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Lockdown: Walking the final mile

The lockdown in Phuentsholing and Gomtu might have come as the ultimate last straw, nonetheless govt. assures of better days ahead for these communities

By Phurpa Wangmo

The Prime Minister on Wednesday said the lockdown in Phuentsholing and Gomtu, Samtse has been imposed in view of the increasing number of COVID-19 cases from the community, and to gear up for the second dose of vaccine.

Lyonchhen said, despite the harsh reality of the lockdown, it will give a renewed confidence to break the chain of transmission and prepare the ground to roll out the second vaccination campaign.

He said the two communities have become principal coronavirus hotbeds as we have seen over 300 cases in Samtse and more than 400 cases in Phuentsholing so far.

Addressing the nation live on the national broadcaster, the PM said:โ€œIt is a fact that our friends in these southern towns have braved the restrictions so much so far but there have also been isolated cases of complacency and breaches that prevented us from fully reigning in the outbreak.โ€

He said works are also underway to immediately evacuate the 953 students and teachers of classes IX and XII in Phuentsholing.

There are about 3,821 students from pre-primary to class XII and 264 teachers in the Drungkhag.

While the news of the two-week lockdown came as a huge blow for residents of Phuentsholing, the thought of walking that extra mile and receiving the second dose of the vaccine came as a slight breather for most of them who are now under lockdown for nearly three months.

The prime minister is also upbeat that this two-week lockdown would be the final harbinger to better days ahead as residents will be inoculated and rules eased.   

A complete lockdown for two weeks came into effect in Gomtu under Samtse dzongkhag.

As per the notification from the Samtse District COVID-19 Task Force, only Gomtu town will be under a complete lockdown.

As per the notification, offices, institutions, schools, and all shops in Gomtu town will remain closed until further notice.

Likewise, the operation of critical industries will be allowed under a strict self-containment mode with approval from the Task Force.

Gomtu is classified as a Yellow Zone depending on the status of the COVID-19 outbreak. It reported around 265 positive cases so far.

Meanwhile, as an additional measure to combat COVID-19, the National COVID-19 Task Force recently extended the quarantine duration for people travelling from the high-risk red zone to 14 days and 10 days for those travelling from the yellow zone.

The Prime Minister said the country needs vaccination coverage of at least 80 per cent of the total population to secure herd immunity. This will help the government to ease and consider revising the quarantine protocols.

โ€œIt is important you know that for our nation to secure herd immunity from the new Delta variant, we need coverage of at least 80 percent of the total population,โ€ he said.

The prime minister said we could manage only around 65 percent from the first dose of vaccine, which is far from adequate to protect our people from the possible outbreaks.

โ€œI urge everyone to see this as an opportunity to play an important part in adding up the number to fortify our nation from the pandemic,โ€ the PM asserted. 

Lyonchhen said we have come a long way together, but we are nowhere close to the end of this crisis.

โ€œTherefore, it is only in our unity that we can tolerate the coming weeks and months. I thank you all for your support, and reassure that under the guidance of His Majesty, the government will not slow down at any cost to protect our nation from the pandemic,โ€ he said.

Meanwhile, upon command of His Majesty The King, the government will set up 1000-bedded quarantine facilities in high-risk areas to make up for the shortage of quarantine facilities.

The Prime Minister announced this during the meet the press Friday and said sites have already been identified while the drawing and the funding will be approved soon.

Further, Desuups from across the country will be deployed to assist in the construction of the quarantine facilities.

The prime minister said it was His Majestyโ€™s command to construct the quarantine centres.

A 400-bedded center in Phuentshogling, 200 each in Gelegphu, Samdrup Jongkhar and Samtse are on the cards.

Lyonchhen said Samtse already has an additional dedicated 200 bedded quarantine centre. The quarantine centre would be a decent accommodation where there would be a family unit, cohort and single rooms.

He said the centres can be re-designed into affordable houses, bachelorโ€™s quarters, small family units and training centres post-pandemic when the situation improves.

โ€œWe have to be prepared anytime for any other pandemic. Quarantine centres are necessary for any infectious outbreak. So we pre-planned and the quarantine centres will be used in the long run. It is also designed in such a way that it can be re-designed,โ€ added the Prime Minister.

Currently, people travelling from high-risk to low-risk areas are mostly quarantined in hotels incurring huge expenses on the governmentsโ€™ exchequer.

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