… frustration growing among residents 

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing 

The lockdown relaxations Phuentsholing residents were looking forward to starting from today is improbable given the increasing number of positive cases from the community.

The border town saw 138 new Covid-19 cases yesterday. Of the total, 90 were from the community, 45 contacts, and three imported cases.

Many in Phuentsholing expected more relaxation towards the end of January. However, the Southern Covid-19 Task Force (SC-19TF) on January 30 decided to extend the lockdown until today—under existing measures and protocols put in place.

The taskforce made the decision after the government announced that the regional and local task forces would institute relaxations or reinforce further measures based on the ground situation on January 30.

A separate way forward was to be announced today, according to the SC-19TF, because of the increasing number of positive cases from the community.

SC-19TF stated that although the number of positive cases in the community began to decline from January 21, it again saw a sharp increase to 19 cases on January 28.

As per the health ministry’s national situational update on Covid-19, over 290 positive cases have been reported from the community in Phuentsholing alone. 

 There is growing pressure and frustration among many residents.

A private employee said Phuentsholing reported community cases since mid of January but mass screening has not been carried out yet.

“Government is giving all the attention to Thimphu,” she said.

According to her, while the government stressed Phuentsholing and other southern places as risk areas, the outbreak was from Wangdue. “It is frustrating.”

Another resident, Tashi Dorji, said people in Phuentsholing are giving their best financially and mentally. “To be honest, what we see from outside and what we are going through is totally different. Most are fighting with their last efforts.”

“Until now, we have given our best and obeyed all the instructions.”

Another resident, Nar Bahadur, said that it was high time to allow people to learn to live and work with the virus. “It is a never-ending story. Our government must find a way so that living with the virus could be an option.”

He said daily wage earners and small businesses are the ones suffering the most.

A shopkeeper in the core town said starting from January 30, shops have been given alternative turns to operate. “Only two shops from the previous seven will operate.”

He said having just two shops operate is riskier as more people will crowd in those shops. “Having more shops within an area is better as customers will be distributed and crowding reduced. Delivery system is also a good option.” 

Another resident, Pema Khandu, said it has been more than half a month into lockdown considering the three days’ blackout period after the first positive case was detected from the community on January 7.

“Although we all would love the town to open up, I still think it is risky,” he said, adding that relaxation should be considered only after it is 100 percent safe.

“It could be done after a week or two.”

Melam, who is closely observing the lockdown in Phuentsholing, said mass screening is a must to unlock. “Each household member, the one who frequently goes to do the grocery shopping, should be tested.”

SC-19TF member, Rixin Jamtsho, said cluster testing at Toorsa temporary shelter and other Amochhu areas have been done as of now.

The temporary shelter area, which is in containment mode, has become a hotspot for transmission. A total of 29 positive cases were reported from the colony yesterday and on January 31 it reported 26 cases. Altogether, Toorsa temporary shelter has detected more than 80 positive cases.