Despite the harsh weather conditions and fighting against an unseen enemy, the frontliners are braving it all, and working round the clock to keep the community safe all over the country.
They are seen patrolling out in the bitter cold, and grabbing quick rice porridges or thukpa around a fire, and going without any sleep, while the rest of us are sleeping soundly and in the warmth of our homes.
And yet the frontliners face verbal harassment from the public, and are being blamed for carrying the coronavirus by some. However, such harassment has not deterred them from carrying out their duties.
Overall, DeSuung office has deployed more then 8,000 Desuups around the country. Thimphu, alone, has more than 900 DeSuups. There are 600 DeSuups deployed in Phuentsholing, and more than 300 DeSuups are deployed in Samtse.
There are 193 Desuups sent for border patrolling in Phuentsholing, and more than 200 Desuups are deployed for border patrolling in Samtse. They are all kept in different cohorts in containment, and they are advised not to move out.
Regional DeSuup Coordinator, Ugyen Wangchuk, said that they did not face any major challenges, so far, and the situation for now is under control. However, they have come across minor challenges, like logistic issues and shortage of manpower, as some of the DeSuups tested positive and some are under quarantine.
He said, “Around 70 Desuups are quarantined in Phuentsholing, but the situation is manageable with what we have. If needed, we will then request DeSuung office for additional Desuups. Our containment centers are not as comfortable as other dzongkhags’ containment centers. All 43 hotels are used as quarantine centers.”
Only a few number of Desuups are staying in hotels while the rest are staying in schools and BOC hall, he said, adding that the Omicron variant spreads so fast that everyone on duty needs to be quarantined, if any positive case is detected from one place, and this ultimately leads to no free quarantine space in hotels.
He further said that Desuups have to bear with the cold during the night as it is forbidden to light a bonfire in core areas in Phuentsholing.
“For now, we are not able to contain the virus fully, as people are moving freely around, whereby making it difficult for us to monitor their movement. If the ministry can lockdown completely, like in the past and conduct a mass testing, this way, maybe, we can contain the virus,” he added.
However, he said they are managing things better now as compared to the earlier lockdown.
Desuup Tashi Tsewang said, “It’s an honor for me because I have the opportunity to serve the King and country when needed the most. It’s a proud moment for me. Knowing that I am serving for good, I am able to overcome every challenge.”
“Cold is, of course, unbearable during certain points of time, but we are managing. When the King and the government are working so hard, then, why can’t we serve at our best? I will fight against all odds to serve,” he added.
Karma Shedrup said that they have come across people who criticize them of carrying the virus and talk them down, but they are taught to ignore such hostility, as their mandate is to educate the people and protect the community.
The people’s discouragement can get to some of the frontliners, at times.
“We confront them, as it sometimes hurt us badly, that we want to leave immediately. Nevertheless, as I have come to serve my King and country, and I would never give up. I will give my best,” he added, and further said, “Having said that, there are people who are supportive and who encourage us by sharing what they have.”
“We walk around in cold but we take it in our stride. We are protected from cold as we are given warm jackets, and we do sit around the fire.”
A 38-year-old police personnel on duty shared that their duty is to protect the community, which he has been doing for years and it brings him pride in his job and total satisfaction.
He said, “People don’t like us, and we are used to people’s criticism. We are posted in different places, from hot places to cold places. So at this point of time, I can overcome every challenges, the cold and criticism.”
All that matters to him are the community’s safety and a total victory in fighting against the coronavirus, he said, adding that all the frontliners are giving it their best.
Meanwhile, DeSuung Director, Tashi Tobgay, said that despite the peak winter, the volunteers are serving ardently, and there is always a back up team ready for deployment.
He said, “His Majesty The King has issued two wind-proof jackets to each DeSuup. And forest office has distributed fire woods.”
Frontliners are also managing well in places where people are aware of the dire situation and they are cooperative. There might be few cases of harassment from the public, but the office did not receive any official complaints, so far.
“DeSuups on duty are kept in hotels. We have DeSuups staying in schools, whereby if there are additional needs, at any point of time, we can deploy them directly as they are tested. They are under containment,” he added.