Non essential travel restricted for now
The discovery of seven community cases and four frontline staff testing positive while in quarantine duty in Phuentsholing should be an uncomfortable wake up call on the risks along the southern border and the need to better secure it.
This is in the backdrop of the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the neighboring country India.
Dzongkhags along the border have stepped up their surveillance and monitoring. Given the risk of importing COVID-19, they submitted to the Prime Minister’s office for a temporary suspension of import of foreign laborers to which the Prime Minister agreed.
However, the flow of essential goods is not impacted by the increase in number of cases across the border.
The movements of people from high risk to high risk areas were being restricted for sometime now given the case scenario across the border. They are allowed to travel only with genuine reason, on medical ground or someone’s death.
There is certain degree of complacency among the people after the first dose of vaccination. Therefore, Dzongkhags like Samtse, Chukha (Phuentsholing), Samdrupjongkhar and Sarpang have introduced vigorous advocacy and sensitization measures on the usage of face mask, maintaining social distancing and hand sanitizers.
The Chief of Police Major General Chimi Dorji said that almost 700 KM along the border are being guarded 24/7 by police, army, forest, desuups and other stakeholders who are deployed in full force.
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.”
Security personals are being briefed and they are instructed to visit all the Point of Entry’s (PEO’s) every week, he said, and each time they are reminded of cases that are happening along the border.
He said, “We have set up an Observation Post (OP’s) in various critical locations, however, with the topography being undulated it is not possible for us to place our people in every 2 to 3 meters. So this is one challenge but the people are out on foot patrolling.”
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 and difficulty in patrolling with the on-set of monsoon.
“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. We are procuring two to three thermal imaging cameras at certain points,” he added.
They are doing their best and according to situation they will enhance their security along the border, he said.
Meanwhile, 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 and they divided the area within their taskforce so to be more focused.
“We are trying to identify the loopholes where there are possibilities of protocol breach. We may be introducing some additional measures and the existing current practice will be reviewed. We have already started reviewing and started taking action also,” he added.
He shared that import of goods have been stopped via Phuentsholing for a while due to elections in West Bengal, India and the same with the export of boulders along the Jalpaiguri. However, it will be resumed soon.
Desuups and police are deployed in respective POE’s as usual and they will be on move (border patrolling) around the clock, he said, adding that vigilant teams were stepped up in the main gates.
“We have different groups and officers monitoring along the border. There are CCTV cameras installed as various locations and for now, we did not find the need of installing more cameras,” he added.
Samtse Dzongda Passang Dorji shared that they have always considered Samtse as a high risk Dzongkhag and therefore they were vigilant all the time. “The border is guarded and monitored always. We are continuing with the awareness program in the transportation sector.”
Knowing that there will be complacency among the people, they have started a door to door sensitization right after the first dose of vaccination, he said.
For an early detection, he said, “There is regular enhanced surveillance whereby a duty deployed at a gate is being tested on a weekly basis. Imported goods are being quarantined and sanitized.”
CCTV cameras are installed at all the required places and manpower deployed at respective POE’s. However, for now they have a shortage of manpower in Samtse, but it is not that intense, he added.
Sarpang Dzongda Lobzang Dorji said, “No matter what the situation is, we are vigilant all times and we are monitoring things at our capacity. With increasing number of cases across the border we have asked our team along the border to be more vigilant and to be robust. Surveillance is in place.”
They used to allow people to travel from high risk to high risk area but now with a risk across the border, they do not allow anymore unless with genuine reason to travel, he said, adding that, however, vehicles ferrying essential goods are allowed to travel. They do not allow travel of light vehicles.
He said, “CCTV cameras are strictly being monitored and we have a plan to install more cameras at vulnerable places. Complacency is one issue after the first vaccination but we are continuing with the awareness programs.”
Tharchin Lhendup, Samdrupjongkhar Dzongda said that they are strictly monitoring the border and they will review the existing plans. “We are careful with the imported goods whereby they are kept at containment area for 24 hours. And COVID-19 protocols are strictly implemented for import and exports of goods,” he added.
He added that they seek the same cooperation from the public in terms of following COVID-19 protocol without any fail and not being complacent due to the first dose of vaccination.