Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

After the National Inspection Team (NIT) pointed out some major loopholes in measures against the Covid-19 in Phuentsholing, the Southern Covid-19 Task Force (SC-19TF) said that it had begun to implement the recommendations and make key changes.

An NIT team inspected several places in Phuentsholing, between June 30 and July 7, and discovered major issues in regards to Covid-19 transmission risks. NIT has recommended actions to be put in place.

Sanglam (Forest Colony) 

According to the SC-19TF, all the measures to combat breaches at Sanglam, as recommended by NIT, have been activated.

Some of the works, including the small doors on the walls, were already closed, before the NIT inspection and report, the task force stated. Wall was also raised. However, there were small openings and the wall was still low, NIT pointed out.  

A watchtower was erected near the “pink twin buildings” on July 11 and dedicated duty personnel were deployed for a 24-hour vigilance. Additional CCTV cameras have been installed and the control room was strengthened with additional manpower, according to the task force.

Additional lighting has also been installed. Several other measures,   including placing outpost duty at strategic locations, have already been initiated. Tree branches obstructing the CCTV cameras are being cleared.

MDP loaders 

The inspection team found Mini Dry Port (MDP) loaders living with no proper beds in the containment shed and nobody monitored their living conditions or health status. The loaders are handled by their employer Dhendup Enterprise and not directly under the task force or the customs office.

The task force has been instructed to do away with the current system of loaders sleeping on the cement floor and without a proper door and locking facility.

“They have been advised to find double bunk beds with future loaders’ surge capacity, space for kitchen with proper and secured switch plug points, and maintain the hygiene of warehouse containment facilities,” according to the SC-19TF.

Loaders were also found either without face masks or torn face masks. For this, instructions to provide adequate fresh face masks and hand sanitiser have been given, according to the task force.

Loaders will also be issued with adequate PPEs (heavy-duty hand gloves and safety boots (steel toe) to prevent injury to heavy and risky items. Task force has advised loading management and the loaders to use reflector jackets at all times.

The NIT report also said that loaders had difficulty in climbing high-raised trucks. Dhendup Enterprise has been instructed to provide a handy ladder (light aluminum ladder) for the safety of loaders.

Sorchen and PoEs

The NIT also found several loopholes at Sorchen driver switching point and points of entry (PoE).

A task force official said the RBP has provided soap for handwashing at Sorchen and all PoEs. Measures for physical distancing and preventing mixing of the high-risk and low-risk drivers have also been put in place. The security personnel are provided face masks, face shields, and hand gloves by RBP.

Disinfection at Sorchen is contracted to a private individual, the health team has been monitoring it and the employer has been providing them adequate safety kits and PPE.

Further, six CCTV cameras at Sorchen red zone and green zone have been installed. It is strengthened with two officers; one in green zone and another in the red zone switching station. Switching tokens are issued and collected in a container and sanitised using reusable gloves by those on duty.

Further, crowding in front of the entry point has been controlled with barricades and demarcation tapes for queuing drivers and proper distancing.

Red buildings and clusters 

NIT report underscored the probable cause of continuous transmission of Covid-19 to other areas was due to probable leakage from red clusters and red buildings because of inadequate monitoring. The task force said red buildings and clusters are managed and tested as per the red building protocol.

Currently, there are 15 red buildings or clusters. The monitoring of the red buildings is done round the clock by the RBP and de-suups. To date, no cases in the community have been linked to the leakage resulting from the red building or clusters, the task force official said.

Quarantine facilities 

Quarantine facilities are managed by de-suups, whom the health staff has sensitised on the Covid-19 safety protocols, according to the SC-19TF. “PPEs for the quarantine managers and de-suups are provided by the hospital.”

Phuentsholing residents are pointing out that the Chinese Lane issue is not new.

“Anyone living in this town, be it the authorities or any concerned agencies knows about it,” one resident told Kuensel. “It’s very sad some of our residents have breached the protocols.”

Kuensel also learned that similar inspections have been done regularly across the high-risk dzongkhags including, Samdrupjongkhar, Samtse, Gelephu, Nganglam, and Lhamoidzingkha.

Starting July 9, Phuentsholing is under a complete 14-day lockdown, which is also the fourth lockdown for the town. The government has also ceased import and export activities this time.

A resident said the NIT inspection should have become public a long time ago. “Now that we are already under a lockdown, we can expect a good outcome.”

He also said the government must apply “smart unlocking” after the lockdown ends. Except for the red clusters and buildings, other areas must be open.

“We all have to be front liners now and help each other,” he said.

Another resident, Sangay Khandu said people are “very tired” of this prolonged lockdown in Phuentsholing.

“More than Covid-19, residents of Phuentsholing may suffer from mental problems and social problems,” he said, adding more than anyone, people who survive on daily wages and those who are running businesses are severely hit.

Despite the hardships, Sangay Khandu said people are supporting and cooperating, especially, in the current lockdown, expecting to receive a second vaccine jab and to ease the lockdown at the earliest.

“I’m very worried if the situation does not improve even after the 14 day-lockdown,” he said. “How will the residents react? Business people are frustrated, desperate. Community cases are still emerging.”

Five days into the fourth lockdown, Phuentsholing yesterday saw 11 positive cases from the community.

Edited by Tshering Palden