The health ministry, on Monday, issued a detailed safety protocol that ministries and agencies have to follow in the wake of the increasing Covid-19 cases in the region. It is a timely intervention as cases at home are also on the rise and the threat of an uncontrollable transmission is becoming more realistic.

There is nothing we can do but to prevent a tragedy that is unfolding in the region. We have watched, read and listened to the unimaginable disasters happening at our doorsteps. Even as we read the directives from the health ministry, many are watching what is happening in Siliguri, the nearest Indian city where bodies of Covid-19 victims are piling at a crematorium. 

Neighbouring Jaigaon is also under a lockdown. Reports of people dying in places familiar to Bhutanese, especially Jalpaiguri district, is being covered by mainstream Indian media. We should be worried. We have, so far, managed to prevent a full-blown community transmission. That doesn’t guarantee us any comfort. This is worsened by the complexities and the uncertainties of the new variant that is taking a toll on India. While virologists are still studying what is now called the Indian variant, what is clear is that the virus is very infectious and kills both young and the old.

We should be worried because the new variant is in our quarantine centres (hotels). There are no studies, but it is safe to surmise that one in five expatriate workers in our quarantine hotels are testing positive.  And what is even worrying is that it is now being spread from the quarantine centres, contrary to the belief that most of our positive cases are within the safety of the quarantine hotels.

Going by recent incidents, quarantine centres are no more a safe place. We have three incidents where people breached quarantine protocols and have created panic in the society. In Samdrupjongkhar, a staff of a quarantine hotel who tested positive breached the protocol and visited a school. Three other hotel staff tested positive, probably from the foreign workers quarantined at the hotel. The capital city nearly went into a lockdown, the third, after a staff of a quarantine hotel breached rules and mingled with people, including playing cricket at a school ground. The first case that led to a lockdown in Phuentsholing started from a quarantine centre.

The risk is now with the quarantine centres loaded with the infectious and deadlier variant. It is, therefore, crucial to keep an eye on our quarantine centres where positive cases are carrying the new infectious variant. There are protocols and stringent rules, but there are also loopholes. We should plug the loopholes and give extra attention to the quarantine centres.

It is good that we have identified the risks. There are protocols and rules spelled out, but not implementing them or taking them granted could spell disaster. A dozen cases of the new variant in the community means we will be experiencing what is happening in the region. We could be worse given our resources and health infrastructure.

 It is still in our hands. Should we be complacent, flount rules, or endure another lockdown? Or, should we cooperate with the authorities and put strict safety measures in place to prevent another outbreak and disruptions to life? The choice is in ours to make.