Younten Tshedup 

Life is normal and business continues as usual in Jomotshangkha drungkhag in Samdrupjongkhar today.

However, things were different a few weeks ago.

The reclusive drungkhag in the south is the only community in the country to go into lockdown after a shopkeeper tested positive to coronavirus on the rapid diagnostic test on April 30.

A weeklong restriction on movement of people was imposed as a preventive measure.

While anxiety and fear gripped the community, the local authority and residents say they managed to come out of it ‘successfully’.

Drungpa Lamdrak Wangdi credits the feat to the proactive role the local task force played including the cooperation and support from the community residents during the lockdown.

  The health worker and her husband visited villages to provide health services during the lockdown

The health worker and her husband visited villages to provide health services during the lockdown

Walking the extra mile

Everything was closed except the hospital in Jomotshangkha where treatment continued as usual. The small group of staff remained prepared to provide any emergency medical service.

The hospital had line-listed all pregnant mothers, people with comorbidities and disabilities including the elderly. The mobile health clinic was activated to provide services at the doorstep to all these vulnerable groups.    

Health assistant, Pema Lhadon ran the mobile health clinic single-handedly. Her husband, a Desuup, assisted her during her visits to various far-flung villages. Given the shortage of official vehicles, the couple used their private bolero to move around.

“We were already briefed on our responsibilities should we enter such a situation. There were not many challenges except for the bad weather and poor road conditions,” she said.

The health assistant delivered basic health services to about 140 people that included elderly care, immunization and family planning services and follow-up and delivery of medicines to patients with comorbidities and those with mental health issues.

Pema Lhadon said she also treated OPD (outpatient department) cases as people could not visit the hospital.

“As a health worker, it was routine work for me. The only thing different was that I had to go to the patients myself,” she said.

Pema Lhadon said that it was a learning experience for her personally and that her husband was supportive.

“But, my parents were worried about our safety.”

Back at the hospital, the lone doctor was seen rushing for a delivery case immediately after attending an emergency meeting that concluded around 10pm. The baby had to be resuscitated nearly for an hour after the delivery. The hospital team managed to save the baby. Both the mother and baby are in good health today.

Local hotline 1210

To disseminate accurate information during the lockdown, the drungkhag had established a local hotline service, 1210. Three individuals manned the centre 24-7 for a week. The centre is operational even today.

Jomotshangkha Wildlife Sanctuary’s chief forest officer, Ugyen Tshering, who is the planning team leader of the local task force, said there were over 300 calls so far. Most of them enquired about Covid-19 and its symptoms.

Some enquired about roadblocks, reported on illegal price hike on commodities by shopkeepers, and sighting new people in the community. “People also called for food items and health services. Our team delivered the essentials to their doorsteps,” Ugyen Tshering said.

Essential goods were delivered to about 115 households including liquid petroleum gas (LPG) cylinders to 15 households.

The CFO said that they have made about 190 outgoing calls to the public. “We had to call them back when hotline operators could not answer their doubts immediately,” he said, adding that correct information was gathered after discussing with officials concerned. “It was a challenging week and it could have been more difficult if the lockdown had prolonged.”

The restrictions were lifted on May 8, after the 55-year-old shopkeeper tested negative for Covid-19 for the third time during the week.

Drungpa Lamdrak Wangdi said that despite the shortage of manpower to reach all the scattered communities, the drungkhag effectively managed the weeklong lockdown. “Compared to a partial lockdown, it was easier to handle a complete lockdown situation.”

He said that because the drungkhag was already in a state of isolation due to the closure of border gates, things did not escalate, as it would have otherwise. “However, if the lockdown had prolonged, we could have faced further difficulty as the stocked essential goods would have exhausted.”

The drungpa said that from the experience, everyone was now better prepared to handle a similar situation in the future.

Jomotshangkha drungkhag shares porous international border with two Indian districts – Udalguri in Assam (south) and West Kameng, in Arunachal Pradesh (east). The drungkhag has one formal entry point and over 20 informal entry and exit points along the international boundary.