Yangyel Lhaden

Wearing gowns, gloves, face masks, and face shields for more than 15 hours a day and ferrying frontline workers to and from their duty stations, city bus drivers have been busy this lockdown.

They also take those who complete quarantine back to their homes. Stranded people returning home to Thimphu from other dzongkhags are picked up by city buses at the checkpoints and dropped at home. If any emergency transport need arises, the city bus drivers attend to them all.

Phub Tshering is one of the six drivers assigned to pick up and drop off health officials at the national referral hospital.

He gets up at 5:30am and drops off the first batch of health officials by 7:30am to the hospital. He grabs a quick breakfast and heads out. He makes a minimum of eight trips between quarantine hotels and hospitals daily. Sometimes he has to make more than 16 trips when he has to drop off patients discharged from the hospital. He reaches his quarantine hotel by 10:30pm.

Phub Tshering said that he fears the new variant and he has to enter the riskiest place daily. “I miss my family, but right now I have to put my country first.”

When he is not working, he video calls his three children and wife. He said that it feels better every time he talks with them. “When I don’t answer calls during my duties, my parents back in the village fear I might have contracted the disease.” 

A health official took to Facebook to show appreciation for their service. “Our hardworking group (CBS drivers) is invisible to society because they are not “health workers”.  She said that they wake up earlier than all of the health workers and go to sleep after everyone else is asleep. “They are silent heroes that keep the gears turning. Whatever may happen to the big picture, they keep their smaller vital ones moving in both chaos and peace.”

A health official said that CBS drivers are always on time. “They take their duty seriously.”

Six drivers remain as a backup at the CBS office.

Yeshi Penjor has been driving city buses for the past 18 years. He is one of the backup drivers and a mechanic.

He said that sometimes he had to substitute for another driver. “The pick up and drop off sometimes takes until 2.30am and I am only able to get about four hours of sleep.”

CBS’s manager said that CBS has transported desuups to Wangdue and made nine trips to Baylangdra where about 300 people were stranded. “A trip back and forth takes more than 12 hours, as there are many Covid-19 protocols on the way.”

He said that every three days, the drivers and staff with CBS undergo Covid-19 tests. “Drivers travelling to red zones have to undergo RT-PCR tests and have to return to Thimphu on the same day without exiting the bus.”