Amid the rising coronavirus case in India, a positive case in neighbouring Jaigaon town was what most Bhutanese feared. Jaigaon has now five positive cases. This spells clear danger for Bhutan.
Phuentsholing and Jaigaon are separated by a wall. In most places there is no structure or fencing at the border. It is so porous that people can easily come in or go out. And there is another positive case close to the Samtse border in Chumarchi.
As of yesterday, we have recorded 59 positive cases. But all are imported cases and the risk is minimised as they are quarantined on arrival and tested for the virus.
We should be worried about the five cases in Jaigaon and the increasing numbers in the bordering states and towns. Our fear is a community transmission and the possibility of such a transmission looks more possible from the border areas. It is time to be concerned although the government assures of measures in place.
Going by what is happening in Phuentsholing a day after Jaigaon reported five cases, everything seems to be business as usual. The expectation was that the town’s resident would be worried and take preventive measures including staying home and keep physical distance. This is not happening and this is worrying. Our complacency could undo all the efforts put in thus far.
Preparation wise, the government is confident, but the onus is put on the people to remain safe. It is thus the responsibility of every Bhutanese, especially those in the bordering areas to be extra cautious. Wearing face masks is not mandatory. Therefore, people are not happy when questioned, forgetting it is for their own safety. Given the enhanced risks, local governments could make it mandatory, for instance in public places in Phuentsholing.
Because our response to Covid-19 has been successful, complacency will be our biggest risk. Everyone is gathering everywhere. As it is the auspicious month, lhakhangs and dzongs are overwhelmed by visitors. Forget physical distancing, there is rush and no space at some popular lhakhangs. It is no different in the woods or walking trails.
There is a big irony. When the first case was reported, we were gripped by panic buying. Shops ran out of face masks and sanitisers. People were scared to gather or visit crowded places like hospitals. We have 59 cases and we are calm.
It would be too late when we report even a single case of a local transmission. Knowing the nature of the virus, it would have spread to many in the community and tracing would be an uphill battle even with tracing apps in place. We know how people even cheat scanning a tracing QR code.
It is not late yet. There is no harm in being safe and helping others to be safe. Going by our response, the question now about a local transmission is of when, not if. By then it would be too late.