Residents say that another lockdown could definitely be the last straw and that it should be prevented at all costs.
By Tashi Dendup
Just as residents were gradually dusting themselves up from the long covid-19 storm, 11 fresh cases were detected from the Medical Supplies Division jolting the residents and putting all contingency and unlocking plans into total disarray.
The bad news came just a day after the recent lockdown which was lifted in Phuentsholing this week after more-than-four-months of confinement following the second wave of infections.
To add salt to the injury, the cases were detected only just a day after lockdown was lifted in the Drungkhag and the staff and family members, who were diagnosed positive, had already visited shops and other places in the town after the unlocking.
This created huge commotions among the general public as many felt the virus could have been already transmitted by then as the contacts had already commuted to different locations.
The Thromde and the Southern Covid-19 Taskforce (SC19TF) then clamped a 24-hour freeze with immediate effect and requested the public to once again be in the confines of their homes in a desperate bid to contain the spread. Police vans were seen making rounds across the streets cautioning residents in loudspeakers to not venture out.
The residents were once again caught off guard and the long-awaited reopening now seemed to be over as the SCTF once again put a stop on all activities, including the movement of vehicles in and out from the city.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, while announcing the unlocking of Phuentsholing this week, had said that considering all the factors, it is better to assume that the worst is yet to come.
While thanking the residents for their brave efforts in help containing the disease, he said that towns like Phuentsholing will be hit first if we lose the rein on the measures so far and give way to massive outbreak of COVID-19.
The people’s worst nightmares were about to take shape as contacts were immediately traced and put under strict quarantine. However, the silver lining came soon as none of the suspected contacts tested positive.
This prompted the SCTF to lift the 24-hour blackout with effect from 9:00 AM yesterday, and further announced that the relaxations and restrictions announced in the unlocking notification issued on 9 August will also be continued.
“SC19TF would like to thank the general public for their support and cooperation during the 24-hour blackout period. All the positive cases have been isolated and their primary contacts traced and quarantined. High-risk buildings and premises have been cordoned off,” it stated.
However, the SC19TF cautioned the public that the 11 people who tested positive have visited several places including shops and offices during the last few days after unlocking. In addition, while the positive cases had been isolated and 84 primary contacts have been traced and put in quarantine, they said the possibility of transmission to other people cannot be completely ruled out at that point.
The SC19TF, therefore, said they will continue to trace and test all suspected individuals and carry out heightened surveillance and monitoring. Further, people residing in and operating business from the places visited by the positive cases were also tested as per health surveillance and testing protocols.
“The SC19TF would also like to remind and caution the general public of the fast-evolving situation and the continued risk of community transmission, and urges everyone to diligently follow all COVID-19 safety protocols such as wearing face masks, washing hands with soap regularly (or using hand sanitizers) and maintaining physical distance,” it said.
Taskforce members said that unless highly inevitable, residents were requested to stay home and avoid crowded places and unnecessary interactions with people outside their family. They also urged all individuals with COVID-19 symptoms to visit the nearest flu clinic immediately and get tested to prevent further spread of the virus.
“Heads of government agencies, corporations and private business entities are urged to take full responsibility to ensure that all necessary COVID-19 safety measures and facilities are in place in your respective organizations for the safety of your staff, customers and visitors. The respective heads of agencies shall be held fully accountable for non-compliance,” the SC19TF said.
Further, to plug any lapses and breach of protocol by individuals or agencies, that endangers public life and safety during such unprecedented times, the taskforce said it will deal with the perpetrators in the most serious manner.
While this brought temporary relief to most residents, it was a stark reminder that the new unlocking could not be guaranteed as situation across the region gets graver. The country is still on a red alert and the prime minister has hinted that reopening will still take some time as nothing is guaranteed.
“We were aghast that just a day after reopening the town we were headed for another indefinite lockdown. Many residents are now more resolute to face the dangers than be subjected to another lockdown which, we believe, will probably be the last straw that will break our backs. So we are not ready for another lockdown,” Tshering Penjore, 42, a resident said.
He added that the government should work out on alternatives than always clamping lockdowns which is not only killing people’s livelihood but shattering their hopes too. He said the SC19TF’s decision to let things resume is very much welcome and that they would most diligently follow all protocols laid for them.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in Jomotshangkha drungkhag, the East Covid-19 Taskforce (EC19TF) also stated that the Blackout Period announced on 11th August 2021 in Jomotsangkha town and Langchenphu Gewog was lifted from 9:00 am yesterday.
The EC19TF stated that after successful completion of a comprehensive COVID-19 case investigation, contact tracing and targeted testing in the last 72 hours, no more community cases emerged in Jomotsangkha which had prompted them to announce the reopening.
However, the southern border towns of Phuentsholing, Samdrupjongkhar, Gelephu and Samtse are still on high alert as the delta variant continues to rage neighbouring countries, and the upcoming Durga Puja festivals in India could also give rise to a third covid wave.
The situation as of now remains under control.