MB Subba

The government is expected to impose restrictions on the movement of Bhutanese vehicles, except those transporting essential goods, via Assam and West Bengal in view of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

“Only vehicles that need to transport medicines, fuel and food supplies, will have to move across the border with precautions even if the situation gets worst,” Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said at the press briefing yesterday.

He said that the Indian government had assured the continued flow of essential goods to Bhutan. He urged people to avoid travelling across the border as a precautionary measure.

India reported a total of 233 (as per NDTV) coronavirus cases from various states as of yesterday.

The neighbouring state of West Bengal reported a new case taking the total cases in the state to two. Another neighbouring state, Assam, did not report any case as of yesterday evening.

The prime minister hinted at stopping buses from Phuentsholing after two days. He added that buses could be stopped immediately if there were no advance bookings for two days.

He said that the government had asked the Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) to provide details of how many advance bookings to other places from Phuentsholing were made.

“They should be allowed to move if people have already bought tickets. We are planning to stop the movement of buses after two days,” he said.

Regional transport officer in Phuentsholing, Karchung, said that about 84 buses depart to various places from the Phuentsholing bus station on a daily basis. Buses to Kolkata and Silliguri have already been stopped.

He said that his office had not received any directive from the government on stopping bus service from the border town. “We will enforce if the government gives us such directives,” he said.

Earlier, the joint parliamentary committee had discussed with the prime minister about the possibility of restricting private vehicles from using Indian routes.

The committee chair, Dorji Wangdi, said that committee was of the view that buses could ply vial India with clear protocols such as the need for passengers to carry lunches and restrictions on interaction with other people along the way.

But he added stopping nature’s call in between would be impossible.


Informal routes sealed

The Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) yesterday notified that it would seal all the informal routes along the border areas to enhance surveillance and compliance to preventive measures.

Informal routes include mule tracks or other routes that are not used officially.

Several temporary checkpoints would be set up within the country to beef up screening and vigilance. Health staff and RBP personnel will man the temporary checkpoints.

The RBP requested travellers entering Bhutan through formal points of entry to declare their travel history honestly. “Irresponsible behaviour and dishonest declaration of one could endanger the lives of many,” it warned.

Samtse dzongkhag on March 17 made it mandatory for vehicles, including public transport buses and taxis, to ply through the Samtse-Phuentsholing secondary national highway.