Travel activities have rapidly dropped throughout the country, in recent days, driven by concerns about the spread of the COVID-19.
Meanwhile, the transport sector in the country is geared up and working on the red zone contingency plan.
Director General for Road Safety and Transport Authority, Pemba Wangchuk, said that RSTA has instituted a passenger manifesto for buses and taxis so as to ease in tracking people.
“To combat this diseases, all of us, as an individual and organization, we are worried about the public transport. While transportation is important, at the same time, this is where people can spread the disease, so we have instituted the passenger manifesto for buses and taxis. This is the easy way of tracking, especially, if you are travelling from Thimphu to Phuentsholing, you have to register in logbook. Each taxi driver maintains a logbook and this is to ease contactors and to combat COVID-19,” he said.
He said that the buses plying from Bhutan to Kolkata has been suspended since Kolkata declared its first COVID-19 case.
“We have suspended the bus services plying from Bhutan to Kolkata. All the passengers on the last bus that returned from Kolkata are quarantined. We have also suspended the bus to Siliguri. As of now, we still have a buses plying through Indian highway but although the bus travel through India the origin and the termination is in Bhutan, so we have not suspended, but we have given strict instruction that buses plying to the highway cannot stop on the way for meals and also cannot pick or drop passengers on the way. They will start from Phuentsholing and terminate without stopping, incase if they have to stop they should not stop in public places, they may stop in a forest to relax,” he said.
He also said it is fortunate that Assam has not declared any positive cases. “But that doesn’t mean that it will not have, we are preparing for the worst situation. As of now we haven’t suspended the bus but we never know,” RTSA Director added.
He further said that all the bus operators and taxi drivers have offered their services to help out.
“All bus operators, if required, have said that all buses will be disposed to the government at no cost. To ease transport, the delivery of medical equipment will be delivered through the bus, the bus operator will take over and if there is a parcel to be sent to Trashigang we can send through a bus, it also saves a travel cost. As of now, we have 100 taxis identified in Thimphu and Phuentsholing and 20 in each dzongkhag. This can be use as an ambulance and they are ready to offer the service,” he said, adding that the taxi drivers are undergoing a training on how to take care of the patients initiated by the Bhutan Red Cross project under Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen.
Meanwhile, he said that the taxis drivers will and must report if they find any passenger who is hiding their travel history and entering into Bhutan. “In these difficult times, public well being is at the top of our minds, and we have a dedicated team working around the clock to support them the very best we can,” he said.
He said that RSTA has discussed with the Paro Dzongdag and he is arranging the bus at Paro Airport which will move to and fro.
“The moment the passengers arrive in Paro, they are taken for quarantine for fourteen days. And you are not suffering but put in the place where you can relax and also protect your families. In Phuentsholing, we have local response disaster team under Dzongdag, so we don’t interfere too much but our RSTA is in the core team. So we are meeting all vehicle requirements,” he said.
He added that every individual should appreciate the leadership taken by His Majesty The King, and following that, how the government has taken so seriously.
“At this time nobody is refusing and it’s a great thing. For instance, if we make a call to a bus operator they would right away respond and offer the service. This is something we must appreciate in Bhutanese. At this point, all the buses and taxis are offering their services. And everyone has been repeatedly saying that money is not a thing but serving a country is what matters the most. And this is all inspired by His Majesty The King,” he said.
He further added that RSTA along the entire border are alerted and they are also looking at the internal route and transport system.
“RSTA has joined other regularity authorities to support the government at all the entry points. This has been there for one and half month. We have deployed our staff. The buses and taxis are running into loses but the spirit is not loss, they want to serve and we must acknowledge them,” he added.
Chairman of Bhutan Taxi Association said that Taxi Association, Rinzin Chophel, said taxi services are placed in all the 20 dzongkhags.
“We have kept 20 taxis in each dzongkhag and alerted them incase if the situation gets worse. We can provide service like delivering food and medical equipment. With the collaboration with the Red Cross Society, we have trained some drivers for the first aid help and also we have received trainings on how to handle the patients from the Red Cross Society,” he said.
He said that every taxi driver will maintain a logbook so that it will help them and trace passengers incase if the disease is detected.
“We have distributed the logbooks to all the taxi drivers in southern parts which has been supported by the Red Cross Society. We have also received full support from the RSTA. And we are also distributing the logbooks to all the places where it is needed. We have printed 10,000 copies of the logbook and it will reach to every dzongkhag within few days,” he said.