Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing 

If a report compiled by the National Inspection Team (NIT) is anything to go by, Phuentsholing needs major improvements in measures against Covid-19.

The report of an inspection on Covid-19 health safety protocol adherence and compliance for Phuentsholing conducted between June 30 and July 7, shows some major loopholes in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic in the bordering town.

Clusters and PoEs

The inspection team found small openings on the border wall and the wall height was low at some locations of Sanglam (forest colony) and Pemaling areas. The distance between the buildings of Bhutan and India in the area known as Chinese Line was also at a ‘throw-able’ distance.

Recently, 20 positive cases were detected from the Pemaling area.

According to the findings, the probable cause of the continuous transmission of Covid-19 at forest colony was ‘suspected to illegal exchange of goods with opposite buildings in India due to close proximity – drop and pick through dry drains, holes in the wall or by throwing.’

The report pointed out possible breach of the lockdown protocols, and mixing with infected people of the immediate building. 

The team recommended sealing the small wall openings and raising the wall height. Otherwise, the surveillance must be enhanced, the report stated.

It was found that although there were five CCTV cameras installed, fruit trees and other plants obstruct coverage, and the cameras also had some blind spots. 

The NIT recommended clearing the obstructions and increasing the number of cameras and staff at the control room for monitoring.   The problem could also be solved by erecting outposts at certain intervals along the border walls or by relocating residents to other rented houses, according to the report.

NIT report also underscored that the probable cause of continuous transmission of Covid-19 to other areas was due to probable leakage from red clusters and red buildings caused by inadequate monitoring. This, the report said, was due to a shortage of RBP personnel and de-suups.

“Breaching of safety protocols by public and frontline workers was another reason.”

NIT report stated that there was inadequate adherence to safety protocols by those delivering essential items. Frontline workers with different responsibilities were found mixing at the containment centres, the report stated.

At the entry and exit gates, the NIT pointed inadequate PPE for disinfectors. All frontline workers wore the same cloth face masks for three to five days. Incoming travellers were not provided with face masks. NIT also found that there were no soaps at the handwashing stations or washbasins. 

Sorchen area

At the vehicle transshipment point at Sorchen, the report pointed out that the switching tokens are touched by hands at the registration counter. There was also crowding in front of the counter. All drivers at the high-risk driver-holding areas were also found mixing. Hand washing soaps were unavailable.

“Drivers also do not wash hands while switching,” the report stated. 

Using hand gloves, face shields and face masks has been recommended. A barricade at a one-meter distance, availability of soaps and water, handwashing for both low and high-risk drivers were other recommendations.


NIT’s observations at the mini dry port (MDP) are worrying. The report pointed out that police and de-suups at the registration counter were seen without face masks at MDP Gate No 2. The clearing agent staff did not wear face shields.

Handling of declaration forms, tax receipts, and transactions were not as per the safety protocols. 

They also handled cash which was not quarantined, the report said.

Further, drivers and importers from all the three mega zones were found mixing outside the MDP Gate 2. The movement of local drivers was not monitored properly.

NIT also reported issues at the foreign vehicle holding area and transshipment bay. The team said the waiting time for transshipment was too long for transshipment from foreign-vehicle areas into the local-vehicle area. Foreign vehicle drivers were found freely moving inside the transshipment bay and holding areas. There was no monitoring to restrict the movement of foreign drivers. Only about three de-suups were deployed.

NIT recommended prioritising and fast-tracking transshipment of large containers and trucks by increasing the number of loaders.

There must be strict monitoring of the movement of the foreign drivers within the transshipment areas, the report stated. There was also a need to deploy more de-suups to monitor safety compliance and to escort the foreign drivers. 

Local drivers were also found casually walking inside the MDP and across to the foreign-drivers holding area where the imported vehicles were parked. Local drivers wore cloth masks and no face shields. 

Loaders and frontline workers

There were also issues regarding the safety of the loaders, and frontline workers such as clearing agent staff, police, and de-suups.

The NIT found that there was a shortage of basic PPEs for both frontline workers and loaders. The containment sheds were found crowded with five to seven frontline workers staying together. 

“There was no proper bed for loaders in the containment shed and nobody monitored their living conditions and health status.” The loaders did not have safety gears and they were also not trained to carry out heavy lifting and climb vehicles. 

Basic PPEs such as utility gloves, face masks, and uniforms should be provided, the NIT recommended.

In terms of the loaders’ containment facilities, it was observed that the room partitioning and sleeping arrangements of loaders ‘do not look good’ as per the report. Containment rooms smelled foul as loaders were ‘probably urinating inside the rooms during the night’.

There was no provision for drinking water and no entertainment facilities.

The NIT recommended resizing and rearranging the partition with a comfortable sleeping arrangement with a kitchen. Further, the team recommended maintaining hygiene of the warehouse containment facilities with daily monitoring by supervisors. 

Installation of safe drinking water points each at MDP Gate 1 and 2, foreign-drivers holding area, and two drinking water points at transshipment bay were suggested.

With improper drainage at MDP, the inspection team also discovered an accumulation of stagnant and dirty water, trash dumped all over and sensed an impending risk of an outbreak of waterborne and vector-borne diseases.

The report highlighted that some of the loaders were physically weak. They complained to the NIT that the supervisors were not letting them visit the hospital.

One of the loaders expressed his grievances of not letting him go home to attend to his sick parents.

Quarantine facilities

The report revealed that quarantine facilities (QF) were not prepared as per the QF Standard Operating Procedure (SoP) while transferring the positive cases. It was found that de-suups were providing the briefing  sessions from close proximity. 

De-suups were not provided with proper training or refresher course on management of QF while transitioning. There was no handwash stations at all the quarantine facilities.

It also took ‘a long time’ to transfer positive patients from quarantine facilities. 

The NIT recommended following QF SoPs and training de-suups before they were posted in QFs. “It must be compulsory to install wash stations at the entrance and in all QFs.” 

Security personnel stationed inside the QFs did not have much work, the NIT found. 

“And delivery people were moving too frequently to the QFs. There was no monitoring for meal timing and safety compliance of food caterers. Some QFs were adjacent to the shops.”

The report suggested that the security personnel should be kept outside the facility so that he or she could monitor both outside and inside of the QFs. The QFs should also be provided with all the essential items at the beginning of quarantine.

“Criteria for QF needs to be revised,” the report stated.

Edited by Tshering Palden