When a majority of us were sleeping peacefully at night, carrying on our lives under the safety and warmth of our homes, there were men and women braving the elements, sacrificing family time, sleep and meals just to keep everyone safe from COVID-19.
They have walked and moved around round the clock, irrespective of weather conditions and the situation. Risking their lives, they guarded the border to ensure zero importation of the coronavirus through illegal routes. They do not mind the work hard when it comes to ensuring the safety and comfort of the people, and their role was especially seen during the national lockdowns.
They are the frontliners consisting of the Armed Forces, DeSuups, forest officials, dzongkhag officials and other volunteers. Since the closure of gates along the borders, they have worked double the usual time, often risking their lives.
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.
Irrespective of challenges posed by the pandemic, the individuals guarding the border never gave up, whereby some have even fallen victim to battery cases along the border.
The communities also played a vital role in information sharing. The number of cases of illegal businesses across the border has gone down because the stepped up vigilance, the manpower has been strengthened, and all the required facilities are provided along the borders.
They managed to get hold of people who have breached the protocol. Had it not been for them the situation in the country could be different.
The Chief of Police, Major General Chimi Dorji, said that almost 700 km along the border are being guarded 24/7.
He said, “The entire border is well guarded, however, there are certain places where the human settlements are very close to each other, where they are separated just by one single footpath. In those areas, we have installed CCTV cameras to monitor.”
Under the cover of darkness, having to monitor the movement of people along or from across the border is one challenge, he said, adding that the other challenges are threat from the wildlife.
“Under the Royal Command, installations of CCTV cameras are done in all the critical areas and due to the surveillance, we could see drastic decrease in number of crimes along the border,” he added.
Secretary to Ministry of Home and Culture Affairs (MoHCA), Sonam Wangyel, who is also a Chairman of Southern COVID-19 Task Force, said that they have stepped up vigilance, whereby they have divided the area to gain more focus.
He said that assessments were done according to which the deployment has been done. However, “Now in the winter, the vulnerability of crossing the border illegally is quite high as the water level of the stream would be very low,” he added.
People from across the border, in the past, have been reported to come into the country during the winter for collection of firewood, looking for picnic hotspots, collection of sand and stones, following their livestock through the forest routes, and some others for poaching too.
Meanwhile, in recent times, with the threat of Omicron variant, the security along the southern borders and Paro International Airport are being further enhanced and various initiatives are being undertaken.
The frontliners, containment centers, people in the quarantine and people, in general, are being advocated and they are strictly monitoring and making sure that all the protocols are strictly followed by everyone. This means frontliners are now escorting the passengers to quarantine centers, and no staff are to come in contact with the passengers and the crews. They make sure that proper COVID-19 safety protocols are followed after their duty.
Moreover, as a preventive measures, the quarantine period was again increased to 21 days in Phuentsholing. They are blocking all the ways and possibilities of importation of virus along the border.
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 for them to serve the country, when in need rather than being home and doing nothing.
Samtse Desuup coordinator, Kinley Wangdi, said that the long and porous border, itself, is a challenge and getting enough Desuups to serve in such places continues to remain a challenge.
He said, “Depending upon the sensitivity of the locations, Desuups are deployed along with armed forces personnel. Every Desuup is constantly briefed on safety measures that they have to ensure at their duty locations.”
Bhutan shares its boundary with four Indian states starting from Sikkim with 32 km bordering Haa, West Bengal with 183 km bordering Haa, Samtse and Chukha, followed by Assam with 267 km bordering Sarpang, Zhemgang, Nganglam and Samdrup Jongkhar and finally Arunachal Pradesh with 217 km bordering Samdrup Jongkhar, Trashigang and Trashiyangtze.
This means that nine of Bhutan’s 20 districts adjoin the four Indian states that all have COVID-19 cases.