Kelzang Wangchuk  | Samdrupjongkhar

The government discontinued disinfecting the vehicles ferrying grocery items and vegetables at the border gate since May 1.

In the wake of Covid-19 pandemic in neighbouring states and districts across the border, Samdrupjongkhar residents are worried and say the movement of vehicles could trigger a cross-border transmission of the disease.

Besides not disinfecting the vehicles at the border gate, people are more concerned now as the authorities had allowed trucks from across the border to ferry gypsum from Samdrupjongkhar about two weeks before. 

“There is a high risk of the trucks carrying the virus as they come from various places in India,” a resident said.

A resident, Namgay, said Samdrupjongkhar town was safe so far because of safety measures in place. Drivers and their assistants have to wash their hands at the gate, but residents are sceptic if it would be adequate to keep the virus out.

Another resident, Tshering Tobgay, said although there are precautions and safety measures at the gate, the concerned authorities should be more careful given the increasing number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in India.

Transporting goods from Phuentsholing via Bumthang have become doubly expensive from additional transportation costs since India’s lockdown.

“It would help if the concerned authorities could allow us to transport other goods via Indian highway as we do not see any issues because the Indian trucks ferrying gypsum from Samdrupjongkhar are also allowed,” a resident, Tashi, said.

Samdrupjongkhar dzongdag, Tharchin Lhendup, said since it is vital to allow the import and export in the interest of the economy, gypsum trucks were allowed after seeking approval from relevant authorities and as per the government’s policy and order.

He said it is mandatory for the drivers and their helper to wash their hands and sanitise at the border gate.” We also send desuups as escorts for loading and paperwork at the site.”

Dzongdag said the drivers and helpers are not allowed to come out from the vehicle while they have also constructed the separate toilets for them at the site. He said they were also not allowed to fuel the trucks, and about five trucks were sent at a time to avoid traffic congestion.

Besides the gypsum trucks, the authorities also allowed the transport of construction materials and other essential items based on need, among others.

He said that the disinfecting at the border gate was lifted as per the health ministry’s Standard Operation Procedure (SOP) as it has less effect and more risk for the rations. According to the SOP, disinfecting vehicle tyres or body and goods are not required.

“I assure there is no risk of the virus if we strictly implement the SOP. We also carry out strict monitoring and don’t allow those drivers to spend nights here,” the dzongdag said.