Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar

With increasing Covid-19 positive cases in Assam, India, Samdrupjongkhar residents are worried about the high risk of cross-border transmission if concerned agencies do not carry out preventive measures.

Residents say it is important to disinfect trucks ferrying rations, fuel, gas cylinders and vegetables at the border gate before it enters Bhutan.

Residents say that although police, desuup and volunteers are carrying out patrolling every day, people living in Samdrupjongkhar is still at risk because they do not maintain distance when the drivers provide the billing documents at the gate.

A resident, Tshering Dhendup, 44, said there are high chances of virus transmission because Indian trucks are ferrying fuel and gas cylinders. “We have not seen concerned agencies taking any disinfection measures at the border gate before the trucks enter into the country.”

Another resident, Kinley, claimed the only preventive measure taken today was not allowing drivers to come out from the trucks during the unloading. “I wonder if this is enough.”

Two people tested positive of Covid-19 on April 16 in Assam and the state recorded about 34 positive cases as of April 16.

Samdrupjongkhar dzongdag, Tharchin Lhendup, said they have deployed securities comprising police, soldiers, desuups and volunteers from regional offices and forests at all three formal entry points and 21 informal routes after the closure of the border gates.

He said although movement of people across the border is minimal because of the nationwide lockdown in India, border surveillance is a high priority for the dzongkhag administration. Samdrupjongkhar shares a border with two states of India – Assam in the south and Arunachal Pradesh in the east.

Dzongdag said that there won’t be any risk of Covid-19 for any Bhutanese drivers ferrying rations and grocery items from other parts of the country to another parts even if they travel via Indian highways as they travel together without stopping on the way.

“We also send road safety and transport authority officials with the drivers escorting the vehicles to make sure they don’t get out from the trucks on the way,” dzongdag said, adding that they had developed a standard operation procedure (SOP) for both Indian and Bhutanese trucks ferrying those items.

According to the SOP, grocery shop owners and vegetable vendors should come to the gate and take photos of the documents which was later submitted to the custom officials after the drivers drop the documents in the drop box while drivers should stay inside the trucks.

“Custom officials will escort the trucks to the respective shops for unloading after the Bhutan Red Cross Society sanitises and disinfects the trucks while drivers would be kept in a separate room if it takes time,” it states.

The disinfecting and sanitising the vehicles is coordinated by Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry with support from its members from various sectors.

Dzongdag said labourers are also made to wear mask and wash their hands and legs properly after unloading. “We are doing our best to keep Covid-19 away and assure safety to the society as the infection control measures are properly taken in place.”