Virus hit Phuentsholing could choke supplies to rest of Bhutan

Govt exploring alternative routes like Gelephu and Samdrupjongkhar

Bhutan’s most important commercial entry point is Phuentsholing through which the majority of Bhutan’s imported goods come from essentials like food to construction materials.

However, now with 16 people testing positive for COVID-19 in the Mini Dry Port (MDP) and the MoH yet to rule out if there is community transmission outside the MDP in Phuentsholing, the Prime Minister, Dr Lotay Tshering said that the very supply route and the goods coming in could be impacted.

As of friday, there were many trucks stuck in Jaigaon as there were no loaders available in Phuentsholing due to the outbreak of COVID-19 among them.

Lyonchhen said that given the cases there Phuentsholing is a high risk area.

“If there is community transmission in Phuentsholing then it will lead to great difficulty and it will be like staying with our throats constricted. All our essential goods come via Phuentsholing. If there is local transmission down there, we will have to take steps to stop it and in doing so it may affect food supplies and also medicines among others. Please pray that there is no community transmission,” said Lyonchhen.

Lyonchhen said that the Labour Minister Lyonpo Ugyen Dorji is now under severe stress. “While there is unemployment we need around 200 loaders and unloaders now as there are a few 100 trucks lined up in Jaigaon,” said the PM.

Lyonchhen said that to reduce the load on the MDP they don’t have to import everything that is being imported right now.

“This needs to be categorized and we need to get the list of all articles that is imported and exclude what we don’t need for the next six months.  I said we don’t need sofas, leather something, flat screen etc. For eatables there should be no compromise,” said the PM.

Lyonchhen said that new Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) will have to be put in place in the MDP.

“We will have to sub classify essential items as right now we have included many items and so our essential list has gone more. Even shampoo is an essential product right now. When we really need to do it we might only land up with lifebuoy for head, clothes and shampoo,” said the PM.

Lyonchhen also said that the Economic Affairs Minister Lyonpo Loknath Sharma is also working on Samdrupjongkhar and Gelephu as alternative entry points.

“I asked them to see if we can route all LGPs from Gelephu,” said the PM.

Lyonchhen explained that even if local transmission comes it is not about having no absolute movement at all but a contained system.

However, earlier on the Prime Minister also assured the nation that the there was up to six months of essential items stocked up and this not only included items like rice, oil, salt, sugar and pulses but there were also stocks of consumer items among appointed wholesalers which could be supplied and this included everything from shampoo to baby diapers.

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