…travellers declaring false travel history remains a challenge 

Younten Tshedup

The news of a Covid-19 suspect getting caught at Bongaigoan, a bordering town in Assam near Gelephu has made the town’s residents apprehensive.

The suspect, a migrant worker from Assam was found around midnight on a train to Guwahati after he had escaped the quarantine facility in Kerala on March 16.

Bongaigaon, which is about an hour and half drive (49km) from Gelephu, is a business centre for people in the border town. Sources said that there are Bhutanese still visiting the town daily. “There are people coming in and going there frequently, which is why the news of the escapee was alarming.”

However, officials in Gelephu said that all the necessary measures including a 24-hour surveillance team is deployed at the point of entry in the border town. “We are strictly monitoring the entry and exit of people and should there be any risk in the nearby areas, we’ll act accordingly,” said an official.

Teams comprising of police, health staffs Desuups and volunteers man the border gate on a shift basis. Quarantining of travellers has also been initiated. As of yesterday 72 Bhutanese are under quarantine of which 29 are under home quarantine.

Sarpang Dzongdag, Karma Galay, said that challenges however lie in people not declaring authentic travel history. He said that six people entered the gate by providing false travel history yesterday.

Following a tipoff, the group of six individuals who had returned from West Bengal, India were traced and quarantined on the same day.

Sources said that the group included five vendors and a driver who had gone to Falakata under Alipurduar district in West Bengal on March 16. 

Gelephu residents are more concerned about the quarantine exemption provided to day labourers and boulder truck drivers.

A resident who requested anonymity said that boulder drivers ferrying consignments to Bangladesh pose high risk of infection. “They spend three to four days along the way which makes them  potential carriers of the virus.”

He said that with the number of Covid-19 cases increasing in India it would be wise if all travels were completely closed until the situation improves. “When travel restrictions on tourists have been imposed, there is no point keeping the Gelephu border open,” he said. “If the entry of day workers are also temporarily closed, it could help us monitor the illegal routes too, as there will be no Indians left in the town.”

Meanwhile, the 24-year-old escapee had fled the quarantine facility with two other suspected coronavirus infected men from Kerala. The two men are from Odisha and West Bengal.

The Assamese was travelling by the Kanchanjungha Express, train number 13175. He was arrested from coach number ER14425. He boarded the train from Parak in Chennai and from there to Howrah by Howrah Mail.

From Seldah station in Kolkata, he took the Seldah-Silchar Kanchanjungha Express and was heading to Guwahati station, according to Times of India (ToI), an English daily paper in India.

According to ToI, all the passengers in the particular coach were medically screened before the train left. All of them have been advised to undergo for home quarantine.

The details of the train the Covid-19 suspect took from Chennai to Bongaigaon:

Train number: 13175

Coach number: ER-14425

Train route: Chennai- Howrah by Howrah Mail Seldah- Guwahati by Kanchanjungha Express