19 new cases detected from the community
Vehicle movement to and from Phuentsholing is stopped for the next three days to step up surveillance in the border town following the 19 new Covid-19 cases in the last 24 hours.
The new cases were detected through the active community surveillance in Phuentsholing.
Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that because the new cases were detected from the community, to rule out the risk of a wider spread of the virus, the intervention was put in place since the night of August 25.
Lyonpo said that the movement of vehicles and people in and out of Phuentsholing would be restricted until the surveillance team completes the secondary level of contact tracing.
With about 80 immediate contacts of those who tested positive already traced, contact tracing of the 19 individuals is underway. Lyonpo said that although the contacts would have been tested, they might not have been picked up immediately by the tests given the incubation period.
“Therefore, once we identify the contacts we will do a risk assessment and then test them again. Three days would give us a fairly good time to reassess the risk and feel the pulse of the epidemic.”
Lyonpo said that the Covid-19 task force in Phuentsholing would also test everyone under Chukha dzongkhag (till Chudzom) starting today.
How did the 19 individuals test positive?
Despite the nationwide lockdown since August 11, the 19 individuals who are not the contacts of the index case from the RRCO’s mini dry port (MDP), many have questioned how these individuals were infected.
The health minister explained that a lockdown is the most effective means of breaking the chain of transmission of the infection. However, she said it does not guarantee ‘no transmission’.
“People could have been carrying the virus prior to the lockdown and then they become symptomatic. Through our surveillance, we are picking up the cases now. It is possible that people would have had the infection before the lockdown.”
Lyonpo said that community surveillance does not mean randomly testing the population. “There is a certain protocol that we follow including a sampling frame of a cluster,” she said. “We define geographically different clusters and collect data from each household. Only then we start the test. The idea is to test everyone.”
She said that of the five clusters identified in Phuentsholing, most of the cases were from the core town and the school area. The school is close to the RRCO and MDP cluster.
Meanwhile, seven of the 19 individuals had mild symptoms of the infection. However, Lyonpo said that looking at their history they already had symptoms such as runny nose but couldn’t connect it to Covid-19.
“Our request is that if anyone develops symptoms like fever, chills, diarrhoea or loss of smell, please visit the flu clinic. This is the way of picking positive cases especially during the lockdown.”
The minister said that a very aggressive contact tracing was initiated in Phuentsholing after the first positive case was detected from outside the quarantine centre on August 11.
She said that 34 confirmed positive cases were traced and isolated in Phuentsholing. Recognising the importance to reassess the risk in the town, community surveillance started from August 15 to 24.
More than 27,134 samples were collected during the 10-day community surveillance. A total of 25 people tested positive from the community through the surveillance.
Lyonpo said that the entire population in Phuentsholing has been tested except for children below the age of 14 years, as it was a painful experience to collect swab samples from children.
“We initially started with two members in a household but when five people from the community tested positive, we began sweeping the entire population,” she said. “If there are still people who have not been tested, please contact us.”
While the community surveillance ended on August 24 the minister said that a mopping surveillance would be started to test all those who have missed the initial surveillance.
Except for Paro, none of those who came in contact with the cases and those who had visited Phuentsholing on or after August 1 tested positive so far.
Over 2,000 and 5,000 people were tested in Paro and Thimphu respectively as of yesterday.
Lyonpo said that globally cases have spiked after a lockdown was lifted which is why the government is trying to prevent any such events in the country.
“In the absence of a treatment or an effective vaccine, it is the collective responsibility of individuals to follow the health preventive measures and adapt to the new behaviours.”
“For us, the battle is not over yet. We have just started and if we want to stay ahead of the pandemic, individuals must take responsibility. Let us all make a bubble of health preventive measures around us and our country.”
… will also include single parents living with young children
Yangchen C Rinzin
Jigme Namgyal, a blind, had just returned from Phuentsholing when the government announced the lockdown.
He was running out of vegetables and he survived on the few vegetables he had until help arrived.
“The lockdown announcement was so confusing and I didn’t know what to do or where to go,” he said.
He felt lost.
Persons with disabilities were not taken into consideration in any of the interventions for lockdown they felt.
Many persons with disabilities especially those living alone found it increasingly difficult.
Although a few of them had movement passes to buy essentials items, they could not go out without a friend. The deaf could not communicate through phone. Many could not access online shopping and delivery services.
However, Ability Bhutan Society (ABS) managed to get approval to distribute essentials, vegetables and medicines who volunteered to help more than 35 persons with disabilities who needed immediate help.
ABS’s Executive Director Ugyen Wangchuk said that there were many persons that required help.
“Some were in a pathetic condition where they did not have food at home,” he said.
“Even if they manage to come out, they wouldn’t be able to maintain physical distance. Basically, they cannot practice health protocols.”
ABS has been distributing essentials since the first day but could not reach all of them on the same day.
“We even helped those who had families since the family may contact other people. This would expose persons with disabilities who are more vulnerable.”
The ABS is also collecting details of those with disabilities to issue them special movement pass for their movement. So far they have recorded details of 75 individuals.
Persons with disabilities and single parents living with young children will only have access to this card.
The special card will also be given to another category of people who cannot go outside themselves.
The person must come with an escort to use this special movement card. The escort person should carry the movement card that was already issued to the household.
The special movement card cannot be used on its own. It can be used with the other general movement card’s timing and zone reflected.
Those who require special movement card can call 1010 for registration. The officials attending to the call will help register and issue the card after verification.
Bhutan today has around 14,000 persons with disabilities.
The crematory rites for Dasho Sangay Dorji, who was the first secretary of the Dzongkha Development Commission, was performed yesterday.
Due to the lockdown, the cremation was held following all lockdown protocols, with the support of the Office of the Gyalpoi Zimpon.
Dasho Sangay Dorji was a recipient of the Druk Thuksey Medal in 2019, awarded to him in recognition of his important contributions in promoting the national language. He was conferred the red scarf by His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo in 1999.
Dasho Sangay Dorji began his service as a teacher and then the personal secretary of Dasho Shingkhar Lam in the 1960s, serving under His Majesty The Third Druk Gyalpo. He went on to serve for 20 years in the National Assembly Secretariat before being appointed the first secretary of the Dzongkha Development Commission when it was set up in 1986.
He retired as a civil servant in 2006 but continued to work with the DDC and Department of Culture, to write books on Bhutan’s history and culture. During his lifetime, he wrote numerous books, including the first records of the National Assembly proceedings, laws, biographies, textbooks, dictionaries, and guidebooks on Dzongkha, history, and culture.
Chhimi Dema and Phurpa Lhamo
Organisations, individuals and associations across the country are providing free services to help combat Covid-19.
From the total of 4,737 volunteers with Bhutan Red Cross Society (BRCS)—a voluntary aid society, auxiliary to the public authorities in the humanitarian field—1,739 were deployed for Covid-19 response and 74 during the lockdown.
Programme officer of BRCS, Lham Dorji, said that in the current situation, BRCS as a lead stakeholder for body management had deployed five volunteers to transport bodies from hospital to crematorium in different dzongkhags.
Lham Dorji said that under the programme Red Cross Ride for Health, 25 taxi volunteers with BRCS provided free transportation services to health officials from the Royal Centre for Disease Control to collect swab samples to test for Covid-19.
Bhutan Taxi Association’s chairperson, Rinzin Wangchuk, also a volunteer with BRCS, said: “The visionary leaders in the country inspired me to serve the nation. Volunteering to provide services at this time is a form of giving.”
Ten BRCS volunteers were deployed to control crowd, provide health screening, advocating and maintaining social distance in the crematorium.
“BRCS under the blessings of His Majesty The King and Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen, the President of Bhutan Red Cross Society saw significant changes in the commitment and zeal of volunteers providing response services,” he said.
BRCS volunteers are based in a transit camp to reduce risks of local transmission.
Twenty-three hoteliers under the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Bhutan (HRAB) are providing free accommodation to health workers, De-Suups and officials combating the pandemic.
HRAB’s chairman, Sonam Wangchuk, said that the association’s member hoteliers were proactive and ready to provide their services without requests.
He said that hotels would be able to provide comfort to the frontline workers who were spending their nights in makeshift rooms arranged in schools. “Despite the financial constraints of the hotels, I am very proud and happy to see hoteliers’ solidarity in serving the nation. With this unity, I see that we stand united and take equal responsibility during this pandemic situation.”
A 52-year-old teacher, volunteering at one of the stock centres in Thimphu, said that nothing was more rewarding than serving the nation in an unprecedented time like this. “This is the little I can do for the country. It is our responsibility to give our best in small ways to help combat the pandemic.”
Cafe Luna in Thimphu, to show their appreciation and gratefulness, served cakes to the frontline workers to provide them ‘a sugar boost’ and show solidarity.
Cafe’s Facebook posts stated: “We hope that our small gesture provides you the hope and energy that you require during this difficult time.”
The road from Thrimshing to Kangpara gewog in Trashigang dzongkhag has been blocked for almost a month. Volunteers and De-Suups from the dungkhag administration are, now, delivering the essential goods carrying it on their backs.
Thrimshing drungpa, Wangchen Norbu, said that several attempts were made to clear the road but the steep slope and constant rain halted the road clearance.
In Wangdue, around 35 individuals in Bajo donated more than Nu 130,000 and essential items for De-Suups working in the frontline.
The dzongkhag received 11 bags of rice. Beverages, oil, and snacks were also donated.
According to dzongkhag thrizin, Tenzin Wangchuk, the items were divided among the De-Suups across the dzongkhag on August 20.
He added that Nu 130,000 would be used to buy essential items for the De-Suups.
In Bajo, there are around 45 De-Suups identified to deliver essential items. Others are located in gewogs.
Phub Dem | Paro
Paro is unusually quiet. After five Covid-19 positive cases this month in Bonday and Woochu, this popular tourist hub is deserted.
Entry and exit to Chang Mandi, Bonday and Woochu—identified as high alert zones—are closely monitored by de-suups and police.
A vegetable shopper said that if the vegetable van came from Bonday, she would not buy the vegetables.
Lungnyi gewog’s mangmi, Tshering, said that although there was a continuous supply of essential goods, most villagers did not have cash. “Chiwog tshogpas makes necessary arrangements such as asking shops to give the goods on credit.”
Chiwog tshogpas make rounds in their area to make sure the residents have the necessary items.
Tshering Dorji, tshogpa of Dzongdra-Gadra in Lungnyi, has been delivering essentials such as mobile vouchers, doma and pani, and tobaccos.
Bonday tshogpa, Chencho Gyem, said that residents in the chiwogs were made to observe strict lockdown after the positive case. Essentials are being provided from door to door.
Following five positive cases outside quarantine centres, Paro health surveillance team collected 1,504 test samples from high-risk areas in Paro.
The mass tests were conducted from August 20 to 22 to rule out community transmission of the virus. The team also collected swab samples from 90 health staff and frontliners.
From feedback, mostly on social media platforms, people in the dzongkhags are feeling neglected. The complaint, although informal, is that all the attention is on the capital city and Phuentsholing.
The feelings arise from the fact that initiatives to ease the inconveniences during the lockdown is more organised in the urban areas. From zonation of the city to distribution of movement cards and delivery of essentials, residents of the capital city saw huge improvements by the second week. Today, we hardly hear people complaining.
Those in the dzongkhags have the right to feel neglected. There were shortfalls. People were stranded in the dzongkhags when the lockdown came without warning, shops were running out of essentials including feed for the commercial farms and they didn’t have tobacco outlets.
However, as we enter the third week of the lockdown, a lot of things have improved. Notwithstanding the restrictions and with the mini dry port in Phuentsholing where tonnes and tonnes of goods are transhipped under scrutiny, movement of goods and essentials are ensured. In our case, essentials also include doma pani, junk food and all the items that we find on shelves during normal times.
The situation has improved in the dzongkhags too. The images we see now are trucks ferrying feed for animals, vegetables and other essentials. In some, even tobacco products are delivered from home to home. There had been glitches. If the lockdown prolongs or should there be another round, we are all prepared. We have learnt lessons from this lockdown.
Dzongkhags are not neglected. The attention is on where the risk of a community transmission was higher. The capital city with about 130,000 people is the nerve centre. Should there be a case of community transmission in Thimphu, it would mean several cases in the other dzongkhags. Within 10 days, about 1,500 vehicles had left Phuentsholing when the lockdown was announced on August 11.
As the capital city and a commercial hub, the number leaving the capital could be 10 times or even higher. Most of our dzongkhags are sparsely populated. It means it is easier to manage or contain a transmission should there be a case. Most dzongkhags have small towns with a few hundred people. Beyond the towns, most villagers grow their own food that could see them through for a few weeks. Essentials for them are salt, cooking oil and rice.
However, there are places that need immediate attention. Highlanders in Lunana are running out of food. Their income is affected because they couldn’t sell their Cordyceps and it is a nine-day journey to the nearest town. Places like Lunana or Sakteng and Merak, even if secluded, are affected by the lockdown.
The concern from the highest authority is to not leave anyone behind during the pandemic. For instance, as Phuentsholing is a Red Zone, 10 elderly people were moved to the newly established Elderly Care facility in Gaedu yesterday.
The weak and the old, the poor and the voiceless cannot complain even on social media. Those knowing the genuine plight should let authorities know. Social media is popular, but not very effective especially if the concern is from a fake account.
Nobody should be neglected.
Cooperatives and groups help farmers sell their produce during lockdown
Nima | Gelephu
Farming in Chhudzom Gewog is changing with the start of commerical farming group, Chudzom Nazhoen Detshen early this year.
However, having to travel long distance on a poor road conditions that are often cut off during summer is the challenge facing the group and the gewog.
Agriculture extension officer, Thukten Chophel, said limited access to market and the poor road condition resulted in higher transportation cost.
“After the group was formed, they took care of marketing and this encouraged other farmers to grow vegetables on a large-scale,” he said.
The group, which was formed early this year by 13 school dropouts, supplied six bolero pick up truckloads of vegetable and dairy products during the lockdown.
Vegetable production during summer in many parts of Sarpang drops and vendors authorised to deliver vegetables in Gelephu had to buy over 18 metric tonnes of vegetables, mostly from Wangdue so far.
Garjaman Rai, chairperson of the group said the gewog has high scope for all-season vegetable production.
“However, it’s challenging when travelling for marketing. We have to travel a long distance towards Gelephu and road conditions are not so good. Transportation cost increases this way,” he said.
The group also moves door-to-door to collect vegetable and livestock products that helped farmers of the gewog sell easily during the lockdown.
Thukten Chophel said the group was formed mainly for marketing the farm produce. “They have benefited the farmers in the villages and the consumer at Gelephu alike,” he said.
He added that the farmers are benefited as they could manage to sell their products of any quantity today. “The youths are engaged and self-employed,” said the official.
Kinzang Dhendup, an authorised vendor from Gelephu said the continued supply of vegetables from within the country during the lockdown was a good sign. “This showed that we could be self-sufficient. We were dependent on imported products so far,” he said.
He added that some farmers who took up commercial farming a few months before the pandemic could produce by this time. “These are signs that we can be independent should we start working,” he said.
Chhudzom is the only gewog without a blacktopped gewog centre road in Sarpang today.
Meanwhile, Sarpang layer cooperative had started collecting eggs from the poultry farm owners who were not the member of the cooperative since the nationwide lockdown.
The cooperative collected over 1,500 cartons of eggs and were sold in Thimphu, Punakha, Wangdue, and Gelephu. They also distributed feeds to the farmers today.
Chairman of the cooperative, Nima Lama said with the movements restricted during the lockdown, the farm owners could have incurred loss. “Eggs get damaged within two or three weeks,” he said.
The cooperative collected eggs from eight gewogs in Sarpang. There are only 20 members in the cooperative and over 80 non-members.
Gakiling gup, Nim Dorji said the cooperative started to collect eggs from the farmers who were not registered with the cooperative as they faced marketing problems during the lockdown.
Never in her eight years did Keetsho Tenzin Pema read like in the past 15 days of the nationwide lockdown. Every day, the eight-year-old reads 10 children’s books. She has read 150 books to date. Recently, she competed in an online video contest ‘My reading experience during lockdown’ and came second.
An initiative of 10 pages a day reading journey, the competition engaged young people like Keetsho Tenzin Pema to be meaningfully engaged during the lockdown. The participants shared a minute-long video on their reading experience during the lockdown. More than 200 entries were submitted out of which 163 qualified for the contest.
The organisers said that there were more female participants.
In her video, Keetsho talked about Bum Chung Chung Chi Namkhai Daw, The Lion King, Cindrella, and Rapunzel. “Reading is more important than winning this contest,” she said.
Although she misses going to school and meeting friends, she said that the lockdown gave her the much-needed time for reading. When not reading, she spends her time painting, drawing, taking cooking lessons, playing with her brother, and doing basic household chores. She has a huge collection of books. She, however, said that it was difficult to get appropriate and varieties of books for her age.
A reader since four, she likes reading Disney books and local writers like Kunzang Choden, Chador Wangmo, and Indra K Vishwa.
Her mother, a teacher, Padma Zimba, said that she would never let her kids give up on reading. “I make sure she reads more and use smartphone less. We have a reading ritual every night before going to bed.”
Another participant from Phuentsholing, 11-year-old Salsang Selden Dorjee, said that she read 20 books during the lockdown. She has a small collection of books at home but said that it was hard to share books for those who cannot afford to buy.
She said that she used to read in the past but not as much as she could in the last 15 days. “I will keep up the reading habit even after the lockdown ends,” she said.
Initiatives like the video competition, according to her, is an opportunity for young children share their knowledge. A language lover, she said she would not win the contest since it was competitive.
The winners of different age groups, who were selected through total number of likes and share in Facebook, were awarded mobile data packages supported by the teachers of Lobesa lower secondary school in Punakha.
The founder, Sonam Norbu, said that sharing videos could help motivate children to read during lockdown. “Earlier, we decided to award books but because of the lockdown we couldn’t,” he said.
Currently, the 10 pages a day reading journey, inspired by His Majesty’s vision to create a well-read Bhutan, has 3,687 registered participants. One can join the initiative by registering with a Google form and committing to read 10 pages a day.
Participants can then send their reading data, book reviews and book talks to the organisers. Under the initiative, eight free open libraries were set up in different locations before the lockdown. Such libraries are expected to give access to books for children in remote areas.
With the nationwide lockdown entering the third week, the country’s lockdown story so far has been positive.
The collective effort of both the government and community is behind the success, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) representative to Bhutan Dr Rui Paulo de Jesus.
He said that the massive testing initiated by the health ministry following the local transmission in Phuentsholing indicated the government’s seriousness to address the situation.
“Bhutan must and is using the window of opportunity provided by the lockdown to trace, track, treat and isolate all positive cases.”
He said that the uniqueness of Bhutan’s fight against the pandemic was the whole-of-the-society and government approach guided by His Majesty at the helm.
“Today under His Majesty’s guidance, Bhutan’s response to Covid-19 is second to none and serves as a testimony of how compassionate and visionary leaders can make a difference in the world.”
Dr Rui has been a part of the two tabletop simulations on lockdown conducted in July. Referring to the results of the two simulations he said, “I would applaud the government’s efforts for Covid-19 response. The government was well prepared for the lockdown.”
“I saw the true spirit of partnership, coordination and support among different sectors, well-informed leaders including active participation from the community,” he said.
He said that no matter how much one is prepared, there will be gaps. The objective of the simulation was to find out strengths, gaps and come up with a way forward for better preparedness and response.”
With no effective vaccines for Covid-19 authorities have said that lockdown, the most extreme form of social distancing, is the only solution to a pandemic for now.
Dr Rui said that while Russia has registered their vaccine, it was not yet prequalified by the WHO as it has not undergone Phase III of the clinical trials. “WHO is in touch with the Russian scientists and authorities and looks forward to reviewing details of the trials soon.”
He said that currently there are over 165 vaccine candidates at various stages of development. 26 of these vaccines are in human trials with at least three of the vaccine (Moderna, AstraZeneca and CanSino) going into phase III.
A phase III clinical trial would require vaccines to be administered to a huge population and study the efficacy and safety issues before approving for public use.
Dr Rui said that Bhutan will be given the same priority as any other countries around the globe when a vaccine becomes available.
The country representative said that it was WHO’s priority to support the health ministry get additional resources including test kits, especially during the lockdown.
“WHO has been working with the ministry very closely before and during the pandemic. We recently handed over personal protective equipment (PPE), reagents and other equipment to support the government’s fight against Covid-19.”
The WHO on August 19 released over Nu 30.2 million (M) to the health ministry to procure RNA viral extraction kit and two RT-PCR equipment including PPEs. The ministry also received additional medical equipment yesterday?.
To support the ministry’s effort in providing essential health services amidst the pandemic, WHO recently provided non-communicable diseases (NCD) kit worth Nu 3.5M to the ministry.
“As of today although there is only very minimal disturbance on the essential health services even with the whole country under lockdown, it is vital that health services are responsive to the needs of the NCD patients to mitigate the impact of the pandemic,” said Dr Rui.
To provide virtual health services, WHO recently handed over 14 desktop computers, 16 microphones, 11 sockets and six computer tables to the health help centre in Thimphu.
To break the chain of transmission, the country representative said that Bhutan must seize the opportunity of lockdown to trace, test, treat and isolate all primary contacts.
“Take the lessons learnt from current lockdown experience to strengthen the response for possible future lockdowns,” he said. “We must plan to live with the new normal – a proper lockdown strategy with the implementation of the preventive public health measures that will prevent future outbreaks.”
He added that it was important to ensure that active surveillance and monitoring is maintained continuously to pick up any suspected case immediately.
The main source of cash, Yartsa Goenbub not auctioned
Phurpa Lhamo | Gasa
Up in the highlands of Lunana, Seki Dorji is worried with every passing day of the nationwide lockdown. Food stock is exhausting and a trip to Punakha, the nearest town, is about 10 days away. Movement is restricted.
If the lockdown continues, Seki Dorji’s stock will last for two more months, fairly better than most Bhutanese. His family of five is mulling to restrict to two meals a day.
“We could have late breakfast and shift to having early dinner. I haven’t done that yet, but if the situation continues I might have to do it,” the 40-year-old said.
By this time last year, Lunaps (people of Lunana) had already auctioned Cordyceps Sinensis (Yartsa Goenbub) and came home with food stock and other goods for the long cruel winter.
With the announcement of the nationwide lockdown on August 11, many Lunaps couldn’t journey to Punakha for trade. About 11, who had reached Punakha returned home the next day. Others on the way, returned upon hearing the news.
Journey to Punakha takes around 10 days and nine nights on foot. From Sephu gewog, Wangdue, it takes around seven days and six nights.
A family of five would at least require 25 bags of 25kg rice, around six cartoons of oil and one bag of salt for the winter. Seki Dorji said that many people in Lunana couldn’t go to Punakha to buy essential items this year.
“The route to Lunana would be completely blocked by snow starting November and would last until late June,” Thanza-Toenchey Tshogpa Pema said. Earlier, Lunaps relied on yak fats for cooking purposes. However, due to religious sentiments, yak slaughtering stopped about five years ago.
Today, milk powder, sugar, salt, and clothes are all brought from Punakha. Vegetables are cultivated with the help of greenhouses in Lunana.
Although helicopter services will continue to Lunana, farmers said that availing it was too expensive.
Seki Dorji said that one trip through chopper would cost a minimum of Nu 56,000, which can only carry essentials carried by three horses.
Even if the lockdown lifts, farmers in Lunana continue to worry about lack of income.
Protecting Yartsa Goenbubs like babies
Lunana is known for the best quality Yartsa Goenbub grown in the country. It is a good source of cash income for the highlanders. However, around 150 collectors couldn’t sell their cordyceps as the lockdown came into force just before the scheduled auction, starting August 16.
Lunana Gup Kaka, said Lunaps after selling their cordyceps made about four trips to Punakha. These trips, the Lunaps with help from people in Laya, Gasa and Sephu gewog, Wangdue would have to complete before the routes are blocked with snow.
Without sale of cordyceps, a farmer, Samdrup Tshering, said everyone was short of money. “Right now, our immediate concern is food supply. Mine will last for a month at maximum.”
On an average, a family in Lunana spends around Nu 200,000 to buy essential items to see through the winter. This includes the cost of porter and pony hired from the people of Laya and Sephu. It is a good source of income for Laya and Sephu people.
While the farmer’s immediate concern is food, they also have to worry about the deteriorating cordycep quality.
Samdrup Tshering said that cordycep couldn’t be exposed to too much humidity or heat. He added that it was best to sell it within a year’s time. “Over time, cordyceps loses weight. A weight loss of 50 or 100 grams could translate to Nu 30,000 to the collectors.”
There is no storage facility and Lunaps are worried. “We have to take care of it like they are our babies,” Seki Dorji said.
Meanwhile, if the lockdown prolongs, farmers also fear that horses in Lunana would starve to death. Every winter, many Lunaps migrate to Punakha with their horses.
Samdrup Tshering said that of the 200 horses in Toenchey village, Lunana, around 150 would move to Punakha in winter. He added that due to snowfall, the horses wouldn’t have pasturelands and would die of starvation.
The local government and dzongkhag officials are aware of the predicament the highlanders are in. Gup Kaka said that today lists were being collected from the farmers on their requirements.
The dzongkhag officials will discuss with Wangdue and Punakha dzongkhag officials to supply essential items to the gewog.
“Items can be supplied from Sephu, Wangdue and Goenshari in Punakha. We can arrange to go until the border and bring items home,” Gup Kaka said.
… Primary contacts not necessarily mean contacts of the loaders
Yangchen C Rinzin
The fear was an explosion of a community transmission when primary contacts of the index case in Phuentsholing started testing positive. More than 900 primary contacts were traced in all the dzongkhags and 30 of them tested positive.
Efforts to contain the spread have worked and no cases, except one in a quarantine facility in Thimphu, were reported since Friday.
As more and more people are tested in Phuentsholing, the question on every mind is why a community transmission in Phuentsholing despite having a strict Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) at the Mini Dry Port (MDP) has occurred.
On August 11, Phuentsholing reported the first local transmission case when a 25-year-old loader at the MDP tested Covid-19 positive. Another 12 loaders tested positive the next day. All of them were the primary contacts of the first case. Two positive cases, the primary contacts of the Phuentsholing case, were detected on August 18 in Paro. The most recent case of primary contact testing positive was the 35-year-old man on August 23 in Thimphu in a quarantine.
As of yesterday, there are 30 positive cases, all primary contact of the first case. Another seven positive cases were detected outside MDP during the active surveillance.
The SOP developed for the mini dry port and Regional Revenue and Customs office (RRCO) has come under scrutiny with people blaming the loaders for not following the SOP and concerned authorities for not implementing it strictly.
Prime Minister, Dr Lotay Tshering during a press conference on August 12, claimed that understanding the risk loaders had, their movement was contained and limited their interaction. “Their movement was strictly restricted between the dry port and their hostel.”
Describing Phuentsholing’s case as a classic case of people’s behaviour and “uptake of personal responsibilities,” an official from the health ministry said that all primary contacts are not the contact of the index case (the 25-year-old loader).
The official said primary contacts are also people who were associated with the RRCO dry port, meaning those who were working at the port apart from the loaders. The health ministry’s update on the positive cases mentions every positive case as a primary contact of the Phuentsholing case.
SOP was followed
Considering the safety and prevention of a community spread of Covid-19, all the 143 loaders working at the two customs ports in Phuentsholing, shifted their base to a school when the five cases were reported in Jaigaon, adjacent town to Phuentsholing in June.
The loaders, mostly unemployed youth or those who lost jobs because of the pandemic, were not allowed to mix among the general public. They stayed in the school, cooked on their own, and their movement between the school and the ports were monitored.
Every morning at eight, a bus picked them and dropped them at the ports. In the evening, the bus dropped them back to the school. This was done recognising that there was a high chance of the loaders contracting the virus while coming in direct contact with trucks coming from India.
Bhutanese drivers were also given a secluded area where they waited until the loads were transhipped and were not allowed to mix with others.
It can never really be established that SOP was not followed. Measures were put in place. However, people may have sneaked out,” an official said.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering admitted that despite having an SOP in place, the implementation failed miserably. However, he said that the primary contacts that the health ministry mentioned in its updates did not necessarily mean the primary contact of the loaders.
Lyonchhen explained that the detail of the positive case is not shared because sharing their personal detail was not important. “The health ministry mentions that the person is a primary contact of the Phuentsholing case, but never mentioned it’s a primary contact of loaders or others working at the port,” he said.
“The primary contacts could be those working at the RRCO, other workers at the MDP and other office bearers,” he said.
Lyonchhen shared that the 25-year-old man had gone on leave to meet his family sometime earlier this month. “After returning, he was screened for the virus by which Phuentsholing was already doing community surveillance before the lockdown. He tested negative.”
Many primary contacts had also tested negative, including those whom he had met while on leave. “This means he may have contacted or was infected after he had returned to the work station,” Lyonchhen added.
Lyonchhen said that although an SOP was in place, there were other mobile individuals who visited the MDP and contacted people at the port.
“One of the positive cases is a woman who works at the MDP. She was free to go home and could have possibly shed the virus from outside. Those who fell under the SOP protocols were monitored while there were others that the SOP didn’t cover.”
Primary contact would also mean the primary contact of those positive cases detected outside the port during the mass surveillance.
“We had carefully managed for the last five months because of the SOP and this time we got the virus through a small window where we were able to identify everyone,” Lyonchhen said. “Even at a time of the first outbreak, we’ve tested more than 19,000 in Phuentsholing and only seven tested positive outside MDP.”
Lyonchhen said that it would not be easy to find out the patient Zero or find out who first brought the virus. “It’s still unbelievable that even after a rampant test, many tested negative.”
An official from the Technical Advisory Group said the MDP was an area where all people, from truck drivers to importers to exporters including non-Bhutanese truck drivers, mingled.
“It’ll not be possible to say who got the virus first. Those who come to the RRCO for other work could have also mingled and shed the virus.”
Protocols like wearing face masks, maintaining physical distance and washing hands were in place, but the official said that they were not followed. “It’s still not being followed even when Phuentsholing is declared a red zone and under lockdown. This was noticed while going to collect samples during mass surveillance.”
“It’s a combination of factors and a series of events that took place leading to a local transmission. This is why we have several primary contacts in other places because they had visited and met people who worked or were at the MDP.”
Meanwhile, the threat of full-blown community transmission in Phuentsholing is almost dropping down to the pre-lockdown level, according to Lyonchhen.
A career that has traditionally been overshadowed by the other more visible healthcare professions is suddenly in the limelight.
Behind the daily ‘positive and negative’ results flashed across various media outlets are the hours of arduous labour of these professionals – laboratory technicians and scientists.
It’s almost midnight at the Royal Centre for Disease Control (RCDC) in Thimphu. Donning the white and red coveralls (protective suit), some 10-laboratory officials are busy working behind the transparent walls of a negatively pressurised room.
They are conducting the reverse transcription- polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test, the only confirmatory test for Covid-19 on more than 2,000 samples that have come from Phuentsholing.
The centre has been receiving almost 4,000 samples daily since the beginning of the lockdown on August 11.
The centre’s head, Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that following the Covid-19 outbreak in Phuentsholing the centre was asked to screen the entire population in the border town to find out the extent of the outbreak.
“The 12 positive cases in connection to the first case in Phuentsholing was quite alarming. Suspecting an extensive transmission in the community we initiated mass testing in Phuentsholing.”
At the RCDC
Technically, the center has been functioning 24 hours since the lockdown with emergency testing happening every now and then.
Chief laboratory officer, Binay Thapa, said that 19 laboratory officers conduct the RT-PCR test daily with a test rate of over 3,800. The team works for almost 14 hours a day.
Currently, there are four RT-PCR machines at RCDC that can perform 330 tests at a time.
Besides the 19 individuals conducting the confirmatory test, there are four more officials from the centre performing the rapid diagnostic tests. There are separate teams for surveillance, record keeping and logistics.
None of them has left the facility after the lockdown. The centre is their home.
Binay Thapa who is also a medical microbiologist said that the team has been gaining momentum with its daily testing rate. “The initial days following the mass screening in Phuentsholing were difficult. The number of samples we received was overwhelming.”
However, he said that the team is now almost catching up with the samples that arrive daily. “We should be able to perform a test on all the samples on the same day we get them.” More than 27,000 samples from the ongoing active screening in Phuentsholing would be brought to the centre for testing.
While the numbers are already overwhelming, should multiple dzongkhags report local transmission it would be a major challenge for the team. For this RCDC has introduced a new strategy of ‘pooled testing’.
Binay Thapa said that samples from multiple people (random) are combined to save time and precious testing resources. “We can pool samples of five, 10, 20 or if worse comes to worst, even 30 samples at a time.”
If a positive result is shown in a particular batch, the samples from the batch are individually tested again to identify particular samples. “While people might question this method, it’s a proven and effective method used by developed countries where the numbers of samples are huge.”
The pooled testing mechanism is already in practice. So far the highest number of samples pooled was 10 from the samples arriving from Phuentsholing.
Shortage of trained manpower and equipment remains the biggest challenge for the frontliners in the laboratories.
Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that unlike the other laboratory tests, the RT-PCR testing is a bit sophisticated procedure and needs expertise.
He said that the entire process, from collecting samples from the field to extraction of the genetic material of the virus manually needs expertise.
“Initially, we managed with eight of our own staff but it was not enough,” he said. “We then brought in those who knew about the testing procedures from the animal and food health as well.”
The centre has also distributed PCR machines and trained laboratory officials at the three Covid-19 centres in Mongar, Phuentsholing and Gelephu.
The centre was then asked to procure new machines. However, given the global demand for machines it proved difficult. “Every lab in the world is trying to get the equipment including consumables and the PCR reagents. So even if we have money, there is no supply.”
Logistics (vehicles for ferrying samples) according to Dr Sonam Wangchuk was another challenge. However, he said that the issue is being addressed.
Following the local transmission in Phuentsholing the centre also placed orders for additional test kits and reagents. Recently, two aircraft arrived in the country laden with 13 tonnes of reagents.
To address the manpower shortage, over 150 students of Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan have also been trained in sample collection.
They are deployed in Thimphu for collecting samples from those who had visited Phuentsholing on or after August 1.
Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that in terms of response, this has been a worst-case scenario so far. “Everyone is engaged for now and we have gone all out to prevent this outbreak from spreading.”
He said that until a vaccine is available, the population will be susceptible to new infection. “Ultimately it is the human behaviour – maintaining physical distance, wearing face masks and hand washing – that may reduce the number of outbreaks in the future.”
“Everyone is tired by now and there is fatigue among the health workers. When health workers are exhausted, the safety gets compromised, and this is a major concern.”
Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue
Body of the 45-year-old Indian worker from Bihar who passed away early yesterday is expected to be sent home today. His relatives, who were working with him, will accompany the body.
The doctor at Jaiprakash Associates Limited (Jaypee Group) dispensary said that the man passed away around 5:40am due to cardiac arrest.
The man was brought to Jaypee Group company dispensary at Zawakha on August 19. Zawakha is located around 32km from Wangdue bridge.
On August 19 evening, the 45-year-old man was drunk and fell from the first floor of the structure at the workers’ camp near the Punatsangchhu Hydroelectric Project Authority (PII) dam, said a fellow worker at the site.
He was brought to the dispensary around 10:50pm with a head injury.
The doctor at the dispensary then consulted the surgeon in Wangdue who advised to keep the patient at the dispensary, as his injury was minor and treatable.
Other workers of the Jaypee Group claimed that the deceased was unable to talk or recognise people due to his injury.
The Jaypee Group dispensary doctor said that the person was under medication and talked little and communicated by nodding on August 20.
However, on the following three days, he was able to eat, talk and also walk to the washroom.
The Jaypee Group doctor said that he also consulted a neurosurgeon at the JDWNRH on August 23. The same day, around 9pm, the person had seizure and mild respiratory distress. He was treated at the dispensary.
The surgeon at Wangdue hospital said that it was reported that the patient was treated and was okay.
After consultation, it was decided that the patient be sent to Wangdue hospital the next morning.
“He didn’t have repeated seizure and the patient was okay. So, I told him (Jaypee Group dispensary doctor) to send him to Wangdue. And would be then referred to Thimphu for an MRI if he had another seizure.”
After the man passed away yesterday, around 200 workers staying at the PII dam campsite came together demanding that the deceased and other workers be sent home.
Soon around 15 De-Suups, PII security personnel, and Zawakha police arrived to control the crowd.
A 40-year-old worker said that he was among the crowd as he was worried that the deceased would be cremated in Bhutan and not be allowed to leave for home.
Other workers said that the carelessness of the medical team had caused his death.
Police, De-Suups and other officials protected Jaypee Group Management officials from the furious workers.
The body was taken to Wangdue hospital yesterday accompanied by four relatives of the deceased.
The Jaypee Group management has arranged ambulances for the body to be sent home at the earliest possible.
PII managing director, Amresh Kumar, said that it was likely that the deceased and the relatives would leave for Bihar today.
He said that the workers who asked to leave did so due to an emotional outburst given the situation.
Workers continue to express their wish to leave for home.
A Jaypee Group worker said that he had been in Bhutan for 15 months. Usually, workers leave for home every few months and some after a year.
“The mess food has worsened,” said a 27-year-old worker. “There is no diversity. It is always potato. Before the lockdown, things were better.”
Others question the whereabouts of numerous forms they filled requesting to leave for home prior to the lockdown.
“We want to go home,” said another worker.
Earlier this year, the projects arranged to send 500 labourers home in batches. The projects sent the labourers in consultation with the authorities and the Embassy of India in Bhutan which issues them necessary documents.
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Ginger traders in Phuentsholing are worried their stock would rot during the lockdown.
One of the traders, Singey Wangdi of Singey Exports said that he has eight metric tonnes (MT) of ginger in stock.
“Recently, my workers had segregated about 300kg from the total stock. About 80kg was damaged,” he said. “It will be a huge loss for me if I cannot export or sell.”
Singey Wangdi bought the ginger from farmers of Lokchina and Phuentsholing gewogs.
If help does not come soon, he is worried the produce might go waste since Phuentsholing is a red zone area.
Singey Wangdi said it would be of “great help” if the Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCBL) buys from the traders and sells it with other vegetables.
“Many people will buy ginger,” he said, adding that the government could also help arrange for traders to export.
Amochu Exports has about 5MT and it is being dried in an open space.
“For now there is not much damage,” the export manager said. “The government can buy from us or let us export to help us.”
Meanwhile, vendors in the town said they have not much ginger in stock. The villagers have plenty of ginger as this is peak harvest season.
Phuentsholing gewog Gup Birkha Bahadur Rai said that most farmers are yet to harvest the crop.
“We are collecting the data. Villagers may have more than 20MT,” he said.
Lokchina Gup Indra Lal Ghalley said farmers are worried too.
“Those farmers who have harvested have it at home,” he said. “Many are yet to harvest.”
Prior to the lockdown, a kg of ginger sold at Nu 55. Today, trading market is Nu 70 to Nu 75 per kg across the border.
An Indian businessman keeping a close eye on the development in Bhutan had three questions when he contacted Kuensel to verify some information he gathered. None was about business.
Is it true that the King is leading the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic?, is it true that half the population is engaged in protecting the other half? and if government officials are delivering, at the doorsteps, tobacco and alcohol? There may be some exaggeration in engaging half the population working on the frontline, but this has been the Bhutanese story so far.
With His Majesty The King at the helm providing guidance and leadership and three doctors in the cabinet leading the fight against the pandemic, the enemy, the novel coronavirus, is well contained. The enemy is invisible. That is our biggest threat. But we have the blessings of the omnipotent guardian deities, which the whole clergy has been invoking.
The enemy has entered our soil, how much havoc they wreck depends on how we hold the fort and derail their plan. We knew it was coming and we were prepared. There are arms and ammunition, there are food stocks and there are plans to protect the weak and the vulnerable.
However, the generals need foot soldiers. Soldiers not only in the blue, green or orange uniforms. Soldiers who could play a part by staying home, following some easy rules and cooperating with the generals and the commanders out in the field. The enemy finds an easy target in crowds on those who disobey rules. In short, those not understanding the extent of the crisis.
Fighting a battle is no ordinary time. There are risks and there are inconveniences caused. It is two weeks into a full-fledged war and given the complexities of the enemy, it could prolong. In two weeks, the citizens, the biggest weapon, have understood the strategy, the simple strategy of rendering help to those on the frontline by helping ourselves.
Citizens know the risk and the cost of the battle. They know together we shall overcome. They know it is our Genkhu. So the spirit of togetherness is at display whether it is in simple gestures like cooking a different meal for volunteers or contributing to the war coffer.
Yes. The King is leading the battle. It is not planned overnight. It is in the noble wisdom. In our King, we have a parent, a brother and a son who gives everything and keeps nothing, whose only personal goal is to fulfil our hopes and aspirations by working day and night.
The only worry, may be an exaggeration, some citizens say, is not being able to manage the household budget as they are getting pampered by having goods, not only essentials delivered at the doorstep, whenever or wherever. All, in times of a pandemic.
The battle is well fought, but not won. The spirit should not wane. We should not let our guards down. We don’t want to lose the shoe for want of a nail.
With the schools closed due to the pandemic and the learning shifted online, to protect children’s welfare social media literacy is important more than ever.
Sonam Choden, 17, says that she uses social media platforms for online classes, to get updates on her favourite Korean boy band—BTS and to connect with her friends.
While some students said that there were groups in social media apps such as Messenger to share explicit contents, some students were pretending to be older and asking others to recharge their mobile data.
What is social media literacy?
Dr Chencho Lhamu, executive director of Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy, said, “Social media literacy is about understanding the potentials of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, etc.” Social media literacy means understanding the uses, dangers and opportunities provided by the social media platforms.
Social media literacy equips people with the know-how to remain safe online and use social media tools responsibly and sensibly, she says.
“Social media is not inherently good or evil, but the users make it so,” said Dr Chencho Lhamu.
Chencho said that nurturing a discerning mind and cultivating other virtues such as respect for diverse views, constructive criticism, exercising temperance and civic behaviour online were important components of social media literacy.
Importance of social media literacy
With the exposure to all kinds of values, knowledge and beliefs through the internet and social media, cultural identity was at risk unless deeply ingrained in all, said Chencho.
She said that although there was exponential technological advancement in Bhutan, with the pervasiveness of social media, the society was experiencing a phenomenon of infodemic—spreading both accurate and inaccurate information about something.
Recently, on the social media platforms, a picture of a woman who was said to be the positive patient of Covid-19 was shared, which was a man who converted himself into a woman using a mobile app.
That shows that the line between real and fake, truth and false is blurred challenging the public to acquire new knowledge and skills, said Chencho. “Unless one is media savvy, and knows how to seek verified information, the public can easily be misinformed by fake news circulated out of jest or malice.”
Chencho said that social media provided individuals with raw and uncensored information quick and fast. “A case in point is the COVID-19-times; it is not only the authorities putting out advisories online for public information but many independent individuals too. These not only add to the deluge of information on social media but can confuse the public.”
Guidance from parents
It was imperative for parents to educate the children on the pros and cons, safety features, and to exercise self-regulation by monitoring their screen time and the sites they visit, she said. “There are lots of good educational resources and apps but, it also exposes your child to a whole lot of undesirable things in life – sexualisation, materialism, violence, consumerism, narcissism, etc.”
Sonam Norbu, a teacher, shared that social media accounts are not necessary. “If in any case, children are creating accounts, parents should consistently monitor and guide them.”
He said: “Taking the privilege of accessibility is wrong and the future is technology and the internet.”
Parents should, he said, introduce their children to online learning sites which are credible and interactive. “Children should be encouraged to start blogs or Youtube channels or Facebook pages to kindle the creative side of children.”
Trongsa Covid-19 task force has been distributing tobacco products since August 23 within the town, Tangsibji and Nubi gewogs. The products were distributed through the local leaders.
The products will be delivered to the remaining three gewogs, Langthel, Korphu and Drakteng, tomorrow. The dzongkhag received 200 packest of cigarettes, 170 packets of Baba and 200 packets of bidi from Bhutan Duty-free Corporation Ltd. Around 90 percent of the products were distributed on the first day.
In Samdrupjongkhar, the dzongkhag Covid-19 task force distributed tobacco products to the households in the thromde yesterday. A consumer was allowed to buy only a packet of cigarettes, a bundle bidi or Baba.
A packet of Navy Cut Wills cigarettes costs Nu 180, Nu 100 for a packet of flake, Nu 15 for a packet of Baba and a packet of bidi costs Nu 20.
The task force officials distributed tobacco products to more than 300 consumers in the thromde as of yesterday afternoon. The products would be also distributed in Dewathang.
The Covid-19 pandemic has unceremoniously thrusted into the spotlight the value of online learning in education at a time when physical interactions and traditional face-to-face learning are restrained.
To look beyond the ill effects of this pandemic, I believed that this pandemic has brought in its way a peek of an unseen benefit to most of the Bhutanese, and that is, to advance digitalization efforts, which might otherwise have taken decades. Having transitioned from “Old Normal” to “New Normal” we have seen digitally mediated interactions in work, play, and learning. In terms of learning, for example, we have seen educators in Bhutan conducting many effective and inspiring online learning courses and programs.
This pandemic has brought immense opportunities for learners like me who is always on the lookout for new knowledge and skills. There are numerous online learning platforms, such as Coursera, Future Learn, Edx to name a few that provide free online courses. This is exemplified in the initiative undertaken by the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources to provide free online Coursera courses for 10,000 users, which otherwise would have cost around 50 dollars to attend and to get certification for each course. Similarly, various video conferencing platforms, such as Zoom and WebEx are being used heavily to conduct conferences, symposiums, and seminars. Likewise, learning management systems like Canvas, Blackboard, and Google Classroom are also used for teaching.
Let us now consider why online learning programs have become a popular form of learning in the times of the Covid-19 pandemic. The possible reason could be due to unprecedented opportunities for people to get easy access to education and; moreover, there is a shift in paradigm for the educators to deliver the highest quality of education through various online platforms.
The advantage of online learning is that it allows learners to participate in high-quality learning situations when physical and schedule face-to-face interaction is impossible. Learners can participate in classes from anywhere in the world, provided they have a computer and internet connection. In addition, online learning allows physically challenged students with more freedom to participate in online learning.
Additionally, through online learning, dynamic interaction is created between the learners and the instructors and; importantly, among learners themselves. It also creates continuous synergy, and learning materials and ideas are shared seamlessly among the learners.
Moreover, in the online environment, learners have a certain measure of anonymity. It also promotes unity and harmony as discriminating factors, such as age, race, physical appearance, disabilities, and gender are largely absent. Instead, the focus of attention is clearly on the content of the discussion and the individual’s ability to respond and contribute thoughtfully and intelligently to the material at hand.
Furthermore, learners can have unlimited access to resources and materials that may be physically located anywhere in the world. It also enhances learners’ creative thinking and independent learning through online learning.
Online learning programs have significant strengths and offer unprecedented accessibility to quality education. However, there is some inherent weakness associated with the use of this medium that can pose potential threats to the success of any online program or the learners.
Lack of accessibility of the internet and technology is the biggest drawback of online learning because the majority of the learners reside in rural areas and cannot afford the technology. I also believe that internet access is the biggest concern because the internet is not easily assessable in some areas of Bhutan; moreover, the cost of the internet is expensive in Bhutan.
On the other hand, online learning can be an effective platform for adult and self-disciplined learners while it can be challenging for young and dependent learners. It also gives learners control and autonomy over their learning experiences as compared to face-to-face learning; however, learners are placed with greater responsibilities for their learning. Therefore, online learners must be well organized, self-motivated, and possess a high degree of time management skills to keep up with the pace of the course.
Synergy, a notable advantage, is developed among learners via an online learning platform. However, in larger classes, the synergy level is low due to a greater number of online learners, and interaction among learners and instructors is also limited.
In order for an online program to be successful, the online course, the instructor, the technology, and the learners must be carefully considered and balanced to take full advantage of the strengths of this format and at the same time avoid pitfalls that could result from its weaknesses.
Online learning, being the latest wave of education, is the only platform to teach learners amid pandemic situations despite challenges for both instructors and learners. The instructor needs to put a lot of effort and time to design the online course. In the same way, learners need to equip themselves with technical proficiency to decipher the course material.
Transitioning from tradition face-to-face learning to online learning can be of entirely different experiences for the learners but they must adapt to new changes. For example, learners with a fixed mindset find it difficult to adapt and adjust whereas the learners with a growth mindset quickly adapt to a new learning environment. Likewise, time management is a difficult task for learners, as online courses require a lot of time and intensive work.
Importantly, self-motivation is an online learning essential requirement; however, many online learners lack it, much to their surprise. After enrolling in online learning courses, many learners fall behind and nurture the idea of giving up, as difficulties in handling a technological medium also seem insurmountable. Students need to find the motivation to follow the new educational trends and properly equip themselves for future challenges in their education and careers.
To conclude, in the process of exploring the world of online learning, I have learned many things, such as what (not) to do and how to do better. Also, I have learned that through the online platform we can do certain things that we cannot do via the face-to-face mode of learning. In view of all that has been mentioned so far, we will always miss the social interaction of meeting face-to-face. However, having tasted the value of online learning can offer, I believe that many of our explorations have developed our flexibility in using different modes of learning, and placed us firmly on the path of becoming active online learners of Covid-19 pandemic era.
Commission of Bhutan
PM thanks the public for cooperation
There is no case of community transmission in the capital city, Thimphu.
The 35-year-old man who tested positive for Covid-19 while in the quarantine in Thimphu on August 22 is a primary contact of one of the positive cases in Phuentsholing.
Talking to Kuensel, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that the man is a resident of Phuentsholing who came into contact with a positive case in Phuentsholing.
He was on his way to Thimphu when he was contact-traced. Lyonchhen said that immediately upon his arrival, he was quarantined. “Because he was directly quarantined he might not have any contacts outside. Nonetheless, we are tracing all his primary contacts including his family members and friends.”
Unlike Paro where a contact of the two positive cases (couple) also tested positive, the case of the 35-year-old man was much clearer, he said. “Because a contact of the couple tested positive from the community, a mass testing programme was started in Paro.”
So far all those who have been tested in Paro are negative. The screening is ongoing.
Lyonchhen said that there was no risk associated with the 35-year-old man as he was already quarantined. “Which is why, for now, there is no change to our plans regarding the relaxations happening in Thimphu.”
PM thanks public
With the nationwide lockdown completing the second week today, Lyonchhen said that so far the country has been doing well.
“We are definitely doing good because the public are able to keep all their problems within themselves and the boundaries of their houses,” he said. “I know every family is suffering, they are suffocated and everyone wants to come out, yet they are cooperating. We are very grateful to all the people.”
He said that even His Majesty The King has expressed his gratitude on many occasions. The cooperation and rational thinking of the Bhutanese is a clear sign that Bhutan as a country will definitely do well in the future, he added.
“The effectiveness of the lockdown is not because of the government intervention, but because of the public awareness and willingness to follow the dos and don’ts,” said the prime minister. “I don’t think that any country would have gone through such a smooth lockdown phase for two straight weeks.”
Lyonchhen said that while there were many shortcomings, the government has improved a lot in organising logistics. He said that the calls at the grievance cell have gone down by almost 80 percent since the beginning of the lockdown on August 11.
From over 800 calls received by each station of the Thimphu Thromde (for essential delivery) in the beginning, it has dropped to about 15 calls today.
GNHC hotlines that used to receive over 500 calls on the first day received only 56 calls yesterday.
“This is because the problems are getting resolved,” Lyonchhen said. “Now with the card system in place people can come out. It is encouraging to see people obediently queue in front of the groceries maintaining at least 2m of physical distance.”
However, Lyonchhen said that the current plans would be dependent on the situation in the country. “If the situation keeps improving the way it has for the last two weeks, going ahead will be easier,” he said. “But if suddenly the situation worsens, everything will then go back to square one. The reason why it is dependent on the situation is because we don’t see the enemy.”
Meanwhile, all the positive cases are in stable condition including the 65-year-old woman and the two child cases.
Most of the dzongkhags have begun implementation of zoning and issued movement cards to allow villagers and residents of towns to resume regular basic activities.
The government on August 21 announced its decision to allow movement of individuals within their gewogs across the country.
As directed by the national zoning task force, the dzongkhag Covid-19 taskforces have prohibited the movement of vehicle and people from one gewog to another. Movement of unauthorised people and vehicles from gewogs to throm and from throm to gewogs is restricted.
In the towns, shopkeepers must ensure there is Druk Trace QR code or registration of customer at the shop. People who have been asked to self or home quarantine are not allowed to move.
At any point in time, only one customer should be allowed inside the shop. Queuing of people should be outside the shop. All shoppers have to wear face masks and wash their hands before entering the shops.
Those living in villages along the east-west highway are prohibited from moving about freely.
Gewog officials will monitor the implementation of the zoning rules. Movement is strictly for essential item supplies, health services and farming activities.
Only authorised hotels along the east-west highway are allowed to open. Except for the authorised essential item suppliers, shops in towns remain closed. All shopkeepers must wear facemasks, keep hand sanitisers at the entrance of shops.
Officials would monitor the implementation of these conditions which are being implemented in phases from today. Anyone found violating the rules shall be dealt as per the relevant laws.
Phuentsholing Thromde’s executive secretary Lungten Jamtsho said the zoning proposal has been forwarded that to MoWHS and NLC.
“It is done as per the plan but it is not yet through,” he said.
However, the executive secretary said that the zoning “may not be implemented immediately” as Phuentsholing remains a red zone.
“Right now mass testing is underway and until the results are declared, we cannot implement,” Lungten Jamtsho said.
Senior dzongrab of Chukha dzongkhag, Sherub Dorji said the draft of the plan was finalised yesterday.
“But we have to consult with the local leaders now,” he said. “Once the consultation happens, then, the implementation won’t take much time.”
With the completion of identification of zones and distribution of cards, the Gasa dzongkhag Covid-19 task force will also implement the zoning system today.
Until yesterday, 452 cards were issued to people of Khatoed and Khamoed gewogs.
In Gasa, eight zones were identified – two each in Lunana and Laya, three in Khamoed and Khatoed.
The timing of movement also varies for different location depending on the proximity of a house to the Gasa town.
In Laya and Lunana, individuals will be allowed to move out freely. However, De-Suups will ensure that health safety protocols are followed.
Seven grocery and vegetable shops in Gasa town will open between 8am and 6pm.
Movement within the zones is also prohibited unless the individual has to pass through the area while visiting to buy essential items.
Haa dzongkhag began easing of the lockdown yesterday permitting movement of people in their zones. The dzongkhag taskforce has divided the zoning into two parts: five gewogs and Kartshog, and Haa throm.
The five gewogs of Haa-Bje, Uesu, Samar, Gakiling and Sangbaykha- are categorised as low-risk zone, as the gewogs are located afar and have a minimum connection to Haa town, which is considered as a high- risk zone.
Haa Dzongdag Kinzang Dorji said that people could move around and watch the flower exhibition in their zones, but people were asked to follow the health protocol strictly.
Cardholders can go out within their zone between 9am to 5pm.
All groceries stores, including farm stores, bakery, pharmacies, and garments shops in Haa town will open.
Mongar implemented zoning and movement cards in its core town yesterday afternoon. Only a few residents turned up for shopping.
While on the movement card, the timing is reflected as three hours, the dzongkhag Covid-19 taskforce decided to allow the residents to move inside their areas for two hours on trial.
Mongar is divided into four zones and the task force is in the process of printing the cards for the remaining three zones.
Officials said they would finish distributing all the 900 cards in the four zones today morning and begin to implementation by afternoon. However, vegetables and dairy products would be delivered to homes. Similarly, most of the gewogs have also started zoning restricted to their chiwogs. There are seven grocery shops identified to open in the core town zone.
The dzongkhag is yet to implement the zoning system. Given the fact that the dzongkhag has recorded Covid-19 positive cases, the dzongkhag administration announced that the lockdown would remain.
The dzongkhag is a high alert zone after five tested positive for Covid-19.
Paro Dzongdag Tenzin Thinley said that although the dzongkhag had zoning plans and protocols ready, due to the positive cases from different areas, the dzongkhag administration faced some difficulty with the buffer zone.
He said that the final draft was ready and it will be submitted for review. “The zoning will begin in about three days.”
Farmers can continue with farming activities and cattle herding. But there must not be more than five people working together in the fields. Grocery shops in the gewogs can open with strict health safety protocols.
Card distribution begins today in Pemagatshel town which is divided into five zones- Main town, Khinadang, Hospital area, Guesthouse area and Khoreypam.
Movement for cardholders is allowed for three hours in two shifts a day: 9am-12pm and 2- 5pm. Only one movement card would be issued to a household in the respective zone and vehicle movements are not allowed.
The dzongkhag lifted the lockdown in the gewogs yesterday, and people are allowed to move within the gewog. However, people should seek permission from the Incident Commander (IC) if people need to move from another gewog to another gewog and would approve if it is genuine.
Punakha dzongkhag administration identified five zones in urban areas. Of the five, two are in Khuruthang, two in Lobesa and one near the Punakha dzong.
The dzongkhag officials are going deliberate further on the timing of different areas which would be between 8am to 7pm in urban areas.
However, the dzongkhag will further deliberate on entire system and make changes accordingly.
Meanwhile, the Samdrupjongkhar Covid-19 task force would discuss the demarcation or zoning in the thromde and town areas, and implement soon while the movement in the gewogs were allowed yesterday.
People in the gewogs can move out for shopping and carry out farming works within the gewog. “People are not allowed to move to another gewogs until further notification,” an official said.
The dzongkhag is yet to implement the zoning system. However, the relaxation in movement within gewogs, for construction and purchasing of essentials has begun.
Gelephu town is divided into five different zones and there are three buffer zones that share border with the thromde such as Pelrithang, Pemathang and Lekithang.
The task force will have to distribute over 12, 000 cards to the residents living within designated zones and buffer zones. No cards will be issued to the gewogs.
“Within the thromde’s 15 zones, there are 44 small zones and also 12 self-contained zones. Armed forces colony, IMTRAT, Ministers’ residence colony, among others fall under self-contained zones. They are responsible to look after their own zones,” a thromde official said.
“Whatever is allowed, it is allowed only within that particular zone as per the standard operating procedure. For example, going shopping or for a short walk. All the zoning related information is given in the thromde’s Facebook page,” said the official.
Zoning task force’s toll-free number is 1010. But people are getting confused since every agency has set up its own toll-free number. The task force’s toll-free number is inundated with calls on other matters.
The zoning system is being replicated in the dzongkhags after its success in the thromde.
The dzongkhag Covid-19 task force started movement card distribution to residing in and around Trashigang Throm yesterday.
Cardholders are given four hours a day to shop and walk.
The movement card implementation begins today.
With the implementation of the zoning system in Damphu, Tsirang since evening yesterday, the town has come back to life with residents coming out and buying essentials. In the core town areas, some came out on walks.
Tsirang Covid-19 task force has demarcated three zones in and around the town.
With cardholders, 243 in Zone 1, 458 in Zone 2 and 196 in Zone 3, the TaskForce divided them into four groups in each zone and allotted four different time periods since 9am to 8pm.
Movement for cardholders was allotted two-hour time period and an individual could walk around and shop from identified shops in their respective zones.
The TaskForce is also urging people moving out to use Druktrace Apps or register their details on the log book.
In Wangdue, enumeration of the households and individuals are complete. While the demarcation of the zones has begun, the dzongkhag will take some more days to confirm the zones and to implement. Along with the zones, Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) are also being developed.
Punakha Covid-19 task force has identified five zones in urban areas: two in Khuruthang, two in Lobesa and one near Punakha dzong. The task force will further deliberate on the timing of movement. The movement timing is expected to be between 8am and 7pm in urban areas.
However, the dzongkhags will further deliberate on the zoning in the coming days and make changes accordingly.
In what could be a relief to small shop owners in Zhemgang, the Covid-19 task force has decided to let them open starting today on the alternate days.
Small shop owners were sharing their concerns, as they couldn’t sell any goods during the lockdown. Now that the lockdown is relaxed, all would be given chance, according to Zhemgang dzongdag Lobzang Dorji.
The dzongkhag implements movements within designated areas in both Zhemgang town and in Tingtibi from today. The whole Zhemgang town and its catchment areas are divided into four different zones.
All shops selling essential items would be allowed to open as per the routine prepared by the taskforce. Movement in the Zhemgang town is allowed for two hours for a cardholder.
The zoning in the gewog level is done based on the chiwogs. The movement relaxation has begun at the gewog level for the past two days.
While plans are made to ease lockdown in the gewogs, the dzongkhag administration is also collecting details related to minors, elderly, and other vulnerable groups in the dzongkhag.
Should the dzongkhag face a health situation in the future help would reach to them swiftly, the dzongdag said.
Dagana dzongkhag task force has demarcated a zone for Daga town and two for Dagapela town. The implementation of the zoning system is yet to begin.
Other dzongkhags are at various levels of preparation and implementation.