Birgunj border customs officials face shortage of mask and gownsAlthough the Department of Customs has issued safety guidelines, it hasn’t provided protective gear for the staff deployed at the border.
Although the Department of Customs has made it compulsory for staffers at border customs offices to wear masks, along with other protective equipment amid Covid 19 threats, officials at the Birgunj customs say they don’t have enough protective wear to comply with the order.
In a guideline issued on Tuesday, the Department of Customs ordered officials to make provisions for full-body covers, goggles, rubber gloves and surgical or N95 masks for the staff. The customs offices have been told to procure the safety gear locally.
On Monday, the customs office, which needs around 125 masks a day for its staffers, purchased 300 masks locally. “But, getting masks in the market has been the biggest problem here,” said Dhundi Niraula, chief customs officer at Birgunj customs. “I am struggling to find masks to give to my staffers masks on Wednesday now.”
Niraula said that the customs office has not found full-body covers in the market and it has no option but to use whatever dress is available in the market.
Staffers of border customs offices continue to work even during the lockdown to ensure vital supplies of goods including food items and medical equipment. But, the government has been slow to introduce measures to prevent the spread of the contagious disease from incoming vehicles.
Although the customs department had earlier told customs offices to make it compulsory for staffers to wear a mask, gown and gloves, a detailed guideline was issued only on Tuesday, more than two weeks after the government enforced nationwide the lockdown on March 24 to prevent the spread of the disease.
As per the new safety guidelines, customs officials need to check customs clearance documents only in scanned formats, and not on paper. The department has asked customs staffers to not touch their eyes, nose and mouth while working and take a shower before going home.
The guideline has also asked customs offices to disinfect both vehicles and goods, including food items such as vegetables and fruits.
The department has asked offices to allow vehicles to leave customs only 12 hours after their arrival.
Shishir Ghimire, information officer at the Department of Customs admitted that the disinfection measures were introduced only after the lockdown was enforced. “Only trucks carrying goods and cabins occupied by drivers are being disinfected,” Ghimire told the Post on Tuesday.
According to Ghimire, disinfection measures were not implemented earlier because the Covid 19 pandemic was not as wide-spread in India. A truck reaches Nepal after a long journey and the virus would have died on the way, he said.
The delay in the issuance of the guidelines is one of the reasons why export-import through Rasuwagadhi and Tatopani customs offices on the border with China is not taking place even two weeks after the government decided to reopen the border crossing closed after the Covid 19 pandemic began in China in last year.
The government on March 25 decided to reopen the border crossings with China only for goods by following a strict health protocol. After it did not receive the health protocol, the Tatopani customs office had last week requested the government to do it at the earliest.
“We received a set of guidelines only on Tuesday, but we are yet to receive protocols from the health ministry,” said Lal Bahadur Khatri, chief customs officer at Tatopani customs.