Twenty-six days into complete lockdown, the first phase of lockdown relaxation began in Merak yesterday after 847 samples collected on May 11 for mass testing tested negative.

According to the relaxation notification, movement of people will be allowed within the gewog. Individuals who want to travel out of gewog should undergo seven days mandatory quarantine and RT-PCR test.

Private vehicles shall be allowed to move within the gewog but public transport shall be allowed with 50 percent capacity.

Herders migrating from Thrimshing, Kangpara, Khaling, Radhi, Phongmey, Kanglung, Samkhar and Shongphu will be allowed to move to their summer pastureland.

“Yak herders who tested negative in RT-PCR will be allowed to move to their summer pastureland,” the notification stated.

All forms of construction work will be allowed with strict compliance to Covid-19 protocols. Hiring skilled labourers from low-risk gewog shall be allowed, but movement out of high-risk areas will be subjected to seven days mandatory quarantine.

Transportation of construction material shall be allowed following high to low-risk area movement protocols.

Except for Merak gewog, all schools, offices and institutions in Sakteng gewog will be allowed to resume from today.

Business will be allowed to operate from 5am to 7pm with strict compliance of health protocols.

Social gathering and religious conducts are not allowed until further notice but ‘Soekha’ will be allowed to be performed by concerned lhakhag caretaker.  Funeral rites will be allowed limited to 20 individuals including ‘choeps’.

Export of livestock products will be facilitated by the dzongkhag after keeping for 72 hours in quarantine.

Movement of essential supplies and vehicles will be allowed till the identified point of entry.

Meanwhile, respective gewogs offices with existing health protocols will facilitate marketing of agriculture and livestock products.

Sakteng drungpa, Sangay Dawa, said the task force accepted the proposed unlocking plan.

“With mass testing results negative, we qualified for unlocking from yesterday,” he said.  “But we need to plan carefully how to bring in herders from pasture quarantine.”

He said the first unlocking phase was initiated in consultation with eastern region Covid-19 task force in Samdrupjongkhar, technical advisory group and dzongkhag task force members.

Merak gewog was under complete lockdown after the first positive Covid-19 cases was detected on May 19.

Meanwhile, Trashigang residents are being cautious with the easing of lockdown. Residents started coming out of their homes and the number of vehicles increased on the roads from the third day.

Residents said people became more cautious to come out of their homes.

While retail businesses and groceries have returned to normalcy, hoteliers said it would take time to return to normal business as most of the people are staying at home.

A hotelier, Karma Choden, said not many people are coming out like in the past. “Before lockdown, about 20 customers used to come in a day, but now it has reduced.”

A businessman, Wangdi, said people should still follow the Covid-19 safety protocols.

Safety protocols are in place and officials are monitoring complaince. Officials said most people follow the protocols.

A villager from Bikhar, Sherub Tenzin, who had come to town for shopping said they are following protocols while they are in town.  “We are reminded by local leaders not to visit town unless necessary. But we do not come here often.”

Meanwhile, people are advised to practice physical distancing and follow health protocols.

By Neten Dorji | Trashigang

Edited by Tashi Dema