S/Jongkhar on high alert after Covid-19 case increases in Assam

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The sharp increase in the Covid-19 positive cases in Assam, India in the past few weeks has put Samdrup Jongkhar, which shares its immediate border with this Indian state, on high alert, with the task force team strictly enforcing social distancing rules, among others.

All shops are closed by 7 pm and a group of volunteers called the ‘Friends of Police’ patrol the streets thereafter to ensure all residents stay home, while the armed forces guard the entry points 24/7 to check illegal activities like smuggling and trespassing.

Meanwhile, the DeSsups have taken over the entrance of the vegetable market, the only area in the town that is fairly crowded with people, and are asking every customer to use Druk Trace App, while recording the details of those who come without cell phones. In addition, they also help in the quarantine centers, be it sanitizing the rooms, changing the bed sheets or serving food, while observing self quarantine.  

A teacher by profession, Sonam Yuden, a 38th batch DeSsup, came all the way from Gomdar gewog to assist in one of the quarantine hotels in Samdrup Jongkhar.   

“Everybody is cooperating and responsible here as they understand the risk of this pandemic,” said the Dzongdag, adding that the task force in Samdrup Jongkhar is prepared for the worst case scenario. “We have six months reserve of food and other essential commodities.”    

So far 94 people have been quarantined in the border town and all have tested negative.

Meanwhile, 12 hoteliers have committed their facility for quarantine purpose  and more are willing to contribute in case of an emergency, like last week when the 258 Bhutanese returning from the Middle-East nearly got diverted to Samdrup Jongkhar due to heavy rain storm, which almost prevented the planes from landing at the Paro airport.

In this regard, a meeting was called where hoteliers agreed to accommodate them despite their overwhelming number. In case of one particular hotel located conveniently on the outskirt and under construction, the local authority even purchased mattresses and other sleeping gears and installed free Wi-Fi service to use it for quarantine purpose.

The Dzongdag also recollected how during the lockdown in Jomotsangkha Dungkhag, which was prompted by a business man testing positive for Covid-19 on the rapid test kit, home delivery service was initiated to reach the essentials to the residents.

“We are fully prepared,” he added.

However, Samdrup Jongkhar hospital does not have a ventilator and those testing positive for the virus would be directly transferred to the referral hospital in Mongar.  

On the security front, other than a few cross border smuggling cases, no major problem has erupted and it is mostly attributed to the 7pm lockdown.

Meanwhile, the local businesses community has been affected the most as the market has completely dried up since India initiated the nationwide lock down two months ago, which resulted in the border being sealed.

“We mostly rely on Indian customers coming from across the border. With the movement restriction in force, our business has come to a halt,” said a hotelier. So far two hoteliers have given up their business and handed over the property back to their house owners. 

Likewise, Letho runs a diagnostic center for Indian laborers applying for work permit. With the lockdown in India, his office has been closed for over two months now.

“I am worried about the future. Let’s hope the crisis is over and life returns to normalcy.”

Karma Tenzin from S/Jongkhar

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