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Bhutan's Daily Newspaper
Updated: 39 min 31 sec ago

OAG creates a Governance and Corporate Legal Service Unit

Tue, 10/20/2020 - 11:27

Staff Reporter 

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has created a Governance and Corporate Legal Service Unit.

A specialised and competent team in the field of corporate and financial law has been officially created on September 15 with two senior attorneys to conduct research, inception function and lead the unit.

Given the government contracts are weak with the emerging trends of losing cases, and high pre-trial costs compared to the outcome of the cases leading to a huge financial burden on the government, the unit was created, a press release from the OAG stated.

“The unit is mandated to bring reforms to the existing government procurement and contracting system, and review the dispute resolution process involving commercial disputes,” the release stated.

Further, the unit would support the OAG in delivering legal advice, drafting and vetting of government-related contractual documents and providing training and capacity development in relevant sectors.

“The prosecution of financial crimes is also to be strengthened by utilising financial expertise to analyse calculations and deduce uncontroverted figures, especially in tax evasion and huge embezzlement cases,” the release stated.

The harmonisation of contracts and procurement systems would not only be able to avoid litigation but ensure quality and timely performance of works and service by contractors and service providers, the OAG stated.

“Reforms on improving alternative dispute resolution mechanisms and resolving insolvency will go a long way in restructuring our justice system and contribute to the ease of doing business for our people.”

Two Bhutanese patients test false positive for Covid-19  

Tue, 10/20/2020 - 11:26

The second patient tested negative on the retest earlier today 

Younten Tshedup 

Two Bhutanese referral patients tested positive for Covid-19 on reaching Kolkata, India last weekend. One of them tested negative in the second test the next day.

On October 16, 31 patients with 43 escorts left for different hospitals in Kolkata. On arrival, the patients were tested for Covid-19 as a requirement by respective hospitals before admission.

The liaison office in Kolkata reported to the health ministry that a patient had tested positive for Covid-19. A man who was referred following an eye problem tested positive on RT-PCR test.

Clinical microbiologist and member of the ministry’s technical advisory group (TAG), Dr Tshokey, said that it was not possible for the patients to test positive since they were referred only after being tested negative.

“We’re surprised when we heard the news. With all the protocols in place, we were confident that they were clean.”

He said that health workers in the health facilities including at the national referral hospital, where most of the patients had been, were routinely tested for Covid-19. Patients who required admission in the hospitals including their attendants are also tested.

“No health worker has tested positive so far, which is a pseudo indication of being clean,” Dr Tshokey said.

The patient who tested positive was admitted at the national referral hospital during the lockdown and had recently gone home. Dr Tshokey said that there was no risk of exposure associated with the man and he did not visit the high-risk areas recently. “He was sick so he couldn’t have gone out. His family members also attested to that.”

However, taking no risk, the ministry began testing all the contacts and family members of the patient here in the country. All 16 primary contacts tested negative.

The ministry requested the Kolkata hospital for a retest for the patient and his two escorts. All tested negative on the retest.

In the meantime, the Kolkata liaison office reported a second positive case from the same batch of patients. Some 20 primary contacts of the female patient were tested in Bhutan following the news. The results were negative.

The woman tested negative on the retest this morning.

Dr Tshokey said that the primary contacts were tested using both antigen and RT-PCR tests. “The antigen test was negative meaning there was no recent history of infection. And the RT-PCR test was also negative, meaning there was no current infection.”

Also, the national referral hospital had completed testing almost all its staff by yesterday. There were no positive cases. “This also gave us a reassurance that there could have been some errors.”

Why did it happen?       

The RT-PCR test for Covid-19 is considered the gold standard test for diagnosis. “It is not very common to have false negatives or positives on the RT-PCR,” said the clinical microbiologist.

However, should it happen, a false negative result on the PCR test could happen during early or late infection with a low viral load. Sampling technique, improper sampling or problems during the sample processing could also result in a false-negative result.

The rare false-positive result of a PCR test could happen from cross-contamination of samples. Dr Tshokey said that during testing if by accident a negative sample comes in contact with a positive sample, cross-contamination could happen. Contamination of laboratory reagents could also lead to cross-contamination.

A cross-reaction could also lead to a false positive on the PCR. This, however, is more common with an antibody test than a PCR test, said the clinical microbiologist. “Very rare, but a cross-reaction with a virus having similar properties like that of a coronavirus could lead to cross-reaction.”

The probability of a false negative result on a PCR ranges between 2 to 30 percent. A UK based study found that a false positive result on a PCR ranges between 0.8 percent to 4 percent.

Dr Tshokey said, “We don’t really know what caused the results in our case. If the individuals were infected at the airport, it would be too early for them to test positive within 24 hours.”

Testing in Bhutan 

In Bhutan, whenever there is a positive case, Dr Tshokey said that the test is repeated especially if there are no epidemiological or clinical risks associated with the person.

“Besides that, we test using a different testing protocol. We also repeat the tests with new samples. Once we’re convinced of the results, only then we release it.”

Of the many, there are Chinese, Korean, WHO and Indian testing protocols currently in use. Different protocols involve different reagents during the test.

Wamrong assault case hearing to continue on October 27

Tue, 10/20/2020 - 11:26

Neten Dorji | Trashigang

Trashigang dzongkhag court held the opening statement for the battery case yesterday after one of the litigants, Tshering Yangki, appealed against the lower court’s judgment last week.

Trashigang police representing Wamrong police and representatives of the defendants,  Sonam Peldon and her son, submitted their statements.

“We don’t have anything to say on the judgment issued by the lower court,” the Prosecutor of Trashigang Police submitted.

During the opening statement, representatives of defendants also submitted to consider the judgment of the lower court.

“Since the defendants submitted evidence, both in written and verbally, to the lower court they are requesting the court to consider the court’s judgment,” the representative of Sonam Peldon and her son submitted.

He also submitted to the court to consider the doctors’ findings on Sonam Peldon’s injury sustained as a result of the fight with Tshering Yangki.

Tshering Yangki earlier in her appeal to Trashigang court submitted that the duo had defamed her by circulating video clips on the incident. Their representative challenged her stating that Tshering Yangki has to identify who circulated the videos. “Since it isn’t reflected in the charge sheet and the issue is not related to the case,” he submitted.

The representative also submitted that Tshering Yangki has to report to police and follow due process.

Tshering Yanki appealed to Trashigang dzongkhag court on five grounds against the lower court’s judgment on October 14.

The next hearing is on October 27.

Poor country with rich landlords

Tue, 10/20/2020 - 11:25

When it is time to file the income tax, a few months from now, we will know how the tax reforms and the fiscal policies would have left a big dent on government revenue.

The government had reformed the taxation policy. As of now, the bold ones to recuperate millions of Ngultrums are yet to be seen. The reforms so far, like the reduction in property transfer tax of land, building and vehicle and doing away with the 5 percent tax on voucher recharge had been popular with the people.

It is obvious that there will be not many taxpayers next tax year as the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the economy and all businesses are affected. The fiscal and monetary measures, initiated to save businesses and even livelihood, we know, would leave a bigger hole on the government coffer.

A government trying to squeeze people during a pandemic will not be popular. It is not right. However, with the generous fiscal and monetary policies during the pandemic year, a lot of people would have benefited from the policies that were inclusive of both the affected and not affected.

The waving off of the equated monthly interest on loans and the deferment of loan repayment helped many. Among them are the landlords who need not pay interest. Some let it trickle down to the tenants. Some were not so generous.

The shortage of housing across the country means rents are beyond the control of authorities. It is left to the market force and the market is skewed towards property owners. The revenue and customs department last year, before the pandemic, made it mandatory for landlords to issue rental receipts to tenants.  The receipts will help officials know how much the taxpayer has earned through rental income. It will help prevent under-declaring of income or tax evasion.

How it will serve the purpose is a big question. If landlords are not serious of the new rule, tenants are least bothered about demanding one. The reason is obvious. If a tenant can benefit, in terms of concession on his or her tax returns, they would insist on the receipt and even question the manipulation in the amount when landlords issue the receipt. Why would a tenant, who pays Nu 10,000 a month, the average house rent in Thimphu, insist on a receipt if he is not benefiting.

Because the amount paid on house rent is not tax deductible or eligible for concession, many listen to the landlord and even manipulate the amount paid to help the landlord evade tax. There is no practice of deducing tax deducted at source for residential properties except houses rented for business and offices.

 There are no monitoring or verification systems even with rules and regulations. This is a double edge sword as it makes tenants more vulnerable to the whims of the landlords and the government is losing revenue. The tax department is not even sure of how many people own property or how much tax they earn from rental income. Personal income tax is broad based in the sense that incomes from all sources are clubbed together. This leads to revenue leakage.

The responsibility also falls on tenants, who so far had been crying foul in the house rent debate. If they insist on receipts, a portion of the “exorbitant” rent they pay will get into the government coffer.

How do we plug such loopholes? Could we make house rent tax deductible so that everybody insists on documents to help revenue leakage?

Paro after 100 percent dog sterilisation

Tue, 10/20/2020 - 11:25

Dzongkhag has one dog for every four people

Phub Dem  | Paro

Paro, the gateway to Bhutan is also the dzongkhag with the high density of the dog population. It has become unsafe for both pedestrians and cattle.

With 10,272 estimated dogs, there is a dog for every four people in the dzongkhag with a population of 46, 315.

Although the dog population survey in July this year showed 8, 218 dogs, the dzongkhag added 25 per cent missing proportion considering missed out dogs during the survey.

Despite carrying out vaccination and sterilisation programmes annually and every Tuesday, nuisance from stray dogs remained unchanged, according to Paro dzongkhag’s chief livestock officer Loden Jimba.

He said that remote areas such as Naja, Dogar and Tsento gewogs were often left out due to the acute shortage of specialists and people failing to bring the dogs for sterilisation.

The problem is, however, likely to be solved with the ongoing sustainable dog management programme.

Loden Jimba said that the programme would solve the issue, as it would extensively cover the nook and corner of the dzongkhag.

Emulating the management strategy in Haa as a model for the rest of the country, a month-long programme began from Tsento gewog on September 21.

As of October 16, close to 1,300 dogs were sterilised and vaccinated in five gewogs.  And the community adopted 250 dogs.  A total of 8,218 dogs were sighted during a baseline survey in July. From which 55 per cent are sterilised.  The highest number of dogs were sighted in Lamgong gewog followed by Tsento, Shaba and Lungnyi.

According to Senior Veterinary Officer of Regional Livestock Development Centre Tsimasham (RLDC), Dr Chendu Dorji, the programme was aimed at reducing the free-roaming dog population and addressing oversize dog population through community dog adoption.

It further targets the global strategic plan to end human deaths from dog-mediated rabies by 2030.

Acknowledging the importance of dog management plans, the dzongkhag administration and local leaders endorse a decision for 100 per cent dog sterilisation and promoting 60 per cent dog adoption.

In an approach to leave no dog unsterilised, the team conducted a mid-rapid survey after completing the programme in two gewogs. Chendu Dorji said that the team would revisit the places with left out dogs and conduct combing sterilisation at the end of the programme.

“The dzongkhag veterinary hospital has to follow up lactating females and puppies that are earmarked.” For instance, 95 dogs were left unsterilised as per a rapid mid survey in Tsento, Lamgong and Dopshari gewog.

The programme was funded by the stray dog population control flagship programme with support from RLDC and National Centre for Animal Health.

e-LaYog to save time and money for jobseekers

Tue, 10/20/2020 - 11:24

Chhimi Dema

An entrepreneur had found a solution to cut down expenses when applying for a job. e-LaYog, a web-based application for recruiting employees, brings the employers and job seekers together on one online platform to save cost and time.

It is said that huge expenses are incurred in travel and documentation besides taking a long time when applying for jobs. e-LaYog’s founder, Tandin Dorji, said that the current process of recruitment involves job seekers submitting printed copies of their mark sheets and other documents. Then the employers verify the application and tabulate details on excel sheet to shortlist applicants, he said.

“With e-LaYog, job seekers put all their information through a web-based forum and then those documents are verified by a team,” he said. “We ensure to the employers that documentation from the registered individuals is verified and authentic.”

Tandin Dorji said that employers could get digital records which saves time, since they do not have to go through all the applications. “The job seekers, after registering, and once they are verified can apply to any jobs listed on e-LaYog,” he said.

The web-based application eliminates the process of filling up different forms and sending batches of documentation to different employers, he said.

Tandin said that according to a survey he conducted prior to the project, he found that on average the cost for submitting a job application came to Nu 500 inclusive of taxi fares, photocopy and legal stamp charge.

For job seekers, there is a cost reduction from Nu 500 to a nominal fee of Nu 150 through e-LaYog, he said. “There is a benefit of the cost for the job seekers. Initially, if they spend Nu 2,500 for five jobs, now it would be reduced to Nu 750.”

After a jobseeker applies for five jobs, the fees are reduced from Nu 150 to Nu 100.

Currently, more than 3,000 job seekers have registered with e-LaYog.  The registered employers, Bhutan Power Corporation and Bhutan Livestock Development Corporation Limited, were receiving their applicants on e-LaYog for the vacancies they floated.

Dorji Wangmo, 24, from Zhemgang, said that the application was user friendly.

She said: “e-LaYog platform saves money as the applications can be submitted online without having to photocopy our documents.” In Thimphu town, photocopying an A4 size document cost Nu 5.

However, Tandin Dorji said that the platform was not facilitating a full-fledged recruitment agency but trying to digitalise the first step of recruitment and short listing.

HRH Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck returns from Kuwait

Tue, 10/20/2020 - 11:23

Upon the Command of His Majesty The King, His Royal Highness Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck is visiting Kuwait from 18 – 20 October, to convey the condolences of His Majesty and the people of Bhutan on the passing of His Highness the Late Amir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.

His Royal Highness was received at the Amiri Airport by Sheikh Ali Al-Jarrah Al-Sabah, Minister of Amiri Diwan.

His Royal Highness called on His Highness Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, the Amir of the State of Kuwait, at the Seif Palace yesterday morning. His Royal Highness conveyed condolences on behalf of His Majesty The King, His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo, the Royal Government and the people of Bhutan, on the demise of His Highness the Late Amir of Kuwait. His Royal Highness expressed the solidarity of the people of Bhutan with the people of Kuwait as they mourn the loss of the Late Amir, who was a true friend of Bhutan.

His Royal Highness also delivered letters of condolences from His Majesty The King and His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, as well as letters of felicitations to His Highness the Amir on the assumption of the office of the Amir of Kuwait.

Later in the day, His Royal Highness called on His Highness Sheikh Mishaal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Crown Prince of the State of Kuwait, and conveyed the deepest sympathies and condolences on behalf of His Majesty The King, His Majesty the  Fourth Druk Gyalpo, and the Royal Government and people of Bhutan on the demise of Late Amir. His Royal Highness delivered letters from His Majesty The King and His Majesty the Fourth Gyalpo expressing condolences, as well as letters conveying felicitations to His Highness, on the assumption of the office of the Crown Prince of Kuwait.

His Royal Highness then met His Highness Sheikh Sabah Khalid Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, the Prime Minister of Kuwait, His Highness Sheikh Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, the former Prime Minister of Kuwait, and His Excellency Sheikh Dr. Ahmed Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kuwait, to offer condolences on the demise of the Late Amir.

His Highness Sheikh Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah hosted lunch at Shuwaikh Palace in honour of His Royal Highness and the accompanying delegation.

His Excellency Sheikh Dr. Ahmed Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah hosted dinner at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in honour of His Royal Highness and the accompanying delegation yesterday evening.

Earlier in the day, His Royal Highness met with Sheikh Abdullah Nasser Sabah Al Ahmad Al-Sabah, Chairman for KAMCO Investment Co. KSC, His Excellency Sheikh Sabah Nasser Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, Undersecretary for Ruling Family Affairs at the Diwan Amiri Affairs, and Sheikh Fahad Nasser Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, President of Kuwait Olympic Committee.

His Royal Highness also met Their Excellencies Sheikh Jaber Fahad Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Sheikh Mubarak Fahad Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and Sheikh Nasser Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.

His Royal Highness was accompanied by the Foreign Minister and other senior government officials. His Royal Highness and the delegation will return home today.

Bhutan to import 150MT of onions a month until December

Mon, 10/19/2020 - 11:23

Rajesh Rai  | Phuentsholing

Beginning this month, the Government of India (GoI) has approved import of 150 metric tonnes (MT) of onions a month until December.

The Embassy of India in Thimphu announced this on October 16 in a formal notification.

On September 14, India stopped onion export (except for those cut, sliced and powdered) as prices trebled in a month after excessive rainfall hit crops in states across southern India.

The ban had left the country without onions for more than a month now.

The import was given as a “special exemption for Bhutan.”

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Food Corporation of Bhutan Ltd (FCBL), Naiten Wangchuk said it is a special arrangement. India continues with its ban of onion export. 

He said that the special exemption will continue until December this year, which means Bhutan will import 150MT of onions in October, November and December.

Naiten Wangchuk said that the order for this month’s 150MT has been placed.

He said that onions brought in through Phuentsholing will be distributed to the western region, while onions imported via Gelephu will go to the central region. For the eastern region, onions will be imported from Samdrup Jongkhar.

“We have already submitted the details to the director-general of foreign trade in India,” the CEO said. The details will then be intimated to the customs offices in India.

After India announced it will stop exporting onions, the agriculture ministry made it compulsory for dzongkhags to grow onions to address the shortage in the country.

In the case of Phuentsholing, a few vendors still managed to bring in onions from Samtse, which is sold at Nu 200 a kg. In Jaigaon, a kilogram of onion is sold at Nu 40-45 today.

Although FCBL will import and distribute the onions to vegetable vendors, the price is expected to exceed the price across the border.

Prior to the pandemic, the price of most vegetables in Phuentsholing was at par with the price in Jaigaon.

A vegetable vendor said that if FCBL allowed vendors to directly buy from Jaigaon traders, the price would be much lower than the onions distributed by FCBL.

Even the rate of tomato, which the FCBL imports and distributes to vendors is Nu 100 to Nu 120 a kg at the vegetable market today. In Jaigaon, it is sold at Nu 38 to Nu 42, sources said.

“The actual price of a kg of tomato charged by FCBL is Nu 63,” a vendor said.

However, considering the damaged tomatoes and transportation, the buying price climbs at least to Nu 75 a kg, which reduces the profit margin for vendors, he said.

On October 16, the Embassy of India also announced that the Government of India sanctioned the import of potato, areca nuts, orange, apple and ginger from Bhutan. All these products were listed in India’s import (regulation) list from Bhutan.

This has come as a huge relief to thousands of farmers across the country, which includes potato traders in both Phuentsholing and Jaigaon.

Entertainment business: Down and out

Mon, 10/19/2020 - 11:23

Many operators readjusting to stay alive

Yeshey Lhadon

Two weeks ago, a Karaoke owner opened her shop. She turned it into a bar. The idea was to save her investment, especially furniture and furnishings from pests.

Seven months since the entertainment business came to an abrupt end, owners are surrendering or trying everything they can to hang on to the business with a hope that the government would soon give them the go ahead.

“I was greeted by some unwanted guests – rats and a musty odor of molds,” said Cave Karaoke owner in Thimphu, Dorji Tshomo. She turned her karaoke into a bar two weeks ago.

There are about 45 Karaoke bars in Thimphu registered with the Karaoke Association of Bhutan (KAB). KAB met the Prime Minister on September 22 and discussed reopening their business.

Gyem Dorji, a member of KAB said that they haven’t got a clear statement on whether the entertainment business will re-start or remain shut. “We were told to do alternative business. Less than 10 percent of the karaoke bar operators want to try running a bar and restaurant while the rest remain closed,” he said.

The entertainment business owners have been waiting for the government to announce the reopening date.  

“Karaoke was among one of the first businesses to be closed, we expected the government would let us reopen it in a phased manner. But we heard nothing from the government,” said Gyem Dorji.

Paying rent is the biggest problem “The rent is high and we lost our source of income. The ad hoc closure of our business made us depend on our friends and families to pay the rent. We can’t continue like this for long,” added Gyem Dorji.

The precarious financial state also forced KAB to surrender their office, as it couldn’t afford to pay rent and salary for the office assistant. Gyem Dorji said: “Government should give us a solution. Before we go bankrupt or drown in debts.”

Those in the business feel neglected with all other businesses such as grocery stores, vegetable markets, retail shops, bars, restaurants and sport fields allowed to operate. “We see people gathering everywhere. Is it not going to spread the virus? How is Karaoke bar only the source of infection?” asked Gyem Dorji.

Drayang owners share similar problems. There are about 60 drayangs registered with Druk Drayang Association, which is also out of business.

More than 900 employees, mostly women depend on drayang for livelihood and sustainability. The president of DDA, Kelzang Phuntsho said that Royal Kidu was a huge relief to the staff but most of the employees still depend on their owners. “We can’t turn our back to our staff when they ask for advance payment, but the owners are drowned in debts after our business closed suddenly.”

Entertainment business operators are planning to approach the government again to let their business open with conditions. They want to open with reduced capacity and stringent safety measures.

“As there is no confirmed local transmission and the health ministry is strictly monitoring the porous borders and quarantine facilities, we should be allowed to operate with conditions,” said Kelzang Phuntsho.

Discotheques pay the highest rent among the entertainment business and some have been asked to surrender their place if they failed to pay off their rent. Viva City pays Nu 221,656 every month despite no business since March.

 

New ideas

Viva City’s owner, Rinchen said he paid his rent from the Overdraft facility (OD loan). “Our OD loan is exhausting. We are planning to start a bar and fast-food restaurant to meet the running cost of the disco bar.”

Others are resorting to everything that can keep them alive. Kinley Wangchuk, the owner of one of the first live music houses in Thimphu, Mojo Park, said that his business license was clubbed together with karaoke and draying due to which the blanket law was also applied to his live music house.

Mojo Park reopened in August using its bar and restaurant license. The live music house now sells lunch and drinks. He said: “Live music is our main stay. What do we put on the stage if we can’t play live music? What difference does it make having a band on stage when we have 50 percent full occupancy anyway?” said Kinley Wangchuk.

The entrepreneur and founder of Radio Valley is also mulling on hosting standup comedy shows and talk shows if the situation continues.

Mojo Park’s seven bands are also out of job. “It took me eight years to assemble and groom the band members,” he said. “If the government wants us close, they should compensate the operators, it’s better than running on loss.”

The owner said that extending the bar closing hours might improve business. “If government wants to help us, we need them to let us operate till midnight. We might see more people after the restaurants are closed at 9pm.”

Layaps build their own school

Mon, 10/19/2020 - 11:22

Phurpa Lhamo | Gasa

More than 100 residents of Laya are today engaged in construction of classrooms in Laya Central School and staff quarter at the Basic Health Unit (BHU).

Locals, both men and women, have replaced the workforce that was comprised mostly of people from eastern and southern Bhutan.

“In the past, even getting one person to work at construction site was really difficult. No one would come forward,” said Passang Dorji, a carpenter from Laya. 

Passang Dorji said that today, when required, 10 individuals would easily come forward.  

Construction of around 11 structures has been approved and are in progress. Works began in the 2019-2020 fiscal year and are expected to complete within two years.

According to Gasa dzongkhag engineer Choki, relocation of the Basic Health Unit (BHU) and construction of various structures at Laya Central School were in progress.

He said that compared to the previous year there were more construction activities this year.

Since many are unskilled workers, the contractors are training those interested at site. Skilled workers are still hired from across the country.  

Passang Dorji said that when required, there were around 50 women at site. “Women carry stones and help in other tasks.”

Earlier, when work began in the gewog, local government (LG) leaders also consulted the villagers to help with labour.  

“We have been provided with the budget and work had begun. We asked the people to not let the work be stalled for lack of workers,” Laya mangmi Tshewang said. 

Skilled workers are paid more than Nu 1,000 a day without meals. Unskilled workers earn more than Nu 700 a day.

The income is much less compared to what they used to earn from selling cordyceps, incense herbs and porter and pony income. 

Laya Gup Lhakpa Tshering said that today business has slowed in the gewog. 

Although people from Laya continue to ferry essential items to Lunana, due to decrease in sale of cordyceps, business has dropped.  

Mangmi Tshewang said that in October, people from Laya usually go to collect incense herbs. “These herbs are usually sold in Punakha. But this time, no one really expects to generate good income.” 

People in Laya don’t expect much income from the herbs due to the travel restrictions and the Covid-19 situation. 

Laya gewog has more than 900 people. 

Thimphu TechPark employs more than a hundred

Mon, 10/19/2020 - 11:21

Chhimi Dema 

While many sectors have laid off their employees, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) companies in the Thimphu TechPark Limited (TTPL) employed more than a hundred individuals recently since March.

TTPL’s chief executive officer (CEO), Tshering Cigay Dorji (PhD), said that the pandemic has not affected most FDI companies based at the TTPL.

He said, “When the global economy is affected the demand for the IT services would fall. This impacts the scale of business operations, that way the IT sector will not be immune to the impact of the pandemic.”

From many companies at TTPL, ScanCafé, iMerit Technologies and SELISE Bhutan recruited employees.

Tshering Cigay Dorji said that in other countries, the lockdown affected the performance of iMerit- an IT service company offering data services in areas like machine learning.

“The iMerit services from other countries were given to the centre here since we had only one lockdown,” he said.

iMerit Technologies began its operations in 2019. The company hired 37 individuals and plans to recruit 20 more this month.

ScanCafé, a photo editing and photo book design company, employed 60 individuals including 50 temporary contract employees this month.

Operations manager at ScanCafé, Jagat Adhikari, said that for the 50 vacancies the company received about 450 applicants.

He said: “During the festive season in the USA, the number of orders increases. Therefore, temporary contract employees are hired every year for three months from October to December.”

According to the capabilities and performance of the individual, some of them were retained as regular employees.

Jagat Adhikari said that a person with basic computer knowledge could apply for the job.  Selected individuals were trained on the working-software of the company for 3 to 6 weeks, he said.

The company employees 300 people today. The employees are high school and university graduates.

SELISE Bhutan, a Swiss FDI company specialising in software development, recruited 18 individuals since the pandemic.

SELISE Bhutan’s head of business Kesang Wangchuk said that they were in the process of hiring additional five or six individuals.

He said that 38 individuals were employed when the company began its operation in 2014. Currently, 56 people are working in the company.

There are more than 600 individuals employed at the TTPL.

CEO Tshering Cigay Dorji said that TTPL’s vision as a company was to be able to export IT services.

“Bhutan’s economy is import dependant and we have a huge trade deficit. Other than tourism and hydropower, we don’t have the capacity in other sectors. So we need to strengthen our capacity in other sectors, and IT is one that has potential,” he said.

Improving the IT capabilities is vital, he said. “There are fewer IT professionals in the country. The education sector, labour ministry and the Royal University of Bhutan should bring more IT professionals.”

The economic activities in many developed countries are driven by the technologies, he said. “When the IT sector grows, more opportunities are created in the sector like the demand for IT programmers now.”

This demand for IT professionals encourages young learners to develop interests in STEM (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects as they have the space to apply their skills, he said.

“Other spillover impact of growing IT sector will be the adoption of technologies by businesses and organisations. This improves efficiency and transparency.”

Bolstering Bhutan’s agriculture production

Mon, 10/19/2020 - 11:20

When UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) received the Nobel Peace Prize 2020, it was a very special occasion for Bhutan. WFP is the largest humanitarian organisation that continues to save lives in emergencies through food assistance to build a pathway to peace and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change. For Bhutan WFP has been a very important development partner and we remain grateful for the programme.

Bhutan and WFP share a vital link. WFP was born when Bhutan was beginning to launch its first five-year plan. For the former it was a vision calling, for the latter an urgent need to empower a vast segment of its population as it was taking maiden steps on the path of modernisation. The relation has been most fruitful, based on mutual trust and respect. At this critical juncture of the country’s development journey, we look at WFP as a model to build our own.

 So, it is important to put reality into perspective. Food self-sufficiency has been one of the most important national goals since the first day of Bhutan’s five-year plan. However, it has continued to remain a dream. What with the growing population and losing development focus, it risks becoming a very distant dream. 

Covid-19 is the new lesson but we are also coming out of the list of the least developed countries. That means Bhutan must be self-sufficient in all areas of national life, especially in food. Are we even halfway there?

Arguments will differ, but that’s not important. Bringing ourselves to realise the reality is—how prepared is Bhutan to feed its people without having to go abegging?

Because health and education are free in Bhutan, feeding programmes become all the more important. A majority of our people are still very poor. But there is now the new challenge—climate change, for example—which has the potential to wipe out crop production and destroy crucial market infrastructure. 

For Bhutan, going by the current development rate, the problem is not only about logistics arrangements. Agriculture production must grow beyond toothless policies and half-hearted efforts from the various sectors. And that must be supported by strong demand-supply linkages in the country.

WFP’s support to Bhutan must be viewed in the light of Bhutan’s the last few miles before graduating from the list of LDC. We have the so-called White Paper, according to which more than 78,000 students are under the national feeding programme. School Agriculture Programme is a long-term vision. What is sorely needed today is short-term adjustment.

WFP’s feeds millions in the world with pragmatic approaches. That’s all Bhutan needs to learn—produce and gather enough and we will have enough. But management and investment are critically important. These have not been happening, which must change. 

As we celebrate WFP’s Nobel, it is a serious reminder that Bhutan must brace up.

NCOA releases six climate resilient rice varieties

Mon, 10/19/2020 - 11:19

Choki Wangmo

The National Centre for Organic Agriculture (NCOA) in Yusipang has released six climate-resilient rice varieties last week.

The varieties were piloted in Tsento gewog in Paro, one of the highest rice-growing gewogs in the dzongkhag.

The selection and access to the varieties—Jakar Ray Naab, Khangma Maap, Yusiray Maap-1, Yusiray Kaap-3, Chandanath-1 and Bulk-20— is seen as an urgent need to the high altitude rice farmers because most of the varieties cannot grow unless the varieties have high tolerance to cold, said the researcher with NCOA, Yenten Namgay.

The yield potential of the varieties was 2.3 tonnes/acre for Jakar Ray Naab, 2.6 tonnes/acre for Khangma Maap, 3.01 tonnes/acre for Yusiray Maap-1, 2.9 tonnes/acre for Yusiray Kaap-3, 2.5 tonnes/acre for Chandanath-1 and 2.75 tonnes/acre for Bulk-20.

During the trial, farmers were asked to select and tag the varieties they preferred to grow in the coming rice season. People chose Chandanath-1 and Bulk-20 as the best performing varieties in Metsi, he said.

However, both these varieties are under evaluation and will be released in the future. The seeds will be supplied in the two villages for the growing season next year.

On-farm trial was conducted in Metsi village for this year’s rice season.

Metsi and Zamsa villages in the gewog have access to two varieties of rice—Jakar Ray Naab and Khangma Maap. But recently, Yenten Namgay said that the farmers complained about the deteriorating quality, productivity, and tolerance of the varieties to disease.

Yenten Namgay said that cold temperature, incidence of fungal diseases such as rice blast and a very short growing season are the three most critical constraints faced by rice farmers in Tsento.

The traditional varieties of rice in the country were mostly damaged by rice blast disease epidemic in 1995.

The pilot project was funded by Bio varsity International through Evolutionary Plant Breeding Project and is jointly implemented by National Biodiversity Centre and NCOA.

An evolutionary breeding allows varieties to evolve in a given environment and allow farmers to select the best material they prefer. It also involves mixing seed of different varieties allowing natural evolution over time under farmers management by which varieties get adapted and evolved through a continuous selection process by the farmers.

Due to Covid-19, Yenten Namgay said that the project had to limit the number of farmers to 10 but everyone had access to equal share of seeds.

Choden from Metsi said that when the varieties like Ola Naab were introduced in the past, farmers could increase production for self-consumption and sale in the market but in recent years, the production has decreased. “It has become old and is vulnerable to damage.”

In her more than an acre land, she harvests about 300 kilograms (Kg) of paddy during the growing season.

Those with higher land holdings harvest as high as thousand kgs.

According to the United Nations, 91 percent of all disasters between 1998 and 2017 were caused by floods, storms, droughts, heatwaves and other extreme weather events. Such events are becoming more frequent and intense, and with growing impacts on food security.

The UN’s Global Assessment Report 2019 warned of dangerous overdependence on single crops in an age of accelerating global warming, with drought likely to emerge as a complex risk due to its wide-ranging, slow building, and cascading impacts.

Yaks treated against hypodermosis

Mon, 10/19/2020 - 11:18

Phurpa Lhamo | Gasa

Every October, livestock officials scale the snow-covered peaks in Laya and Lunana, the northern-most parts of Bhutan, with a single mission to eliminate hypodermosis.

Hypodermosis or warbles are somatic myiases caused by larval stages of Hypoderma species of flies (Diptera, Oestridae). It is recognised as one of the major arthropod parasitic infection inducing huge economic losses to cattle industries as well as in yak rearing areas worldwide.

A two-week programme to treat yaks against the disease ended on October 16.

Gasa’s livestock officer Thinley Jamtsho said that the treatment was to break the cycle of the flies. “We have to inject the animals right now when the eggs are still forming. If we don’t inject, the eggs transform into larvae and attach to the skin.”

The larvae burrow into the skin, thus affecting the muscle tissues. While adult yaks survive such diseases, many of the calves die.

Hypodermosis affects a yak’s appetite and causes a decrease in milk yield.

Five livestock officials visited various herds located in Laya and Lunana. Apart from injecting the livestock against the disease, yaks were sterilised and those wounded were also treated.

Today, lack of fodder during winter and outbreak of gid (Gu-Yum) disease amongst the yaks are major challenges for the highlanders.

Lunana Gup Kaka said that in winter, shortage of fodder would lead to multiple deaths. In Lunana and Laya gewogs, highlanders lose dozens of calves to Gu-Yum disease.

Gu-Yum disease is a pathological condition in young yaks, mostly below three. It is caused by ingestion of eggs of dog tapeworms.

A farmer from Lunana, Samdrup Tshering, said that Gu-Yum would cause the animal to rotate in circles. “We have a large number of stray dogs here. Treatment is provided but I don’t know if it helps.”

The dzongkhag livestock sector also plans to visit the higher lands after two months to treat gid disease.

Yaks are also lost to wild animals every year. Gasa has 6,389 yaks of which, 3,584 are in Laya.

No uniformity in treatment of corruption cases?

Mon, 10/19/2020 - 11:16

MB Subba

Zhemgang’s Goshing gewog has been without a gup for two years and three months now with the gup suspended by the Department of Local Governance (DLG) following an embezzlement case.

The case is expected to take more time should the suspended gup, Sangay Lethro, exhaust the appeal process. The gup who has been found guilty by the Panbang drungkhag court for embezzlement of public fund has appealed to the dzongkhag court.

Yesterday, he told Kuensel that he would exhaust all the judicial process despite his concerns about the gewog service being affected.

He said that the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC)’s letter to the DLG had provided the option of either suspending or not allowing him to use office property for defending the case. But he preferred not to comment on whether other officials involved in corruption cases had enjoyed better treatment.

Those following the recent case including that of the Home Minister Sherub Gyeltshen’s are questioning the uniformity in application of laws and treatment of officials involved in corruption allegations.

The home minister was found guilty of false insurance claims by the Thimphu dzongkhag court and recently by the High Court. He has also appealed to a larger bench of the High Court, but he continues to go to office.

Executive director of Centre for Local Governance and Research, Tharchen, said that treatment on suspension of elected officials should be streamlined. “There should be clarity on the procedure of suspension of officials as lack of it is affecting the state and the constituents,” he said.

In the home minister’s case, the government has indicated that it would not take action until the judicial process is exhausted.

Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that the home minister as a citizen had the right to exhaust the judicial process. He said that there were chances of the person being proven innocent ultimately, but he acknowledged the lack of uniformity in the treatment of the home minister and the Goshing gup’s cases.

DLG director Kado Zangpo said that DLG should be informed if lack of local leaders is affecting public services. He said that there was precedence in case of the local government to keep a gup suspended until the last judgment.

Section 167 of the ACC Act states that public officials shall be “suspended during the investigation” if his or her attendance is likely to impede the investigation proceeding or when there is likelihood of available evidence being influenced, removed or tampered from the official record which may be under his or her subordinate’s guardianship.

The home minister’s case surfaced before he contested the 2018 parliamentary elections.

Observers said that the relevant agency should take initiatives to reinstate the official as soon as the investigation is over. But they add that the official should be suspended as soon as he or she is convicted by the trial court, reasoning that the person remains guilty until proven innocent by the higher court.

In the labour ministry Director General’s (DG) case, the Royal Civil Service Commission also decided to wait for the final court verdict to take any action against the DG.

After the ACC wrote to the RCSC to suspend the DG, the RCSC stated that the decision is based on Bhutan Civil Service Rules and Regulations and in line with the Court Order of the Supreme Court issued on 17th July 2013 regarding the Gyalpoizhing Land Case.

Section 19.10.1 of the BCSR 2018 states that suspension shall be discretionary and not mandatory in its application whereas Section 19.10.5 of BCSR also states that, once the charges are filed, public interest should be the guiding factor in deciding to place a civil servant under a suspension.

Meanwhile, there are also questions about whether the person should refund salaries taken from the date of first judgment if he or she is proven guilty ultimately. The home minister receives the regular pay and privileges, while the Goshing gup said he receives half of his salary.

City leads at the end of the first round of BPL 

Mon, 10/19/2020 - 11:16

Next round to begin from October 21

Staff Reporter 

Tensung FC defeated Druk Stars FC 3-0 in the final match of the first round of the BoB Bhutan Premier League at MTC ground in Wangdue yesterday.

This was the second consecutive win for the soldiers after defeating High Quality United FC 4-1 on October 15. After a goalless first half, the soldiers broke the deadlock in the 49th minute from striker Sonam Chophel’s goal.

Tensung began building pressure on the opponents thereafter. The team scored two more goals in 81st and 89th minutes.

With the completion of the last game of the first round, 56 games were played so far, whereby each team completed seven games.

Thimphu City FC leads the table with 19 points followed by the Ugyen Academy FC with same points but on a goal difference of six.

Defending champions, Paro FC is in the third position with 12 points followed by High Quality United FC and Transport United FC with nine and eight points respectively.

Tensung FC, Paro United FC and Druk Stars FC are in the bottom three. Druk Stars had zero points at the end of the first round of the league.

The second round will resume from October 21.  Thimphu City FC will play Druk Stars FC at the Changlimithang Stadium.

Rescued from Baghdad

Sat, 10/17/2020 - 15:50

…nine rescued women share the ordeal, request others to be careful with foreign agents

Yangchen C Rinzin 

Sonam was 25. She had gone to a primary school and a nunnery. She had never heard of Iraq, forget Baghdad, the capital city of the war-torn country in the Middle East. 

She would never want to remember anything of the country where she had a torturous six months before finally being rescued in March this year along with eight other women. 

The foreign country where she dreamt of earning and helping her mother was a ‘huge’ house with a parking lot and iron gates. For six months, she had never left the gate. Her movement was monitored and restricted.

“Don’t go to work abroad unless the government send you assuring your safety,” says Sonam who is back to country and undergoing a re-skilling training with other women. 

“Don’t trust the agents who promises you of work and good salary.” 

This is what Sonam wants all the Bhutanese, desperate for jobs, to know. 

“I was tortured, made to work for almost 19 hours in a day without proper meal or rest,” she said between tears, as she recollected the incidents. “Everyday was a nightmare and I wanted to come back home but didn’t know how.”

They are among the 160 plus women that were trafficked to Iraq in the last few years through illegal Bhutanese agents by colluding with foreign agents.

The story line is familiar. They are lured with promises of a better lifestyle, opportunities and easy money. Most of them were never told or knew where they were heading until they reached the destination.

How did they go?

It’s the same story of one woman leading to another after the so-called agents convinced them. In September 2019 Sonam came to the national referral hospital. Here she met a friend who was readying to leave for the Middle East.

“She told me that an agent helped her to find a job. Then I requested if she could also help me since the job didn’t require any qualification and she introduced me to an agent,” Sonam recalls. The agent told her she would earn USD 300 to USD 400 in a month. “I thought I would be able to help my single mother.”

None of the women met the agent, a woman herself, in person. They talked on WeChat. 

Nyekor, holiday and business

The women had to have a passport to travel. 

The agent had the tricks. Mentioning Iraq would raise the antenna of the officials the women were told to lie to foreign ministry officials when they were processing passports. 

Some were told to say that they were off to Nepal for business or Nyekor. Sonam was one. Her friends were either going to Dubai or Kuwait. 

“The agent told me that if I say I’m going to Nepal I will get passport on the same day,” said another woman. “She (agent) said I would be sent to Kuwait. When I got the passport, I was told I would be sent to Iraq.”

The women became skeptical. But when they were shown images and videos of women in the Middle East “having a good life,” they decided to continue.

“The agent asked us to pay Nu 30,000 in fees and said if we couldn’t pay it, she would deduct from the salary once we start earning,” said Dechen, 20, another woman. “They were so nice and kind.  This is why I was convinced,” she said.

The road to Bagdad

After getting her passport, Sonam was asked to come to Phuentsholing where she and more Bhutanese women were waiting. The agent’s husband took them to Samtse and the next day, they left for Delhi from the Bagdogra airport.

In Delhi, they were added in a WeChat group chat where many women were bound for Iraq. They spent three days in Delhi to process the visa. A Nepali speaking agent in Dubai received the women at the Dubai airport where they halted for almost 12 hours. From Dubai, they reached Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. 

From Erbil, the journey was by road in trucks. Dechen, the youngest in the group cried through the whole journey. “When they saw police, they pushed me into a tight space near the driver to hide me,” said Dechen. 

Another added that they were told they have to travel by truck as the road was not good. Most of the police didn’t check the trucks where the Bhutanese women were hiding under blankets. Hiding under blankets, they cannot recollect the time. 

The journey was at night. 

It was a relief for them to reach the agent’s house in Baghdad. But once they reached Bagdad their phones and passports were seized. Their photographs were taken and sent to clients. “Whenever an employer comes to employ us, they would give our passport to the employer but never to us.”

The jobs 

Almost all the Bhutanese women were sent to work as housemaids. It is where they were exploited and harassed. Most worked from 5am until midnight, some without proper meals. Many were not paid for months.

“Whenever it was time for them to pay us, they would take us back to agent and complain about our work. That way they refused to pay the salary,” said another. “Our request to send us home would result in the agent threatening us with beating or demanding the money they paid the Bhutanese agent back.”

One woman who worked for six months received only a month’s salary. “I had USD 100 in my pocket when I was rescued,” she said.

Besides the household chores, some were even abused and sexually harassed. Falling sick in Baghdad was even riskier. “Whenever we fell ill, they would take us to hospital and give us painkiller shots and before we could recover they would ask us to work,” another 25-year-old woman said. 

“We were locked inside the house or the premises all the time. I have never seen what was there behind the walls of my employer,” said one.

There were a few lucky ones who had kind employers. Those in Erbil were paid on time and also had a day off for shopping or sightseeing.

Rescued

Lost, desperate, and physically and emotionally tired, the women were about to give up. “We kept crying and praying. We couldn’t tell our parents,” said Sonam. Some informed their relatives, but because of the nature they left, they couldn’t inform authorities. 

But their prayers were answered.

One day one of them managed to contact someone from Bhutan in Iraq.  They created a group chat on a social media platform. 

“This is how they were able to contact Royal Bhutan Police,” said one. “We didn’t know who to ask for help since we did not come through proper channel. Whenever we request the Bhutanese agent for help, she would block those who begged her to take home.”

However, they were rescued. 

 “We cried in joy when we saw a Bhutanese official from the Embassy in Kuwait for the first time,” said Sonam. “When I saw the Drukair aircraft, I thanked my Kencho Sum, His Majesty The King and the government for rescuing us.” 

A relief flight on September 20 brought home another 132 Bhutanese women evacuated from Iraq upon the command of His Majesty The King. After completing 21-day quarantine they are currently under home quarantine for another 10 days.  They were provided medical care and counselling. 

However, there are still many Bhutanese women scattered in different groups in Iraq where the Royal Bhutanese Embassy in Kuwait is working to find and bring them home.

Disclaimer: Names were changed to protect their identity 

Export of potatoes and four other agri-products resume

Sat, 10/17/2020 - 15:49

Rajesh Rai  | Phuentsholing

Export of potatoes to India, via Jaigaon or any other place, will not be a problem hereafter.

Along with potato, areca nuts, orange, apple and ginger have also been sanctioned for export from Bhutan to India as all these produce have been listed in India’s import list from Bhutan.

The Embassy of India in Thimphu yesterday notified the foreign ministry of this latest development, which has come as a huge relief to thousands of farmers across the country and potato traders in Phuentsholing and Jaigaon.

In its “Urgent” notification yesterday, the Embassy of India stated that the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, India on October 14 notified area nut, mandarin, apple, potato and ginger from Bhutan—in the Plant Quarantine (Regulation of Import into India) Order, 2003, with immediate effect.

After the export of potatoes to India, via Jaigaon, came to an abrupt halt last week, hundreds of tonnes of potatoes have been stored in various go-downs in Phuentsholing. Potato growers from across the country have also stopped taking the produce to Phuentsholing.

Earlier yesterday, a potato dealer, Singye Wangdi, who was unaware of the notification, said he had about 10 truckloads of potatoes in his go-down.

“I am really worried,” he said, adding that he had no idea what would happen to his investment if the export didn’t resume sooner.

In a desperate attempt, some Bhutanese and Indian traders also attempted to take the potatoes via Jaigaon on the night of October 14 but were apprehended by Shastri Seema Bal (SSB). Four truckloads of potatoes were seized and handed over to the customs office in Jaigaon.

Following this incident, the deputy commissioner of customs of Dinhata Customs Division in West Bengal had written to the regional customs office in Phuentsholing requesting not to process or allow the vegetable consignments until the Plant Quarantine Office (PQO) made arrangements for inspection at Jaigaon Land Customs Office (LCO).

The letter also requested the SSB to not allow such consignments to enter India until PQO managed arrangements for inspection at Jaigaon LCS.

The problem emerged because the Jaigaon customs office had installed a computerised system called the ICEGATE in 2017 after the introduction of the Indian GST.

This system asked for quarantine clearance but the Plant Quarantine Services of India did not issue the clearance for Bhutanese cardamom and Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) clearance was not recognised.

Cardamom export saw a similar problem in 2017 but it was resolved after it got listed in the India’s import regulation following government to government dialogues.

Talking to Kuensel, agriculture minister Yeshey Penjor had also said that negotiations to list potato, apple, orange, ginger and areca nuts in the export list had started two years ago and reached the final stage.

He also said the government initially submitted a comprehensive list of numerous products, which the National Plant Protection Organisation (NPPO) in India requested to scale it down to five.

The Embassy of India’s notification yesterday also said that the NPPO is further examining chilli, beans, cabbage, cauliflower, carrot, pea and soyabean to be included in the list. “An update will be provided subsequently,” it said.

Haa IMTRAT mela cancelled

Sat, 10/17/2020 - 15:49

Staff Reporter 

The popular Haa IMTRAT Mela has been cancelled this year given the Covid-19 pandemic concerns.

“In accordance with policies laid down by the government on Covid-19, IMTRAT has stringently adhered to all the norms, locked down its campuses and taken all precautionary measures even before the first case of the country came to light,” Kuensel learnt from IMTRAT.

The Indo-Bhutan Friendship hospital at Thimphu and the Military Hospital at Haa have continued to attend to the emergency patients even when the virus has been at its peak.  “Notwithstanding all the cautions and preventive measures in place, IMTRAT head office has also established quarantine facilities and a Covid Care Centre.”

IMTRAT and its personnel to have been deeply impacted by the existing situation, both in India and Bhutan and the stringent but requisite measures put in place by its headquarters. “A large number of IMTRAT personnel have chosen to continue serving IMTRAT and Bhutan during this pandemic, irrespective of the adverse effect on their families in severely Covid affected regions of India.”

The three-day fair as part of the IMTRAT Raising Day celebrations, since its raising on October 16, 1962, has become an annual festival for the residents of Haa marked with a variety of performances, both cultural and shows. The local residents also perform during the fair.

High-risk area still vulnerable to Covid-19 outbreaks   

Sat, 10/17/2020 - 15:48

Health ministry “fairly confident’ on the absence of local transmission in other dzongkhags

Younten Tshedup   

Restaurants and bars are teeming with crowds. Shops and public institutions are swarmed by shoppers and clients. The Norzin Lam area is buzzing with people like before. This is Thimphu, after almost two months since the first-ever nationwide lockdown was enforced.

Life in the capital, including some other dzongkhags, has returned to normal today. With no indications of any local transmission of Covid-19 in these places, restrictions are slowly being lifted.

Epidemiologically, Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that except for the high-risk areas in the south, the ministry was ‘fairly confident’ that there were no community transmissions in the rest of the dzongkhags for now.

The reason, Lyonpo said was because the surveillance system put in place did not indicate any worrying trend in these areas for now. Of the many, the surveillance includes regular testing of the frontline and health workers, screening for Covid-19 at the flu clinics and hospitals.

However, the minister cautioned that this does not mean that people should compromise with the public health measures that were slowly gaining momentum among the public.

“I think our confidence to say this probably comes from the way we are all adhering to the public health measures. We are now using the face masks regularly, maintaining physical distance and regularly washing our hands. This should be the way forward.”

The situation in the south (high-risk), however, had a different tale. “We are still not able to feel the pulse of the epidemic in the high-risk areas,” Lyonpo said. Issues mainly concerning the long (700km) porous border in the south did not give the ministry the confidence to pull the areas out of high-risk for now.

Lyonpo said that to keep the lifeline of the country’s economy running, trade continues through these southern dzongkhags. “There are still possibilities of outbreaks in these places, which is why it is very difficult for us to come to a conclusion for now.”

She added that having these areas marked as a red zone, reinforced by layers of surveillance was the sensible assessment for now.

Last week after the completion of additional 14 days of quarantine in Red Zone, 271 people inside the Project Dantak camp in Phuentsholing were tested for Covid-19. No new cases were detected from the camp.

Lyonpo said that as per the findings of the test, the ministry had submitted its recommendations for the next course of action at the Project Dantak camp to the national Covid-19 task force. The recommendations were as per the national surveillance protocol.

The national task force headed by the Prime Minister could not convene to discuss the next course of action for Dantak camp as the task force members including the Prime Minister, Royal Bhutan Army General and Chief of Police were in the south.

The task force is expected to meet soon and decide the new status of the current Red Zone Project Dantak camp in Phuentsholing.

The Dantak camp in Phuentsholing spreads across the international border. Certain section of the camp is in the Indian territory, which might not be properly guarded.

With the Covid-19 status of the bordering town Jaigoan not clearly known, it can be assumed that there are potential positive cases in the community.

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