Phuentsholing taskforce faces numerous challenges since lockdown

The primary focus of the Phuentsholing Taskforce ever since the lockdown has been to ensure the effective implementation of the lockdown to mitigate the risks of transmission and spread of the virus. The taskforce is working closely with local government authorities and law enforcement agencies to ensure compliance with lockdown movement restrictions.

In addition, the taskforce has been actively engaged in facilitating supply of essential items and other services to residents and people who are stranded in Phuentsholing. Every effort is being made to ensure that people of Phuentsholing have the basic essential items including access to medical services. A hotline (5555) has been set up to provide information, help and guide people during the lockdown.

A member from Phuentsholing taskforce said that sudden imposition of lockdown created difficulties and challenges in a wide variety of areas ranging from provision of essential items to dealing with stranded people and vehicles.

Phuentsholing is designated as ‘red zone’ and the taskforce continue to confront many challenges. “As a red zone, the lockdown has to be enforced even more stringently so that the objective of breaking the chain of transmissions can be accomplished within the red zone and at the same time, the risk of spreading the disease to other parts of the country is mitigated,” a taskforce member said.

Since local transmission was inevitable at some point of time, the taskforce has been working to prepare for a lockdown, he said, adding that SOPs to enforce lockdown restrictions and to provide essential items and services to the public were prepared. A tabletop simulation was also carried out sometime ago.

However, he said, “We can never be fully prepared and lockdowns are not only unfamiliar to the general public but also have created considerable inconveniences and difficulties for the people.”

The SOP developed before the lockdown was to provide regulated access to identified shops to purchase essentials based on a zoning system. Phuentsholing Thromde was divided into different zones and shops for each zone were identified.

This presented many challenges in terms of ensuring zones were not breached by the public as it was difficult to cordon off zones completely. “It was difficult to ensure that the number of people visiting shops at a given time was manageable so that lockdown protocols could be enforced efficiently,” he added.

However, he said that with the declaration of Phuentsholing as a red zone, the modality for provision of essential items has been limited to home delivery only and for that matter, as of today, they have identified 19 wholesalers and retailers including FCBL for all zones that would take orders for home delivery.

He said this modality was somehow challenging in terms of completing deliveries due to shortage of manpower and most people have a preferred shop for groceries and as a result, a few shops were overwhelmed by the sheer number of orders.

All the items were not available in every identified shops and this created difficulties as people were not able to get all items they wanted from the shop from their respective zone, he added.

He said, “Improper issuance of addresses while ordering was another challenges but everything has improved with time, particularly with the support of desuups. As of now, all backlog orders have been delivered to homes. Till date, a total of 5,524 orders have been delivered.”

Meanwhile, he said, shortage of customs officials to facilitate clearance was another challenge. As a precautionary measure, 60 customs officials were quarantined, but 20 customs officials have been redeployed from Paro.

“Many clearing agents have also been quarantined whereby processing customs clearance has been impeded as it is difficult to trace documents for third country imports,” he said.

They were able to resolve shortage of vegetables with the supplies coming in from other parts of the country. Since the imposition of the lockdown, vegetables have been delivered to 4,877 households.

FCBL have supplied 93.36 MT of vegetables to institutions (RBA, RBP and Pasakha Industrial area) and quarantine facilities. About 53.38 MT of essential items (rice, pulses and oil) and a worth of Nu 1.3 mn of dairy products were delivered. 

As of 18 August, close to 1,000 people and over 300 vehicles have registered who got stranded in Phuentsholing. “We are documenting vehicles and people stranded in Phuentsholing and necessary interventions and help is being provided to individuals who require food and other essentials”, he said.

The health ministry is carrying out intensive testing and surveillance of the population of Phuentsholing estimated at around 28,000 and the health surveillance teams supported by desuups are working extremely hard to complete the testing as soon as possible.

“Additional manpower and testing kits have been sent from Thimphu by the ministry and for now, testing is being carried out in Phuentsholing Thromde and Pasakha. A decision to conduct testing in other areas like Tshimasham and Darla will be taken based on a risk assessment done by the Ministry of Health,” he added.

The taskforce commits to address the challenges and difficulties faced by the people. He said that people were supportive as they acknowledge armed forces, law enforcement agencies, frontline workers, desuups, health workers and volunteers for their service.

“His Majesty has visited Phuentsholing several times since March 2020 and the taskforce continues to benefit immensely from the wise counsel and guidance that we have been privileged to receive. We remain extremely grateful to Lyonchhen and the government for the valuable guidance and support extended to our work,” he said.

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