Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Considering the safety and prevention of community spread of Covid-19, all the loaders, 143 of them working at the two customs ports in Phuentsholing, have now shifted their base to a school.

The initiative began from June 11 as per the directives of the Covid-19 Task Force in Phuentsholing.

The loaders, mostly youth, jobless, and those who lost jobs owing to the pandemic, aren’t allowed to mix among the general public. They stay in the school, cook on their own, and their movement is monitored between the school and the customs ports.

Every morning at eight, a bus takes and drops them at the ports. In the evening, the bus picks them up from the ports and drop at school.

One of the loaders, Nim Gyel, 23, said that the strict protocols were timely and necessary.

“We are okay with such rules,” he said.

Such strong measures came after Jaigaon reported five Covid-19 positive cases. However, in about just four days, all these patients tested negative and were sent home.

For now, although there is not a single Covid-19 case across the border, many in the bordering town are concerned that there are still high chances of the loaders contracting the virus while coming in direct contact with the loads.

The number of Covid-19 positive cases increasing every day in places from where Bhutanese mostly import goods and commodities and agricultural products only add up to the worry.

As of yesterday, West Bengal reported 12,735 positive cases. Jalpaiguri reported 88 cases and Alipurduar 39.

A driver, Ugyen Penjor, said that although necessary steps were taken while importing from India, there were loopholes.

“Although the vehicles are disinfected while entering, the risk was at the port when loaders opened the loads,” he said.

Bhutanese drivers, who previously entered the transhipment area to help the loaders, are not allowed there anymore. They are now given a secluded area where they wait until the loads are transshipped.

Labour ministry’s regional office in Phuentsholing currently has registered more than 240 people for various jobs in Phuentsholing, out of which 143 are loaders.

A labour officer, Kelzang Tshechi, said that they could not yet tell how many manual workers were required at the two ports. “Loading of construction materials takes time and requires more people.”