The frontliners guarding the southern belt to stop the transmission of COVID-19 have to now endure the intense summer heat and rains, and also avoid human-wildlife conflict situation to add to their hardship.
In addition, with increase in number of community transmission in various places in the south, there is a shortage of manpower and human resources.
Illegal entry of persons, illicit trafficking of controlled substances and a few battery cases along the border are some of the issues faced until today. However, the frontliners are giving it their best to safeguard and protect the people and nation.
Frontliners comprise of DeSuups, armed forces, retired armed forces, forest officials, health workers, civil servants, private employees and the unemployed youth. They are away from their families for months on end.
Some of the frontliners shared that this is the least they could do to serve the King, Country and People. Some of them said that it is always a pleasure to serve the country when in need rather than being home and doing nothing.
Samtse Dzongda, Passang Dorji, said, “The summer heat, swelling of river, heat induced skin diseases and human-wildlife conflict are the other threats apart from the pandemic. This makes the life of the fronliners challenging and difficult.”
However, he said that despite those challenges, they are making arrangements accordingly. Given the report of some cases of battery along the border in the past, the vulnerability is very high, and therefore, they make sure that the fronliners stay vigilant at all times, and they are being deployed in groups for a patrolling, he added.
A health frontliner, Dr Tashi Yangchen, said that with detection of cases in the community, they sometimes face a shortage of manpower. They have to test all the fronliners in Point Of Entries (POEs) every week, and having to travel in the monsoon is challenging, she added.
She said, “Tashicholing is a populated place and has only one BHU with just 43 staff, including supporting staff. So, we have a manpower shortage. In addition, roads are not good to travel on, and we do not have enough vehicles to travel for testing.”
She said that they do not have a proper containment area to stay during lockdown. However, they are managing with what they have, and they have put up an issue of manpower shortage to the Dzongkhag.
Wearing the PPE all the time is uncomfortable, but it is a safety protocol. As for movement in the remote areas, the medical team is provided full protection and is safe from any wildlife attack.
Samtse DeSuup coordinator, Kinley Wangdi, said that the long and porous border, itself, is a challenge and since many of their duty locations are in very hot, humid, remote and difficult areas with some basic comfort and facilities, therefore, not many DeSuups are keen on serving in such difficult places. Getting enough DeSuups to serve in such places continues to remain a challenge.
He said, “Depending upon the sensitivity of the locations, DeSsuups are deployed along with armed forces personnel. Every DeSuup is constantly briefed on safety measures that they have to ensure at their duty locations.”
The most obvious sacrifice is the comfort of their homes by spending sleepless nights in the makeshift houses along the border areas, he said, adding that some of them had to postpone their studies while some are taking online exams at the duty locations.
“However, majority of the DeSuups do not see it as sacrifice. They are mostly inspired by the opportunity to serve the nation in times of need,” he said.
Tashi Dorji, Phuentsholing DeSuup coordinator, shared that the transmission in the community keeps increasing, and the difficulties they face remains the same. However, such difficulties are something that they can endure and overcome.
“On ground, we have asked our people to be vigilant from getting attacked by the wildlife and possibility of getting attacked like in the past. For their safety, we have briefed them and necessary guidance was also given,” he added.
Duties in POEs have been enhanced, and they also have made sure that no people should come in or go out, he said, adding that to ensure proper rest and proper facilities, DeSuups are deployed in shift system and facilities are provided at each POEs to tackle the summer heat.
He said, “We have 12 red buildings in Phuntsholing, and duties are deployed to man the building under self-containment mode. Additional DeSuups are dispatched for that purpose.”
An official from Samdrupjongkhar shared that the frontliners are serving with full dedication despite the difficulties. To ensure their safety, frontliners are being briefed on all the safety measures and on how to react if anything unusual pops out anytime, he added.
On surveillance, he said, “We have installed CCTV cameras in various locations. We have also set-up POEs after studying the situation and vulnerabilities,” he said.
DeSuup coordinator, Karma Loday, said that as compared to other three dzongkhags along the border, Samdrupjongkhar is at peace for now, and they have not come across any major challenges.
He said, “We do not have communities from across the border who have settled close to our border unlike in Samtse. Therefore, we have more than enough frontliners to guard our border and according to situation, we would deploy more.”
The facilities in all the outposts have been upgraded to tackle the heat, so as to not hamper with the work. Every now and then the frontliners there face some difficulty while out on patrol, he added.