The Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) has offered Treasury Bills (T-Bills) worth Nu 3 billion (B) for sale on behalf of the government.
T-Bills are a debt instrument issued by the government to mobilise fund from the market and can be negotiated and traded freely in the market.
The T-Bills, which have a maturity period of 91 days, are being auctioned and issued through the RMA.
Any Bhutanese person, firm, company, corporate body, financial institution and trust, among others, can subscribe the Bills. But the RMA will have the full discretion to accept or reject any or all the bids either wholly or partially, without assigning any reason, the central bank notified.
The sale of Treasury Bills comes at a time when the government is reportedly facing shortage of funds amid the Covid-19 pandemic. T-Bills can be used for financing temporary revenue shortfalls in the government budget.
However, Finance Minister Namgay Tshering downplayed the sale of T-Bills saying that issuing of Treasury Bills is a regular practice.
“This is issued to ensure un-disrupted cash flow in the market. This will help the economy,” he said.
According to the finance ministry’s Operation Guidelines for T-Bills, the Bills shall be listed and issued through the Royal Securities Exchange of Bhutan. The Public Finance Act authorises the Ministry of Finance to raise loan from any person, organisation, or government, either within or outside Bhutan.
The government estimates the domestic borrowing for fiscal year 2020-21 at Nu 13.604B, which will be financed through issuance of T-Bills and long-term government bonds in the domestic market.
As of today, the government has been using T-Bills for deficit financing and cash management. However, the government plans to raise financing through long-term bonds of different maturity, according to the finance ministry.
The Act also allows the ministry to borrow money to finance budget deficits, to refinance maturing debt and to maintain credit balance in the bank accounts by way of issue of public securities such as bills, bonds or commercial paper.
Given the rising number of Covid-19 positive cases in the country, the national lockdown may not be relaxed any soon.
The health ministry is carrying out health surveillance and tests for all the vulnerable people.
Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said the government imposed nationwide lockdown, as it was the best intervention to break the virus spreading chain.
“We now have to assess risks in all the places and then relax lockdown phase-wise,” she said. “For example, we have already relaxed lockdown in villages and the next phase will come dzongkhag wise depending on the risk findings,” she said.
She said the lockdown couldn’t be relaxed in any dzongkhag where the primary contacts of the index case in Phuentsholing tested negative. This is because one-time testing negative doesn’t mean that one can be free from virus.
“Lockdown has helped us in containing the virus as people confined to their own places. It could have been spread to all 20 dzongkhags if people were left to travel as usual,” she said. “For instance, about 1,000 people travel between Thimphu and Phuentsholing every day and lockdown could prevent this.”
Lyonpo said that lockdown minimised people’s movement which help tracing and testing of all the contacts of the index case. It also gave time for the ministry to plan and implement the measures accordingly.
Lyonpo said: “We must be careful before deciding to lift the lockdown. Our lockdown has been an example to many countries.”
She said that if lockdown protocols were followed strictly at the household levels, focusing on the family in which a member has tested positive would be easy.
Lyonpo emphasised that if the situation worsen in some places, lockdown in those places could be more stringent.
Ending hunger and poverty amid COVID-19 impacts will require leveraging agricultural technology, innovation and partnerships
Global hunger has been on a regrettable rise in recent years, and despite Asia’s economic clout, the continent – home to more than half of the world’s undernourished – has not been spared. Now COVID-19 is leading to a slow-down of regional economic growth and further threatening food security.
Southern Asia is particularly vulnerable, with the number of chronically underfed people projected to rise by almost a third to 330 million by 2030. It is also the only subregion in the world, where more than half the children from the poorest fifth of society are stunted, a condition that prejudices their futures. But there are challenges all around: The Pacific Island States have the world’s highest child wasting rates, and East Asia has the world’s highest absolute costs for a healthy diet – one that goes beyond mere calorie counts to offer balanced nutrition. On top of that, Asia and the Pacific is the region where obesity and overweight, for children and adults, are growing faster than anywhere else.
We are facing two pandemics. COVID-19, which beyond its health toll is crushing livelihoods, and hunger, a scourge the international community pledged to eradicate by the end of this decade – the Sustainable Development Goal 2.
Tackling them will require new ideas and more robust political will. Past progress was sustained by the benign trickle-down effects of strong economies. This is not the case anymore.
The facts have changed, and so must our minds.
We need to find ways to increase resilience across our food systems by identifying new marketing channels (like e-commerce), increasing efficiency to reduce losses, improve the quality of products available and storage facilities, which are critical to flows of healthy foods and income to those who produce them. Inclusive access to finance to strengthen and expand rural supply chains is also crucial.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has recently launched a new comprehensive COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme to provide an agile and coordinated global response aimed at ensuring access to nutritious food for everyone by mobilizing all forms of resources and partnerships at country, regional and global level. In line with the UN agenda to “build back better”, and in pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the new comprehensive COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme aims to mitigate the immediate impacts of the pandemic while strengthening the longer-term resilience of food systems and livelihoods.
So we are making headway, but we must, as a priority, attend to the most urgent issues at the very source by enabling farmers to be more dynamic, entrepreneurial and competitive through continual innovation.
We need smallholder farmers to produce nutritious foods, without fear of crop failures, and we need to get those foods to the mouths of the hungry across the region and beyond. To do this, smallholders desperately need access to financial resources, technology and innovation. We also need to educate people on the importance of healthy diets, so that farmers will have a solid base of demand to whom they can market those foods.
The Asia-Pacific region is as dynamic as it is large. It has some of the best agricultural scientists, institutions and innovative ideas. From Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific to China, India, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and virtually every country in between, innovators are proving that everyone can benefit from new technologies and science.
Examples range from deploying drones to monitor flood and pest risks, smartphone apps that can identify plant diseases, advanced genetics that build on crop and livestock breeding, precision agriculture and aquaculture systems that conserve natural resources such as water, indoor farming and consumer tools for nutrition monitoring and smart purchasing.
There is no time to waste. Everyone needs to lend a hand: governments, academia, the private sector, UN agencies, civil society organizations, international financial institutions and the people who bring us the food we eat – the smallholders. And our hands need to be working in unison to overcome pandemics that by definition affect and involve everyone.
FAO has rolled out the Hand-in-Hand Initiative to tackle these collective challenges, and the FAO Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific, which will be virtually hosted by Bhutan (1-4 September), is the perfect opportunity for forty-six Members and other partners to forge ways to expedite action and leverage resources.
By working together, learning together and contributing together, we can overcome both pandemics and transform the agri-food system.
Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
PII management will facilitate their journey back home
Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue
About 400 workers of the Punatsangchhu-II hydroelectric project (PII) have submitted their names to project authorities expressing their wish to leave for India.
This came after nearly 500 workers of the Jaiprakash Associates Limited (Jaypee Group), a construction company working for PII, came together demanding to go home yesterday. The crowd gathered around 9am in front of the Jaypee Group office in Wangdue.
For the past few months, hundreds of PII workers had expressed their concern and wanted to leave for home. Most workers pointed out that they had stayed in Bhutan for long and now wished to leave. Others reasoned family issues and the upcoming celebration of major festivals in India like the Durga Puja.
The PII management led by chairman Lyonpo Loknath Sharma has ensured to help the workers leave at the earliest. Lyonpo Loknath Sharma reached Wangdue yesterday afternoon and immediately met with the workers. Lyonpo also visited the campsites to meet with the workers, listening to their concerns and hosted a dinner for the workers yesterday.
Lyonpo Loknath Sharma said that the worker’s immediate request was that they be sent home. He added that the workers were of an understanding that the government wasn’t allowing them to leave. “From our side, we can send them any time.
There are formalities to be completed from the Indian government side as well. That is why I am going to take all the forms and the list and go to the Indian Embassy.”
Lyonpo said that the management would request the Indian embassy to expedite the process. “Not all of them are from West Bengal, some are from other parts—each State has their own route of transit. Bus and trains are not available.”
Many workers of the project usually leave for home after a few months’ stay in Bhutan.
Jaypee Group today has around 2,800 workers. Prior to the lockdown, more than 1,000 workers left for home. Eleven workers who were to leave on August 11 were stranded because of the lockdown.
Lyonpo Loknath Sharma said that the workers leaving would disrupt the hydropower construction work. “But human beings are more important for us, their families are more important for us, their sentiments are more important for us.”
Lyonpo also expressed concerns over the worker’s experience in Bhutan and its impact in future.
After over 400 workers left for India last month, the construction companies of PI and PII announced vacancies. The project had plans to recruit Bhutanese workers. PII announced around 268 vacancies.
However, as of mid-July only 17 vacancies were filled.
Lyonpo Loknath Sharma said that the project’s plan to recruit Bhutanese had not worked. “We are also thinking about bringing workers from India as replacement. The management and contractors are working on it. If we can bring in around 500 workers we will be okay.”
However, Bhutanese would be given priority.
Critical works at PHPA to begin
Despite the shortage of workers at PII, the project management has plans to begin critical works in PI and PII.
Lyonpo Loknath Sharma said that the management had talked with the dzongkhag taskforce with regard to continuation of the critical works.
He added that the management was developing a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). “We have some specific work such as at the powerhouse, which can be done with a certain number of workers.”
If possible, work at the critical sites will begin today. The workforce would be managed with the available workers at the project.
Besides the Covid-19 virus, many residents, mainly those running small businesses or private sector employees, in urban areas across the country are faced with a major problem which they say is more pressing than the pandemic.
Many businesses continue to remain shut. Economic activities have come to a halt since the government declared lockdown on August 11.
Some residents in Phuentsholing, which is a red zone and has new cases almost every day, were served notice to pay their rent already.
With no end in sight for the lockdown, a grocer in town said he was worried about meeting the basic needs of his family. For now, paying the rent is bugging him.
Bir Bahadur Tamang who runs a pharmacy shop in Gelephu town said it was difficult to earn even a few thousand despite having a permit to open his shop twice a week.
“I won’t be able to afford the rent this time for sure. Hardly any customer came to buy medicine,” he said.
Bir Bahadur Tamang and the tenants of the same building, who are running small businesses, received a one-time rent waiver of Nu 1,500 to date.
“It’s been quite sometime after the government announced a loan waiver. But it’s unfair to see that we are not able to get the benefit from the Kidu,” he said.
He will have to pay a rent of Nu 10,000 for the pharmacy shop and another Nu 5,000 as rent for the apartment where his family lives.
But his income this month is only Nu 8,000.
He said that the lockdown was an important measure put in place to combat the outbreak.
“But, it’s difficult when the benefit of the government’s initiative is not reaching us,” he said.
With a huge drop in businesses, private and corporate companies are also strategising how to minimise costs including cutting the salary of employees. Some are already on half salary. Others are drawing up more desperate measures as lockdown continues.
A shopkeeper in Samdrupjongkhar town, Namgay has similar concerns about paying rent for two spaces but without income. “Shop is the main source of income for me.”
“Although some homeowners have to pay loans, it would help if they could waive a small portion of the rent because I have to pay about Nu 100,000 a month for my apartment and shop,” Namgay said.
Lhamo, 35, from Pemagatshel, said that she would not be able to pay rent this month and the landlord has not indicated any discount in the rent.
“I don’t have other alternative sources of income and also have to look after my poor parents in the village.”
With restricted movement, cab drivers in the country are left with no income. Most have volunteered with the Bhutan Red Cross Society to help in Covid-19 response.
It has been more than two weeks for Karma Phuntsho, a taxi driver from Satsham in Paro without any income.
He is worried about the payment of rent and other dues, as his saving has already exhausted. “If the lockdown extends, I am worried.” His house owner hasn’t reduced the rent so far.
A young woman opened a restaurant in Paro after returning from the Middle East recently. Two weeks later, the nationwide lockdown shut her business. She is hoping for a rent waiver from the building owner.
Having invested all her savings in setting up the restaurant, she said that she was already running into loss.
She said that she would have to leave the restaurant if there was no reduction, as there was no business at all.
However, some landlords have waived the rents by certain percentage starting March. Pema from Lamgong said that her landlord reduced the rent to Nu 8,000 from Nu 12,000.
Meanwhile, a house owner, Sangay said that her family’s only source of income was the rent. “It is difficult during lockdown for my family as well.” She said that the rent took care of the family’s grocery and bills.
Additional reporting from Phub Dem, Nima, and Kelzang Wangchuk
Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar
The Jomotshangkha drungkhag Covid-19 task force came up with their own design for the movement card as they lack the printing press or facilities like other dzongkhags.
The task force had designed the movement card and printed in black and white because they could not travel to Samdrupjongkhar to print the cards due to lockdown.
Officials used sketch pens to colour about 25 cards for the essential and medical suppliers.
The incident commander (IC) and Jomotshangkha drungpa, Lamdak Wangdi, said that the Jomotshangkha town was divided into four zones- north throm, east throm, upper throm, and lower throm.
He said the movement for cardholders is allowed for two hours. The four movement timings are divided between 8am to 6pm. “One movement card was issued to a household in the respective zone, and vehicle movement is not allowed.”
The drungpa said that since the drungkhag does not have printing presses or facilities like other dzongkhags, the task force printed the cards in black and white and distributed them to about 224 households in the four zones. There are about 1,500 people in the town.
He said that the task force members and De-Suups completed the distribution of the cards on August 25 and implemented the movement pass in the respective zones on the same day.
“People have to wear the face masks, wash hands and follow the health protocols.”
Meanwhile, the drungkhag task force lifted the lockdown in the gewogs. People in the gewogs are allowed to carry out farming and other works like before.
“For monitoring, we deployed police, foresters, army, De-Suups and retired armed forces (RAF), among others while the gups and local leaders also monitor the situation in the gewogs,” Lamdak Wangdi said.
For many Bhutanese with a single source of income, the last week of the month is the best week. It is, even if for a few days, the time when they have cash in hand or balance in their account. Rents and dues are paid, empty LPG cylinders are refilled, essentials are bought and if lucky, spare a few for a family treat.
This August, it is not going to be the same. The salaried group, civil servants and most corporate employees have little to worry, as the salary and the various allowances are credited in their account even if many stopped working since August 10. Daily wage earners, part timers and the thousands in the informal sector depending on small shops and eateries will feel the pinch of the lockdown this week.
Shops, except for a few identified, have not opened since they abruptly closed on August 11 morning. Many found themselves workless when they woke up with the news of the lockdown. After remaining idle for nearly three weeks, the greatest fear is the knock on the door from the landlord asking for house rent.
Businesses were affected since March when Bhutan recorded the first Covid-19 positive case. There were no complete shutdowns. The discount house owners gave after they benefited from the government’s monetary policy eased the burden. Some waived off house rents for a month or two, some gave generous discounts while some argued that they had no loans to pay.
The lockdown is different. Apart from a few critical industries, offices, shops and all businesses are closed. The hope is that there will be concessions because the little they have needs to be spent on essentials. The reason is that the second phase of the Covid-19 monetary measures are still in place.
Those with loans need not pay interest on the loan until September and there is a concession of 50 percent from October until March next year. Payment of loan itself is deferred for one year without penal interest. It would be unfair to avail discounts or waivers to all, but there are people whose means for livelihood has suddenly disappeared with the lockdown.
There is no compulsion and the government will not intervene as they feel it is the “moral responsibility” of the house owners. However, no one is certain when the lockdown will ease so that people could go about with their lives. Like in the first quarter of the year, some house owners will step up, without having to be told, to help their fellow citizens.
As we wait to see another week pass by in lockdown, whether the government should intervene or leave it up to house owners is worth pondering over. The government has come to the rescue with the monetary policies. If the lockdown, an extraordinary circumstance, continues for long, the benefits of the policies is a good reason to convince property owners to let some of the benefits trickle down to the tenants.
Phub Dem | Paro
With no new Covid-19 cases for a week, residents in buffer zones and gewogs in Paro started moving out of their homes yesterday.
Except for farmers working in the fields and herding cattle, there was no rush in stores nor people loitering in the open space.
Jitsiphu, which is the hub for shoppers in Tsento gewog, saw only a few customers.
Khandu Wangmo rushed to a nearby grocery store to buy some goods for her four-year-old child. She said that it was convenient to visit the shops and buy the required things rather than ordering it through service delivery.
“As service delivery is only for essential goods, we don’t get the things as per our desire.”
Besides, another resident said that it usually took two to three days for the ordered goods to reach home. “Easing the lockdown has been of immense help.”
Paro dzongkhag administration distributed movement cards to residents in the buffer zone on Wednesday.
However, movement card is not distributed in Tshongdue town along with high alert zone—Bonday, Chang Mendi and Woochu.
Paro Dzongdag Tenzin Thinley said, “Considering the population density and five positive cases from these areas, the place still remains a high-risk zone.”
He said that the dzongkhag would allow movement in the town area only after the health ministry and government declare it safe.
The dzongkhag is divided into three zones: town, buffer zones, and gewogs.
Chiwogs that are adjacent to the town zone and share boundaries with the area are identified as a buffer zone.
Each individual in the buffer zones is allowed to move around their zone for three hours. The movement duration is divided into morning, afternoon and evening starting from 8am to 7pm.
Movement of the individuals from the same building will have different timing.
Except for farm works and cattle herding, movement between gewogs is restricted.
Only a member from each household in gewogs is allowed to move from 9 am to 5pm. But it is limited to a maximum of five people working in the fields in a group.
Paro dzongdag said that the gewog officials, along with Food Corporation of Bhutan, would distribute essential items if the zones do not have shops in their area. Besides, he said that construction works were allowed in gewogs.
For Dawa Choden from Nemjo under Lungnyi gewog, the movement card won’t ease the hassle of buying essential goods. She said that the small general stores in her zone don’t have any required essential goods.
Another resident Tshewang Rinzin said that the cards would be helpful only for walking around the paddy fields and refresh oneself. “Otherwise, there is nothing in our area.”
Dzongdag Tenzin Thinley said that if the shops identified in the buffer zones don’t have the necessary goods, the residents were not allowed to enter into another zone. “But the essential service providers will continue to deliver the goods.”
He added that wholesale dealers would also deliver essential goods to the retail shops in gewog and buffer zones if the shops run out of stock.
As per the standard operating procedure, the identified shops have to setup handwashing facilities, and the customers should follow strict health protocols.
Neten Dorji | Trashigang
When the officials and volunteers came knocking and delivering the movement passes, residents of Trashigang were much relieved that the process to lift the lockdown has begun.
Residents have gradually appeared on the streets of Trashigang that donned a deserted look in the past two weeks.
Thukten Zangpo, who works at a private company, said he feels much relief after they were allowed to move around. “It has been quite tough and really hard to stay at home without any work for weeks.”
Another resident, Sangay Zangmo said she was happy that at least she could buy the food items thats her family wanted. “With movement cards, we can buy everything, as per our needs and choice.”
She said it is also time to support the government and follow the health protocol while everyone is out.
“We are very excited when we get the movement cards,” said Dolma Lhamo, who runs the business. “It has been really tough for me. Now I feel relaxed.”
The residents thanked His Majesty The King and the government for easing the lockdown and allowing them to move around in a regulated manner.
Another resident, Thinley Wangchuk said: “You can already tell that there is a sense of relief from people being able to do shopping themselves again. It brings a little more of that feeling of normal coming back.”
A civil servant said that for many people, they have been cooped up in their homes by watching television and staying with children. “Being able to get out again is a big deal,” he said. “But people need to be responsible and follow the government’s advice on health and safety.”
Officials monitor strictly. They ensure people follow every health safety protocol.
“I feel comfortable with the protocols we have in place,” said a graduate, referring to wearing face mask, washing hands and keeping physical distance.
“To stay at home is most difficult for youth like me,” he said. “It is a relief for me since we get four hours to move around.”
Deyjung wholesale owner, Yeshi Zangmo said that not many people are coming out like the first day of easing the lockdown. “During the lockdown, we used to get orders from more than 10 households in a day, now it has reduced,” she said adding that people now only order heavy things.
Meanwhile, the number of calls to Trashigang operation centre for delivery services has dropped after residents were allowed to move out of their homes. “We used to receive 70 calls in a day for essential items and other purposes. It has dropped to 40 calls today,” an operator said.
Tshering Namgyal | Mongar
Lhuentse dzongkhag is divided into three zones excluding the gewogs. Phaling town near the dzong area, Autsho in the lower and Khoma gewog area in the middle are the three zones. Phaling town has 140 households, Autsho has about 130 and Khoma has around 45 households.
De-Suups started distributing the movement cards since Wednesday.
Lhuentse Dzongdag, Jambay Wangchuk, said the implementation of movement card would begin from August 29, as they would need a day for sorting out the cards and do necessary corrections if there are any. There are two time zones, three hours each in the morning and afternoon where residents can shop from the identified shops.
The dzongkhag, according to the dzongdag has been doing well in terms of door-door delivery of essential items including LPG cylinders. The dzongkhag distributed almost all the essentials through Food Corporation of Bhutan F and farm shops, with only a few necessities unavailable with FCB arranged from identified shops.
The dzongdag who is also the dzongkhag incident commander said while gewog vehicles (Boleros) were deployed to cater essentials to rural communities, many volunteers came forward with their private vehicles to supplement the transportation needs.
A self-sufficient dzongkhag in vegetable and livestock products, Lhuentse dzongkhag supplied four DCM truckloads of surplus vegetables and 130 trays of eggs to Nganglam. The dzongkhag also sent 153 kg of butter and 1200 balls of cheese to Thimphu.
Meanwhile, 665 movement cards were distributed in Trashiyangtse yesterday after dividing the dzongkhag into four zones — Yangtse Throm I and Throm II zones, Doksum town zone and the gewog zones.
The dzongkhag Covid-19 task force has issued cards to all three town zones and also issued six special cards to single mothers and disabled persons.
People will be allowed to move around in their zones starting tomorrow.
Residents in respective zones can move around from 9am-5pm, with their specific time.
They are the undertakers, so to speak, the directors of the last honours. They are the managers and service providers both and much more. In these newfangled, difficult and unprecedented days, they are to many individuals and families the only friends and source of strength. It’s a hot day, Thursday, August 27. The place is crematorium at Hejo in Thimphu.
The expansiveness of the space suddenly unfolds under the vast blue sky and stretches on. And this is the picture: green army tents, not a single drunk swaying about, or the usual crowd of people and vehicles—utter silence. Here the departed are so honoured that the place inspires awe and deep reverence. Are they—the dead and gone and those they have left behind—the fortunate ones?
Five Red Cross volunteers are preparing the pyres. It’s not a good day today (going by Bhutanese astrology) to cremate body but the team of volunteers must always be prepared. It’s neither too early, nor too late. Last night they had a meeting—all the 12 Red Cross volunteers attend the late-night meetings—and the five who have taken upon themselves to manage the bodies decided that nothing should go amiss, whatever the case.
At least six bodies come to the Hejo crematorium every day. But then, how during the lockdown? These five volunteers, led by Rinzin Chophel, the chairman of Bhutan Taxi Association and a Red Cross volunteer, bring the bodies to the crematorium. Where the team works is a small information centre. The set-up is frugal and bare and there is just one man coordinating the whole and the next day’s events.
And there are the women Red Cross volunteers too. As you enter the crematorium, they stop you at the entrance. There is no gate but two straight lines that lead you to the hand-washing stand. Your temperature gets checked and your personal details are registered.
Death is an expensive affair; many families can’t even afford wood for cremation. And there are other things that must accompany the complete ritual. But here the Red Cross has stocked up 12 truckloads of wood. The families of the dead do not have to pay. What is more? The women Red Cross volunteers ensure that physical distance is maintained during the ritual ceremonies.
As things happen
Days before the nationwide lockdown, the Red Cross volunteers got together. It was difficult getting every volunteer involved but it had to be done. They saw that a plan was necessary in case the pandemic situation in the country got serious and decided that they would deal with all deaths related to Covid-19. There were mock sessions galore with experts and health professionals. But then they realised that they could do more—managing the crematorium in the times of Covid-19 meant they must take the full charge. Minimising the transmission threat was by far more important. They could certainly do more, a lot more.
The volunteers broke into small groups and thusly forged on: five for body management; three women at the entrance; one to handle the base information management; and three to ensure physical distance.
As in Thimphu, such Red Cross groups also are in Gelephu, Phuentsholing, Mongar, Trongsa, Bumthang, Tsirang and Samdrupjongkhar.
“We get the bodies and call the relatives. We arrange everything for them here. Sometimes it is difficult—when emotions are involved—but that’s only to be expected. We have learnt to deal with them very professionally and compassionately,” says Rinzin Chophel. “There are religious beliefs and traditions and there is practical urgency to consider. People often misunderstand us but that is not important. What is important is that we must protect every body from the pandemic, not just ourselves and our families.”
Wednesday, August 26, was a heavy one for the volunteers. Eleven bodies had to be cremated and there was a bit of crowd even with strict movement restrictions. Today, there are only 10 cars inside the crematorium compound.
Gempo Dorji, a teacher of Yangchenphug Higher Secondary School, who has lost one of his in-laws, says this new arrangement is very sensible. “Crowding, lavish food and drinks as is traditional in such situations in our society is insulting to the dead—I beg to differ. Covid-19 will go away one day but I wish this system of dealing with the dead became the new normal. It is good for both dead and living.”
Such views and sentiments can meet with derision in a society that is steeped deeply in traditional beliefs. Gempo Dorji is well aware of this. “But for the sake of our country and safety of all, particularly at this time, why can’t we adjust a little bit?”
Rinzin Chophel gets a call from the management base. It is urgent, from the referral hospital. The body management team must prepare the seventh body of the day.
“There is no space for failure. We have done well so far and can do better. We are always ready to serve our country,” says Rinzin Chophel.
And, in a jiffy, the proud undertakers are gone.
All contacts of the case were frontline workers as of yesterday
Nima | Gelephu
Sarpang like any other dzongkhags in the country was on its way to ease the lockdown when a frontline worker test positive for Covid-19 yesterday.
The 22-year-old frontline worker, who is the third positive case in the dzongkhag, visited Gelephu Central Regional Referral Hospital’s emergency ward with flu-like symptoms towards midnight on Wednesday.
The patient was referred to Thimphu yesterday.
Over 30 contacts of the positive case, all frontline workers were quarantined. The surveillance and contact tracing continues.
The close contacts of the case include three health officials who attended him at the emergency ward. The flu-screening centre located separately in the old hospital block is operational from 9am till 3pm.
The surveillance and contact tracing team from Gelephu CRRH collected over 80 samples from the point of entry in Gelephu and Bhur gewog.
The frontline worker was on duty at the point of entry near the border gate since August 7.
The patient had travelled till Samtenling (Bhur) gewog while on duty, according to the officials.
Medical Superintendent of CRRH, Dr Dorji Tshering said the man could have been exposed while at work. “But, we will have to rule out other sources of infection with active surveillance, which is underway,” he said.
He added that the officials were wearing protective gear like gloves, masks, and face shields, among others while on duty. “There could have been a breach of protocol but we have to rule out other sources of infection,” he said.
The contacts of the case also include officials from immigration, health officials, De-Suups, and police officials who were on duty at the Bhutan India border gate.
CRRH has temporarily suspended mobile clinic service that was started to provide the people with essential medical services during the lockdown.
The number of vehicles hitting the road reduced drastically, the roads and the queues leading to shops authorised to open during the lockdown saw fewer customers.
The third positive case was reported when the dzongkhag Covid-19 task force was charting plans to distribute movement cards to the residents. Zones were identified and movement within the gewogs eased.
The dzongkhag was divided into four different zones: towns that include Gelephu thromde, a buffer zone that includes four chiwogs surrounding Gelephu Thromde, and Sarpang tar, and gewogs.
A resident from Gelephu said it was worrying and also confusing how the patient was infected despite the border gate being closed since the lockdown.
“Earlier there was a risk from vegetable imports and other heavy vehicles. It’s scary now,” he said.
The two women who tested positive to Covid-19 were moved to the de-isolation facility for two weeks after testing negative on the RT-PCR test on Tuesday.
Export not hampered by lockdown or the pandemic
The Covid-19 pandemic and the nationwide lockdown has disrupted trade – export and import – but the country’s biggest export, hydropower has not been affected even as hydropower generation has increased by 14 percent.
It has generally been a good year for the country’s hydropower sector as rains arrived as early as late May, according to the Druk Green Power Corporation Limited (DGPC).
The overall generation of the DGPC power plants—Tala, Chhukha, Basochhu and Kurichhu—has increased to 3,724 million units (MU) from January to July 31 this year as compared to 3,248 MU in the same period last year. This is a 14 percent increase.
For the same period, expected revenues (in terms of the billings) increased from Nu 6,431 million (M) in 2019 to Nu 7,315M in 2020, a 13 percent increase.
Bhutan exports about 70 percent of the energy generated to India.
The DGPC, however, recorded a decrease of 8 percent in the domestic consumption for the same period. The consumption decreased from 1,383 MU in 2019 to 1,272 MU in 2020, mainly on account of a slight dip in consumption from April to July.
The decrease in consumption is attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic affecting a few industries.
The Mangdechhu and Dagachhu power plants, which are subsidiaries of DGPC, also performed better this year, according to the DGPC.
MHPC as of July 31 generated 1,620 MU of power with an expected revenue of Nu 6,807M (in terms of the billings).
The Dagachhu’s performance this year has also been better with generation increasing from 156 MU in 2019 to 231 MU in 2020. Accordingly, the expected revenue increased from Nu 485M in 2019 to Nu 736M in 2020.
The generation of power at all the power plants is said to be taking place without any problems despite the Covid-19 pandemic with the full support of the government and other entities.
DGPC managing director Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said that the overall performance for the 12 months, however, would depend on the hydrology in the remaining months of the year. He said that the Mangdechhu was generating power at its full capacity.
“Export of electricity to India has not been affected despite the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Dasho.
Hydropower revenues constitute at least 24 percent of direct revenues to the national exchequer and offset much of the balance of payments with India. DGPC contributes about 14 percent of the country’s GDP.
As the economic development is inexplicably linked with the growth of the hydropower sector, a strong growth in the hydropower generation is expected to offset the Covid-19-induced fall in GDP.
Thimphu residents began growing vegetables in earnest because of Covid-19.
A few people were lucky enough to have their first fresh harvest before lockdown was enforced.
What’s happening to the gardens?
Beans have matured; chili and maize are maturing. Soon, if the lockdown prolongs, the vegetables will go to waste.
Sangchu has plots in owns two plots in Motithang and Wangsisina. He planted beans, cabbage and maize in Motithang, and chili, bean, pumkin, tomato and eggplant in Wangsisina.
“I don’t know what’s happening in the gardens now,” he said.
He was last in his garden in Motithang on August 10, the day before lockdown was imposed. “Some vegetables must have already started to rot,” he said. with his movement card, he can go only until Changangkha Lhakhang.
What does these worries measure up to? Are they big? Are the small?
A civil servant said he had a vegetable garden in Debsi. He planted vegetables fearing ban on vegetable import. “I planted turnit, radish, spinach and chili but cant go to harvest them due to lockdown.”
He received calls from his friends informing him about the vegetables being stolen in Debsi. He said he couldn’t risk going to check on his garden given the Covid-19 situation. “I may have to request the government to allow me to go there if I ran out of vegetables.”
A private employee who lives in Babesa said he could harvest vegetables from his garden in Ramtokto only once. He has been requesting Desuups to allow him to harvest his vegetables since the sixth of lockdown.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said people were calling him and the grievance cell saying that they were not been able to harvest their vegetables.
Those who have grown vegetables in commercial scale are allowed to harvest. Ministry of Agriculture will also buy the vegetables.
“But at the individual level, we cant allow people to travel around to harvest vegetables,” Lyonchhen said. “People should understand what is more important right now, the vegetable harvest or the pandemic.”
Tshering Namgyal | Mongar
Dairy farmers of Ngatshang and Chaskhar gewogs in Mongar ended their decades-old marketing problem a few months ago when they drew a contract with Koufuku, an FDI company based in Chenery, Trashigang.
Every day, the company collected more than 1,000 litres of milk from the dairy farmers groups of the two gewogs.
However, with the beginning of nationwide lockdown, they went back to producing butter and cheese at their homes. They sell their products in the locality and send the surplus to Mongar.
The sector distributed 2,046 balls of cheese, 211.5kg of butter, 624 litres of
milk and 1,404 trays of eggs in the gewogs. The farmers sold 4,041 balls of cheese,
551kg of butter and 486 trays of eggs to Mongar town residents.
The surplus of 1,047kg of cheese and 711kg of butter was sent to Bhutan Livestock Development Corporation Limited (BLDC) in Thimphu on August 25.
The dzongkhag livestock sector in collaboration with the regional agriculture and marketing co-operative (RAMCO) facilitates marketing for the dairy farmers.
The food supply and delivery team of Covid-19 task force collected their products from farmers in Shermuhung gewog and the nine dairy farmers groups in Mongar gewog. The milk processing unit that bought milk from the groups remains shut due to the lockdown.
Assistant district livestock development officer, Norbu Tshering, said 3,784 balls of cheese, 93kg of butter and 1,127 trays of eggs were still in stock in gewogs.
Meanwhile, Lhuentse dzongkhag has also collected 1,113 balls of cheese and 125kg of butter from Khoma gewog and LUC in Gulibi, Minjey gewog. The products were sent to BLDC along with those from Mongar.
A surplus of 70 cartons of eggs has been sent to Nganglam yesterday and planning to send another 60 cartoons today. Lhuentse dzongkhag delivered around 40 cartons of eggs within the dzongkhag.
When fresh green vegetables arrived in Gelephu yesterday, the relief was there – on the face, in the eyes and in the voice. The thromde’s residents cherished it.
Southern Bhutan does not grow vegetables in summer. The climatic conditions don’t allow it. They depend on what is brought from the north. During normal times, green vegetables and chillies are the favourite chom (gift) to those living in the south. It is valued. It is vice versa in winter.
The restriction on the movement of vehicles and trade affected inter-dzongkhag trade or supply of perishable goods like vegetables. That is the dark side of a lockdown. The bright side is there are potentials for our farmers and those venturing into the oldest profession. If there is demand, it is only going to grow.
There is an emphasis on eating healthy. The importance of including green in our diet has been at the core of healthy living. Babies, children, others and even elders are encouraged to change their food habits. The advice is to cut down on carbs and improve on greens.
It would be wrong to interpret a tragedy like the Covid-19 pandemic as an opportunity, but the ground reality since the first confirmed case in March has shown us that tragedies can be a good lesson. The demand for vegetables is one prospect. It offers the opportunity to draw on the current circumstances to plan our priorities.
Food self-sufficiency had been our dream for a long time. As we chased economic growth and development, we forgot this priority. Agriculture was and is still the biggest sector that employs the most. Its share to the gross domestic product, the yardstick for growth, even if we were reminded it is not the right yardstick, has dwindled so has the budget allocation.
Covid-19 has taught us that we cannot live without food, the very basic need. It came as a cruel reminder of our priorities. Not many complained last night when there was a blackout for about an hour. Many complained when vegetables were not available for a day.
If we can learn from the current pandemic, there is a huge scope – scope to grow our own food and engage a lot of people in the sector. Not long before the lockdown, the Prime Minister’s Office initiated a “Healthy Drukyul” campaign. It could not pick up pace because of the pandemic. From the demand for greens, the campaign is already on the right track.
The novel coronavirus, which caused the Covid-19 disease, experts say, will be around for a long time. At home, the Prime Minister is already warning us of Covid-20 or Covid-22, hinting that the disease will reappear, perhaps in a different way. In other words, we have time to prepare. In a crisis, as we experienced, it was essentials that we are after.
We could still build bridges, roads, open more banks and start new hydro projects, but food is what we will be after all the time, crisis or no crisis. We didn’t import vegetables for a long time now. If the shortage can be met, throughout the year, we are fulfilling a dream that our great leaders recognised decades ago.
Initiative receives good response as fund reach Nu 10 m by Tuesday morning
Tsheten Tamang, a class V student never had more than Nu 50 in her pocket. The daughter of a daily wage earner earned, for the first time, Nu 300 helping her parent’s neighbour just before the nationwide lockdown.
A few days ago, she donated her first income, Nu 300 when she heard of the initiative, “Citizens Giving Back.” The initiative, to reinforce Covid-19 response Fund account, was created by a corporate employee on August 22 morning coinciding with the 65th Birth Anniversary of His Holiness the Je Khenpo.
Tsheten’s classmate, Sonam Kafley was inspired. She managed to convince her father to cut down on his beer. She contributed Nu 300. Another student came up with Nu 75.
From primary schools students to civil servants, corporate employees and even those badly affected by the Convid-19 pandemic, Bhutanese have come together to support the Covid-19 Fund.
The initiator, who didn’t want to be identified, came across a friend’s Facebook post calling on citizens to give back Nu 20 each to ease governments’ financial burden during Covid-19 pandemic. He suggested people to donate Nu 100 each over next 60 days to raise Nu 80 million to morally boost the government.
“Our King, the government and the frontline workers are working day in and out to ensure our safety. And the government is going broke,” he said.
The contributions go to government’s Covid-19 respond Fund account maintained with Bank of Bhutan Limited (BoBL)and Bhutan National Bank Limited (BNBL). The generosity is outpouring.
BoBL’s Covid-19 account received Nu 2.5 million on Saturday and it increased to Nu 10 million by Tuesday. “I’m amazed and overwhelmed by the kind of response people are showing,” said the initiator.
The act of donation not only expressed gratitude and appreciation to our leaders and front-line workers but also brought the sense of togetherness among the Bhutanese people, he added.
Tharlam Dema, a contributor said, “It was a wonderful initiative allowing people all over the the country to express their gratitude to all the frontline workers.”
Darlami enterprise donated Nu 55,555. The owner said, “We need to unite and support each other. He calls it a simple gesture to appreciate His Majesty The King’s sacrifices to the country and the people.
Another donor, Pema Lhamo, said that she wanted to show her gratitude to the Kidu office for helping people who have lost their livelihoods due to Covid-19 pandemic. She was saddened when she learnt that some people didn’t even had money to buy vegetables or rice. “A small contribution can make a huge difference,” she said.
People were aware that the government has spent millions to protect the citizens, Tshering Dorji, another contributor said, “We usually spend money lavishly without keeping an account. Donating gives me satisfaction and a sense of belonging.”
In the east, the Mongar hospital staff collected Nu 16,000 to feed street dogs. They found out that His Majesty’s Kidu office is taking care of the stray dogs and decided to donate the collected amount to Covid-19 Fund. Chundu Tshering said, “We are glad to be able to join the good cause.”
Not only Bhutanese citizens, foreigners are also donating. A Thai volunteer residing in Bhutan, Chartlada Sangaij, donated some amount as she was moved by how His Majesty and the government carried out their duty. “I can put my trust on them that it will reach people in need,” she said.
Sangay Lhaden, who recently graduated from Sherubtse donated Nu 4. She said, “That’s all I had in my account.” She was glad to receive positive feedback from the public despite donating the least amount.
However, the Royal Monetary Authority requested people to erase their account numbers before posting their screenshots to keep away cyber criminals and attackers.
Meanwhile, Bhutanese living in New York are collecting fund and planning to donate money on a monthly basis.
Not a single soul. Nothing stirs. This could very well be a scene from an apocalypse film. This is Thimphu.
The city’s main thoroughfare, Norzin Lam, is empty. So it has been for weeks now. Otherwise ubiquitous, traffic police are conspicuously absent. However, that doesn’t mean police are without work. In fact, ensuring that people do not move around without movement pass during lockdown is by much bigger, greater responsibility.
Police, especially of the traffic division, have been deployed in different locations in Thimphu—Yangchenphu Higher Secondary School (YHSS), Olakha, the Memorial Choeten, Lingkana, and Chubachu areas.
On the morning of the lockdown, for example, the whole division was on duty as early as 3am. Surveillance happens around the clock. The vehicles are being checked; commuters must have the movement card.
Many have left behind their personal comfort to serve the nation in extraordinary times such as these. Some are new fathers, but they have just seen a glimpse of their newborn and are on duty.
Dedrim Tshewang with the traffic division said that unauthorised vehicles were allowed considering health emergency. Anyone who has to leave the house urgently, he or she must call 111 to get prior permission from the division.
On the night of August 23, a man wanted to get out in the cover of darkness. He wanted to meet his wife and children. The police told him to go back when he was caught at the Chubachu checkpoint.
And when it rains hard, people try to fool the police. A car, for example, drove past fast to avoid checkpoint near YHSS but the driver was caught at the next checkpoint.
Chuma Kinley Wangdi said that there was no getting away easily. “We have a robust system in place, almost foolproof.”
The urgency of sustaining millions of livelihoods and the opportunity for transformation
The Policy Brief ‘Tourism and COVID-19” looks at the impacts of the pandemic on the tourism sector, with a focus on livelihoods across all world regions at different development stages, as well as on efforts to advance sustainable development.
Drawing on the latest data from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), it sets out the likely impact of the pandemic on global tourism and what this might mean for jobs, livelihoods and economic development.
At the same time, the brief provides an overview of the role tourism plays in advancing the Sustainable Development Goals, including those relating to gender equality, inclusivity and the conservation of natural and cultural heritage. It also features examples of governments supporting tourism jobs, preservation of biodiversity and culture and of measures for the safe restart of tourism. Finally, the brief provides recommendations for policymakers, with a focus on the role of innovation, digitalization, collaboration and sustainability
Unprecedented and unparalleled impact on tourism
Tourism is one of the world’s major economic sectors. It is the third-largest export category (after fuels and chemicals) and in 2019 accounted for 7% of global trade.
In 2019, international tourist arrivals reached 1.5 billion on the back of a decade of unbroken growth. All global regions had experienced solid growth to the start of 2020. Around another 9 billion people travelled in their countries.
Globally, tourism supports one in 10 jobs and provides livelihoods for many millions of people in both developing and developed economies. In Europe alone, tourism supports 27 million jobs and millions of businesses. In some Small Island Developing States (SIDS), tourism has accounted for as much as 80% of exports, while it also represents important shares of national economies reflecting its importance across economic development levels – for example Germany (3.9%), France (7.4%), or Spain (11.8%).
Tourism has been one of the sectors hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. The crisis is unprecedented in size and breadth, with all parts of its vast value-chain affected.
Economies and Livelihoods
In 2020, international tourist arrivals could fall by between 58% and 78%, placing as many as 100 million direct tourism jobs at risk. Small businesses (which shoulder 80% of global tourism) are particularly vulnerable.
Tourist spending could fall by between USD 910 billion-USD 1.2 trillion in 2020.
This massive shock on international and national tourism will have a wider impact and could reduce global GDP in by 1.5%-2.8%.
Also, at most risk are women and youth (15-24), groups with the strongest representation in the sector, and workers in the informal economy.
No nation will be unaffected. Destinations that are most reliant on tourism for jobs and economic growth are likely to be hit hardest: SIDS and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in every global region are also least prepared to absorb the shock. Global FDI flows are forecast to decrease by up to 40% in 2020. At the same time, developed countries will also be impacted.
Mitigating impacts on nature and culture
The sudden fall in tourism demand cuts off funding for conservation operations. 7% of world tourism relates to wildlife tourism, a segment growing 3% annually.
This also places jobs at risk in communities around protected habitats. This has led to a rise in poaching, looting and in consumption of bushmeat.
The impact on nations’ natural resources is particularly critical in SIDS and LDCs. In many African destinations, wildlife accounts for up to 80% of visits, and in many SIDS, tourism revenues have also funded marine conservation efforts.
Ninety percent of countries closed World Heritage Sites, with socio-economic consequences for communities reliant on tourism. Furthermore, 90% of museums closed during the crisis, and 13% may never reopen.
Five Priorities for Tourism’s Restart
Mitigate the socio-economic impacts on livelihoods, particularly women’s employment and economic security.
Boost competitiveness and build resilience, including through diversification, with the promotion of domestic and regional tourism where possible, and the facilitation of a conducive business environment for MSMEs.
Advance innovation and the digital transformation of tourism, including the promotion of innovation and investment in digital skills, particularly for workers temporarily without an occupation and for job seekers.
Foster sustainability and green growth to manage the shift towards a resilient, competitive, resource efficient and carbon neutral tourism sector,
Coordination and partnerships to restart and transform the sector towards achieving the SDGs, ensuring tourism’s restart and recovery puts people first and work together to ease and lift travel restrictions in a responsible and coordinated manner.
Moving Ahead Together
Alongside the above Five Priorities, UNWTO stresses the importance of continued coordination and cooperation at every level.
Emphasizing the guiding principle of “stronger together”, UNWTO’s leadership has warned against the short and long-term consequences of governments taking unilateral decisions, including the potential negative impact on wider recovery efforts and on consumer confidence and trust in international tourism.
UN Department of
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
The Mini Dry Port (MDP) in Phuentsholing, from where the first Covid-19 positive case was reported, is returning to business, albeit slowly.
The port has 44 new loaders. With almost 60 customs officials in quarantine, 20 officials from Paro have been moved to Phuentsholing on August 15 and began work at MDP since August 17.
Import is not open yet and only those vehicles, stranded or en route to Bhutan, are cleared.
As of August 25, about 167 consignments out of the 176 listed as stranded across the border have been cleared at the MDP. This is excluding import-export of industrial raw materials or finished goods from Allay land customs station in Pasakha.
The director general (DG) with the Department of Revenue and Customs (DRC), Wangchuk Thayey said operationalising MDP is an ongoing process.
“Although there is no new import order since the lockdown, it is still difficult to monitor,” he said adding that many import vehicles could be on the way or stranded and not listed.
While the issuance of license for third country import has been stopped, the DG said that the import from India could remain a challenge as there is free trade without the requirement of issuing a license. People might still place order and claim it was placed prior to the lockdown, he said.
In terms of third-country import, as of August 25, there were 128 containers in Kolkata port yet to be cleared. Also, there were 28 containers in Jaigaon. Eight containers were between Jaigaon and Kolkata and en route to Bhutan.
Wangchuk Thayey said that DRC is facilitating the services in a “regulated manner.”
“It’s not like before where 200-300 vehicles could enter. Now, only 20-28 stranded vehicles are allowed to enter a day,” he said.
There are also not many loaders today, he said, and that the MDP also gets only 10 customs officials in a shift compared to 20 before.
In the past, vehicles were randomly cleared by the customs office in Jaigaon and permitted to enter Phuentsholing. Now, trade and customs office prepare the list of vehicles to be released by Indian customs prior to their entry.
Customs officials provide details of vehicles that should be let through to the counterpart custom officials. Police are also informed to allow entry of these vehicles.
For transshipment at MDP, importers must first send the contact details of the vehicles that would come at MDP. They will be informed which vehicles would enter Phuentsholing.
After the transshipment, the vehicles drive until the Rinchending check post. From there, a different driver, who is already identified by the importer and crosschecked by relevant agencies takes over the vehicle.
Phuentsholing-based drivers cannot drive beyond Rinchending checkpost. Before the vehicle is handed over to a new driver, all health safety measures are followed.
Although the flow was not smooth in the initial days of lockdown, DRC DG Wangchuk Thayey said it has improved.
“It is much more regulated now. And the top priority is to break the transmission chain,” he said.
A new batch of 44 men has taken up the loading jobs at the MDP.
About 17 of them are from a community-based youth group called Bhutan Happy Helping Hands (BHHH) in Phuentsholing.
Its representative, Phurba Wangchuk, 40, said he came along with the members to encourage them.
“This is a difficult time and we wanted to help,” he said.
Phurba Wangchuk said that the loaders are highly cautious and maintain utmost safety protocol at the workplace.
“We keep sanitising and wear masks until we go to bed,” he said.
The loaders are also stationed in a school and strictly monitored. Five loaders are given a room each and they cook on their own and don’t mingle with other groups. They are dropped at MDP and picked up by a bus.
Kuensel learned that many who were registered with Phuentsholing labour office withdrew from working at the MDP. Some were in other dzongkhags and couldn’t make it.
When the border was sealed on March 23, the cheap labourers from across the border couldn’t enter and work at MDP which led to an acute shortage of labourers at MDP.
Eventually, many unemployed youth and those who lost jobs due to the pandemic started working at the MDP. About 181 were involved at the MDP until the lockdown on August 11.