning the informal points along the borders. Another 54 Dessups are also in various areas in the town monitoring people’s movements for physical distancing and other prevention measures. Police, government officials and volunteers also patrol these border areas in Phuentsholing.

Considering the risk of Jaigaon opening up gradually, the task force stressed that all restrictions imposed by the government continue will remain in effect.

“We must continue to follow all advisories issued by the health ministry and not become complacent as the disease continues to remain a pandemic and threatens humanity,” it stated.

“It is our shared responsibility to remain united in purpose and to continue to work together with steadfast resolve and commitment to tide over this very difficult and challenging period.”