SANGAY RABTEN | Thimphu
The truck drivers transporting goods from southern part of the country to other parts are shunned in restaurants along the highways. Denying access to food and facilities is making their jobs even more challenging.
Truckers who can be also widely hailed as heroes in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, for keeping store shelves stocked and goods moving have a big problem according to the drivers. Rest stops are shuttering across all the highways, leaving them to scramble for places to sleep, eat, and use the restroom.
The drivers are not allowed to make stopovers at Chazam, Nobding and Longtey while travelling to the east to drop essential goods.
The aggrieved truckers say there is an urgent need for the authorities to listen to their woes as they have no other means and are made to shutter across all the highways without a designated place to even eat their meals.
Many drivers report being denied access at restaurants and even restrooms for the fear of carrying the virus and despite following all protocols mandated on them.
A trucker, Sonam Thinley said the drivers are not allowed to stop at hotels along the highways and officials and public are scared with them.
“We are being stigmatized by the officials and the public. We cannot even buy our necessities while travelling along the roads,” a distraught Sonam said.
Another trucker, Ugyen, said the drivers despite undergoing tests and getting a clean chit from health officials are treated distinctly fearing that they might be carriers of coronavirus.
“Truckers ferrying goods from Sorchen, Nganglam, and Wangdue Phodrang cannot even buy a bottle of water. We have to often stop in the middle of nowhere to cook and feed ourselves,” he said.
He added that drivers have to travel about 95 kilometers between Nganglam and Rindebe with GPS installed in their vehicle to monitor their movements. He said they have resorted to taking only one meal a day as they do not enough time to cook thrice.
“The people, including the officials, should understand that we are not virus carriers as we are periodically checked. Moreover we are doing our part by supplying the nation with essential supplies,” Ugyen said.
He said drivers are warned by duty personnel even when they stop to attend the call of nature saying they will be barred from plying and quarantined.
Kinga added that they are also restricted to visit auto workshops for periodic maintenance or in case of emergencies. He wishes if the authorities could designate a place for them to eat and repair their vehicles.
The truckers are also made to wait for a day if they cannot report in time when the escorts leave.
Phub shares similar situation he faces being a driver carrying goods during the pandemic. He carries rations and cooking utensils. However, when rations are exhausted, they cannot buy from the highway shops. The other problems he shares is the drivers kept waiting for the day if they cannot report on escort timing.
“Why is the commoner that is driving the supply chain consistently being refused to buy necessary items and use washrooms to wash their hands at highway restaurants?” he asks. He said drivers undergo regular Covid test and travels only in green zones all day without physical interaction with others using such protocols.