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The inspection report on Covid-19 protocols in Phuentsholing revealed major loopholes, which has become a cause of concern when we have locked down the bordering town for nearly three months.  But what is more concerning is that this is not the first time such issues were pointed out.

Authorities involved in the national Covid-19 task force and Phuentsholing are familiar with the issues. It has been raised to them through various channels.

Not to blame anyone, but the issues reported failed to get the required attention. The inaction has made Phuentsholing vulnerable to the outbreak, providing, perhaps, answers to curious residents who are wondering why cases are on the rise even with strict restrictions, including several lockdowns, in place.

This time, the national inspection team made numerous recommendations, but the report has no legal binding. The task force has no mandatory responsibility to implement the recommendations. 

After the report was published yesterday, the task force claimed they are addressing some issues. Some actions were taken up immediately after the report. However, it is not clear if all the instructions and advice of the task force’s chairman would be followed by implementing agencies. In most cases, there is no ownership on who will implement it. 

It is evident there are more issues on the ground. 

Export and import protocols are not followed properly and recommendations to improve them are not implemented, going by the report. While facilitation of trade is important, mandating safety protocols is must.

Front liners, including police, have no constant supply of PPEs. If they have to  depend on the generosity of sponsors for safety gear, it is a big problem. Frontliners are suspected of breaching protocols. There is no monitoring and accountability to ensure frontliners with different tasks do not mix. 

Front liners patrol the border day and night, but going by the report, it had left unchecked many vulnerable areas like along the border walls where goods are exchanged in areas that share close proximity to places across the border. The area received attention only a few days ago, although the task force had been alerted about this a year ago.

Phuentsholing has about 71 close circuit cameras or CCTVs, but only two people monitor the live cameras. Protocol breach happens in a fraction of 15 to 30 seconds.

In the transshipment areas at mini dry port (MDP) and truck parking, living conditions of the loaders are compromised. These groups have answered the call of the day and if their living conditions are compromised, they are made more vulnerable to not only Coronavirus, but other risks. These issues were also raised, but nothing has been done. No efforts were made to improve their living conditions.

The MDP area has been operational for the past 16 months. It, however, does not meet many checklists for safety protocols even today. Even during the fourth lockdown, there is poor compliance. Residents fear the lockdown will not add any value to the conditions in Phuentsholing. 

It is not time for any blame games or to display official arrogance, but to provide timely intervention to the issues. 

During the pandemic, health safety should be accorded highest importance. Bureaucratic incompetence should not impact the safety of citizens and undo the efforts and sacrifices put in so far. 

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