Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar
About 18 people were quarantined for routine travel and four individuals for emergency travel as of yesterday after the Samdrupjongkhar dzongkhag Covid-19 task force reinstated the seven-day quarantine service on January 9.
The task force had temporarily suspended the quarantine service on December 22 last year with the surveillance and contact tracing for those who travelled to Samdrupjongkhar from Thimphu and Paro after December 17.
Samdrupjongkhar Covid-19 task force reinstated the quarantine service for routine travels to other eastern dzongkhags after mass screening and random tests showed no presence of the virus.
The task force officials said that the quarantine service was suspended temporarily to create required accommodation should the dzongkhag report a positive case from the mass screening and contact tracing.
Officials said the facility was suspended because every individual was locked in their homes without moving out and hence it was also as good as quarantine.
More than 10 people staying in Samdrupjongkhar and who were in quarantine discontinued because of the nationwide lockdown. The task force facilitated a bus service for about 40 stranded people who completed quarantine in Samdrupjongkhar.
People have to undergo the three-day quarantine for emergency travel and release on the fourth day upon testing negative.
Those who travel to other dzongkhags have to undergo the seven-day quarantine as Samdrupjongkhar is a high-risk area because of the daily import and export of essential items and expatriate workers from India which pose a huge risk of Covid-19.
The dzongkhag also shares a porous international border with Assam and Arunachal Pradesh states in India.
Bhutanese striker Chencho Gyeltshen (CG7) scored twice for RoundGlass Punjab FC against Gokulam Kerala FC on January 14.
However, Gokulam Kerala FC won the match 4-3.
CG7 scored a brace for the team in 17th and 25th minute to lead the first half 3-1.
In the post-match conference, RoundGlass head coach, Curtis Fleming said that his team conceived three goals in the second half and it was a disappointment “We could have won the match, but we struggled defensively. This is professional football, and it happens in every league in the world.”
Chencho Gyeltshen updated in his official Facebook page: “Yes it hurts, and I know many of you might have felt the same. Nevertheless, we shall keep working hard, fill our gap and come back stronger.”
On the same day, Chencho Dorji’s Sudeva defeated Indian Arrows 3-0.
In the opening match on January 9, Sudeva lost to Mohammedan Sporting Club 0-1.
“With the first game exposure, we learnt other’s tactics and did intensive training. I am glad that Sudeva players performed well in the next match. We will keep the same trend,” said Chencho Dorji.
RoundGlass defeated Aizawl FC 1-0 on January 9.
On January 19, Sudeva will face Real Kashmir FC, and RoundGlass will play Churchill Brothers FC.
Sudeva Delhi FC and RoundGlass Punjab FC snatched three points each from the last two matches in the ongoing Hero I-league at Kolkata, India.
The Dorji Lopon appointed three new kudrungs at Punakha Dzong on January 14 coinciding the traditional day of offering.
The newly appointed kudrungs are Tshogchhen Kudrung, Shar Kudrung, and Paro Kudrung.
From Kabisa, Punakha, Sangay Khandu, 33, is the new Tshogchhen Kudrung.
He began his monastic education at 12. Prior to the appointment, he was serving as a Dung Lopon with the Central Monastic Body.
Thirty-six-year-old Kencho Dorji is the new Shar Kudrung. From Jala, Wangdue, Kencho Dorji was the Budrel Lhungzin in the Zhung Dratshang.
Passang Rinchen, 41, from Darla in Chukha, was appointed Paro Kudrung. He joined Zhung Dratshang at the age of 12. Prior to his present post, he was serving in chham section in the Zhung Dratshang.
Kudrung are appointed annually on the Traditional Day of Offerings.
The wellbeing centres looking after injured animals are struggling with shortage of staff, food items and medical supplies amid the lockdown.
Animal caring associations such as Jangsa Animal Saving Trust (JAST), Bhutan Animal Rescue and Care (BARC) and Maya Foundation-Barnyard Bhutan Animal Rescue and Sanctuary are desperately waiting for the government to end the lockdown to provide proper services.
Jangsa Animal Saving Trust’s (JAST) programme manager, Sonam Norzin said that the association had stored rice and other food items before lockdown. However, he said the food stock may not be sufficient if the lockdown continues.
“JAST is also receiving leftover food from de-suups which significantly supplements the animal feed,” said Sonam Norzin.
He said that animals undergoing active treatment and care at the shelter were short of medical supplies but procuring the needed supplies becomes a challenge. “We are trying to manage and put in our effort to ensure that the animals are not deprived of their most basic needs.”
National Veterinary Hospital has been helping animal associations with necessary medical intervention.
Half of the JAST staff are stuck at their respective residents due to the lockdown. Animals are taking care of by a few at the shelters.
“The patients are brought to our clinic by de-suups. There are not many cases of animals run over by cars during the lockdown,” said Sonam Norzin.
Currently, JAST has 81 animals at the shelter including 70 dogs, eight pigs and three disabled bulls. Of the 70 dogs, 40 are sick, and others are old and disabled.
BARC’s Board Secretary, Hendrik Visser said the centre had to look after 400 animals and human resource was a major challenge. “Especially the first four days of the lockdown were challenging as we did not have any of our staff. At present we still have only 30 percent of our staff.”
“As some of our key staff are unable to come, we can sadly no longer do surgeries, physiotherapy and other treatments,” said Hendrik Visser.
BARC received phone calls from people with treatment requests for their sick or injured pets and stray dogs around their homes.
“We cannot provide services on time. We can also no longer provide treatment for our out-patients with regular medical needs such as cancer treatment with chemotherapy. We do give advice over WhatsApp and phone, but that is not always enough, which is tragic,” said Hendrik Visser.
BARC also has an animal feed shortage, especially the fruits and vegetables for the 40 rescued monkeys. The centre has an emergency stock to feed animals for several weeks but lacks perishable food items for some animals.
Before the lockdown, BARC staff used to take leftover vegetables from the Centenary Farmers Market and vegetable shops daily which has stopped now.
“During the lockdown, sick and injured dogs go unnoticed. We are also unable to pick-up sick and injured dogs when we are notified.”
The executive director of Maya Foundation-Barnyard Bhutan Animal Rescue and Sanctuary, Jamie Vaughan, said that the foundation had to buy clothes, sleeping bags, mattresses, cooking items for the remaining 11 staff.
“Many had only the clothes on their backs when lockdown started as they couldn’t go home,” Jamie Vaughan said.
The centre in Paro is short of staff as 11 staff have to look after approximately 500 animals such as horses, mules, cats, dogs, goats, pigs and cattle.
Jamie Vaughan said that people of Lamgong gewog had been supporting so far. “We continue to receive new patients daily, but there are challenges such as lack of space and resources.”
The foundation is in need of more blankets, old clothes, firewood, and sawdust. “We had just bought a big consignment of rice from FCBL before lockdown. For the livestock, Karma Feed is available, and we have dry grass, and paddy straw stocked,” said Jamie Vaughan.
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
The education ministry’s (MoE) decision to transfer class VII and VIII students and teachers (teaching VII to XII) out of Phuentsholing have left both parents and teachers unhappy and worried.
While there is no certainty of other dzongkhags being safer from Covid-19, parents and teachers raise many concerns.
Although not officially announced, the ministry is preparing to transfer 921 students and 100 teachers to other dzongkhags from the five Phuentsholing schools.
A father of a 12-year-old girl, Sangay Khandu said considering the present situation across the country, none of the dzongkhags is safe for children.
He said the education ministry should consider the children’s security as they were most 12 to 13 years old, who can’t manage on their own.
“My daughter isn’t willing to go to a boarding school,” Sangay Khandu said, adding that she was badly disturbed by the news.
“I think relocating children will do them more harm than Covid-19. They may even develop psychological problems later.”
Parents also shared that children can’t wear and wash school uniforms. Since class IX to XII students were already relocated, students of class VII and VIII can be easily accommodated in Phuentsholing, they say.
Tashi Om, a mother of a 12-year-old boy said her son doesn’t even know how to wear a uniform or wash it.
“Sending him to a faraway place is a big concern,” she said. “He has never stayed away from us.”
Parents also pointed out that the ministry should at least give them the liberty to choose schools in nearby dzongkhags such as Chukha, Thimphu or Paro. It would be difficult for parents to visit them in case of emergencies, a parent said.
Some said the thromde education office in Phuentsholing has asked them to choose dzongkhags, excluding Thimphu and Paro, for their children. Schools will be decided by the ministry.
Parents also need the option to keep their children as day scholars.
Some said the ministry’s decision is a harassment to parents and students.
“Why can’t MoE allow parents to admit their children in the nearby dzongkhags. They have to find other better alternatives in order to enhance quality education.”
Bhakti Maya’s son, who has asthma, will study in class VIII and the news left her worried.
“Why not have some stringent protocols and keep the children here,” she said.
A civil servant, who has sent his class XI daughter to Punakha, said he had sleepless nights when the Covid-19 was reported in the dzongkhag.
“She has been away from us for some time now,” he said, adding that going to even meet her would be difficult considering the movement restrictions from Phuentsholing.
He said the rationale of relocation was to prevent Covid-19 but the virus can reach anywhere and that makes parents anxious.
“It’s time the government trusted and had confidence in people. Parents must also be given the responsibility and accountability to prevent the coronavirus,” he said.
He said that if properly consulted, parents would cooperate, and Phuentsholing could still have schools in containment mode.
“At present students are sent to other dzongkhags and kept in confinement, while their teachers move freely.”
Parents said since students of class PP to six are still in Phuentsholing the Covid-19 risks still remain as their parents shuttle between workplace and home.
Many parents point that class PP to six students are the ones more vulnerable. “If they can be managed here, class VII and VIII students will not be a problem,” a parent said.
Meanwhile, private schools will be allowed to operate in self-containment mode, which some say was contradicting the ministry’s objective. Some parents are even seeking admission in the private schools in Thimphu.
The ministry’s decision will move about 100 teachers teaching class VII to XII, many of whom said it would create challenges and problems both in work and families.
Teachers say transfers will increase separation of families, which could even lead to divorces.
“There will also be a drastic increase in expenditure, if spouses are working in different stations leading to financial problems within the family,” a senior teacher said.
“The success of a child’s education depends on the family, if the key members are separated, it may impact on the child’s education and growth.”
Teachers said that many of them had worked in remote schools and were finally in a town with modern amenities.
They say they would have less chances in getting the places of their choice since many teachers choose Thimphu and Paro, which are already congested.
They said that they were under stress and that the ministry should reconsider the decision to transfer them.
“But we have nowhere to go to. Nobody ever asked us how we felt. People are only quick to point fingers at us.”
Some are single parents, others have their sick parents.
“And even the children will be relocated to different schools. For some, father, mother and the child will be in three different places,” one teacher who is currently serving with students in Punakha said.
While there is no formal notification from the ministry, teachers have been asked to fill transfer forms. The education minister and human resources department officials visited schools in Punakha.
Thromde education officer in Phuentsholing Thromde, Norbu Gyeltshen said that as per the ministry’s instruction, he has submitted the list of the students and teachers.
“However, we have not received any clear order in writing,” he said.
Thrompon Uttar Kumar Rai said many parents have been approaching the thromde office after the news of the students’ transfer.
Local economy worry
Businesses in Phuentsholing worry about losing customers. Their businesses were hit when class IX-XII students and teachers were relocated to Punakha and Wangdue last year. The local economy will suffer, they say.
“No place is safe from the Covid-19 as we have seen in the case of Thimphu and Paro,” a businessman, Namgay said.
“Relocating students of class IX to XII with their teachers was to take them to safer places. But are they really safe now? Government must learn from their mistakes.”
He said taking away students and teachers will be a big threat to the already dying businesses in Phuentsholing. Daily sales have already decreased and many could not meet their rents and staff salary, he added.
“Many families have gone too. Government could take us too. Really confused with the decision,” he said.
Some landlords said they would be losing tenants and their rental income.
“If government’s intention is to destroy Phuentsholing business hub as lots of businesses are illegal here, then, I can’t say anything. Otherwise they are destroying our economy more than Covid-19,” said another shopkeeper.
A micro printing and photo shop owner said the business is down.
“Students coming to print photos and make copies have already decreased with class IX-XII students relocated,” he said. “Small scale businesses are suffering the most. The rent has not decreased.”
On top of that, there are lockdowns, and while the cost of living is the same, the source of income has drastically decreased, he said.
Business community representative, Lobsang Tshering said the business in Phuentsholing is already in bad shape and shifting students and teachers may adversely impact the local economy.
“With limited timing permitted for business operations and 50 percent seating capacity in restaurants and bars, the businesses are worst-hit,” he said.
Lobsang Tshering said without movement of people from other dzongkhags, the businesses were having tough time to meet the daily operational costs, mainly house rent and staff salaries.
“At the same time we should understand the consequences of the Covid-19 in the country,” he said.
“Therefore, I feel everything has to move with proper balance. All business entities are hoping for good days to come very soon.”
From 30 to 50 patients a day before the lockdown, flu clinics in Thimphu are today seeing about 300 to 400 patients a day.
There were days when 1,000 to 1,500 patients visited the flu clinic in a day.
In the last 27 days, flu clinics in the country tested 35,000 people. Flu clinics in Thimphu tested 9,610 people.
The flu clinics were established to discourage people with flu-like symptoms from visiting hospitals to prevent possible transmission of Covid-19.
Health ministry’s chief programme officer, Rixin Jamtsho, said the increase in the number of people visiting the flu clinic indicates that people are well aware of Covid-19 prevention and precautions.
There are 59 flu clinics in the country, including five mobile flu clinics operated in a van in Thimphu. Three mobile flu clinics cover the north, south and central part of Thimphu city. Two mobile flu clinics cover the outskirts of Thimphu like Hontsho, Yoesipang, Trashigang Goenpa, Kabesa, Changtagang, Begana and Dodena.
Rixin Jamtsho said the mobile flu clinics would ensure accessibility and coverage for those residing at the outskirts of Thimphu and for those elders without cars to access the service. “The clinics would stop people from entering other zones as well.”
There are about 250 health staff delivering the flu clinic services in the country. Three to four health officials manage each flu clinic.
He said getting space to station the mobile flu clinics was a challenge. “The land and building owners were reluctant to provide the space fearing Covid-19 transmission.”
Rixin Jamtsho said that despite the awareness and advocacies discouraging healthy people to visit the flu clinic some were visiting still. “There is a risk of transmitting Covid-19 to healthy individuals.”
Health ministry’s Facebook page stated that the establishment of flu clinics and mobile flu clinics throughout the second national lockdown has resulted in a significant increase in the number of people availing flu clinic services.
Meanwhile, considering the risk of infection due to active transmission of Covid-19, testing for tuberculosis and HIV were halted. It would resume when the situation returns to normal.
One detected positive from mobile flu clinic, considered community by health ministry
Just as the capital city, a red zone, is seeing improvement in terms of not reporting cases from the community, a shopkeeper tested positive for the virus from a mobile flu clinic in Lungtenphu yesterday.
As a part of the health ministry’s protocol, all shopkeepers are tested for Covid-19 before allowing them to open their business. The man tested positive during one such arrangement yesterday.
Thimphu was running on a five-day stretch without any positive cases from the community as of yesterday. As per the current understanding, the city has to record zero positive cases from the community for 14 straight days to consider any relaxation of the lowdown. This means that it has to start all over again and achieve the tedious 14-day clean sheet.
Also, on January 12, a frontliner who had come for a test prior to his/her deployment, tested positive for the virus. The health ministry as of last night had not clarified whether the case was considered a community detection or if the individual had prior contacts with someone infected.
Lack of clarity on how Thimphu continues to see cases from the community despite the lockdown has left many jumping to conclusions.
Are people not following the lockdown protocol strictly? Has the ministry failed to trace all the contacts of the positive cases, or is this a nature (varying incubation period) of the virus that experts have failed to understand?
Many were left confused after Sowai Lyonpo (health minister) in her briefing to the nation last night said that a shopkeeper had tested positive in Lungtenphu. This is because no details were provided. The minister did not explain how he (shopkeeper) contracted the disease nor did she provide details about his movements. Many were asking if he was at home this entire lockdown. Is he related to any of the positive cases detected earlier?
Many took to social media to ask these questions. But there was no specific clarification from the ministry. Kuensel learnt that a meeting was underway at the health ministry last night. Of the several agendas, one was on the detection-classification of the emerging cases.
Meanwhile, since the detection of the index case on December 20, a total of 372 Bhutanese has contracted the virus so far. Of the total, 45 of them have been declared recovered as of yesterday.
Kuensel could not verify independently as officials were not available for comments on the two cases that are alleged to be detected from the community.
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Small businesses, especially restaurant and bars in Phuentsholing are in what is called the catch 22 situation.
They have to keep their business open and the timing and flow of customers is not helping them.
All shops have to close down at 5pm, which the owners said was the major deterrent to those who wanted to hit the restaurants and bars after 5pm.
Most of the restaurants and bars were empty. Even if they have customers, they cannot entertain all because of the 50 percent sitting capacity rule.
Prem Kumari Ghalley, 32, said she spends her day waiting for customers.
“None would come sometimes,” she said.
Prem Kumari said most of her customers were villagers from Phuentsholing and Lokchina gewogs. They are not coming because the vehicle movement is restricted at present. Her restaurant is located at Goedoe Lam.
Starting this year, Prem Kumari will have to pay Nu 34,000 per month as rent for her small space, which is an increase from Nu 29,000 until December last year.
The Covid-19 Incident Management Team (IMT) in Phuentsholing announced lockdown relaxation since January 6. It is in the first phase today and allows people’s movement on foot until 6pm. Restaurants and bar, including all other shops, are allowed to operate from 8am to 5pm.
Restauranteur Sonam Penjor said easing the lockdown and letting restaurant and bars to open is of no use.
“There are no customers. It is better to only let essential shops operate.”
Sonam Penjor said the situation was the same with everyone in restaurant and bar business. House owners will think there is business as usual, he said, adding the rents have to be paid anyway, with or without sales.
With business down, he said keeping their restaurants open was just additional cost from utility charges like electricity bills.
“I have not paid the rent for the last four months and I have not been given any notice for concessions. So, probably in the future, I would be asked to pay the full amount,” he said, adding that this is a big reason to worry.
Another restaurant and bar owner, Sarita Gurung, 38 said since there was no community transmission in Phuentsholing, it would be just fine to allow businesses operate until 8pm.
“Customers come only after 5pm,” she said. Sarita Gurung pays Nu 25,000 as rent for her restaurant.
Small business owners, meanwhile, feel the government should intervene and not leave waiving or slashing house rents to “moral responsibilities” of the landlord. One woman said all the house owners are benefitting from the loan deferment but didn’t pass down the benefit to the tenants.
“Only government can do something. Government should ask them to waive off,” she said.
Meanwhile, the second phase of the lockdown in Phuentsholing was supposed to start yesterday. However, the Covid-19 IMT has the first phase is extended until January 15.
Neten Dorji | Trashigang
If not for the pandemic, Thukten Lhadon from Jangphutse village in Trashiyangtse would be in Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, India, today.
In the past years, she went to Tawang to celebrate Chunipa losar with her relatives and invite them over on the third day. “But this year, we have to celebrate losar within the family.”
Like Thukten, residents of Trashigang and Trashiyangtse will celebrate Chunipa losar within their family today.
Popularly known as Sharchopa losar, people in the east usually celebrated the traditional day of offering grandly.
But dzongkhag officials have asked residents to restrict the celebration within their family this year.
Norbu, 70, from Rabti in Trashiyangtse said with restriction, people are not showing much interest.
In the past, people of Rabti celebrated the losar for two days. They refer to the first day as losar ngoma and the second day as losar zhagma.
A villager, Tenzinla, 73 said villagers would not gather to drink zomchang and play together.
A village tshogpa, Thukten Tashi said men went to other gewogs to play archery in the past. “Women would come together and dance.”
In Merak gewog, men play archery and women play a game called Kolokpa on losar.
Merak gup Lam Rinchen said after the games, people come home to drink and dance until dawn. “People carry ara and drink together. We call it duenchang.”
He, however, said the gewog asked people not to play the games and also not to gather for duenchang this time. “People signed an undertaking letter with the gewog administration stating they would abide by rules of lockdown.”
Meanwhile, dzongkhags officials also notified people to adhere to the Covid-19 protocol and not to play archery and go for picnics.
The notification stated that non-adherence to the Covid-19 protocol will be dealt as per the Penal Code of Bhutan.
It is Chunyipai Losar today, a festive occasion celebrated widely across the nation. Normally, such occasions involve visiting friends and families, lavish flow of food and alcohol and merrymaking. This time, though, in the pandemic times, we might want to keep the celebration small, low-key, indoors and strictly a family affair.
Even as many countries have begun rolling out vaccines, Covid-19 likely will linger on for some time. The pandemic’s new strains are found to spread almost twice as fast. And positive cases, particularly in Thimphu, are rising. What is evident is that where it not for the lockdown, we would have been overwhelmed by the number of positive cases.
Protocol breach has been our biggest challenge. Positive cases exploded after Nyilo celebration on January 2. It was found that even during lockdown people had visited places; some had even played archery. That’s why all celebrations must be kept indoors and small. We can do away with visits to friends and families.
The urge to go out and have fun will be irresistible, of course, but the danger of not respecting the protocol could prove disastrous. All that we have so far achieved together to keep the nation and people safe will go down the drain. Case management and cost of care could land us in deep trouble.
No doubt lockdown experience is difficult for many. Working from home has become a norm. In some cases, however, working from home has been found to be by far more productive. One of the major complaints has been that shops in the zones do not have enough essential items. In an ideal situation, the shops should have all the essential items so that with safe and logical arrangements people can buy what they need. But these are no ideal times. There will be problems but efforts are being made to address the problem.
What is important is that we need to abide by the lockdown protocol and rules. Otherwise, there will be more positive cases in the communities which will lead to prolonged lockdown. The more strictly we follow the rules, the shorter will the lockdown be. It is in this context that the losar celebration should be small and strictly family affair.
If no new cases are detected from the mass testing in Haa, the dzongkhag Covid-19 taskforce will turn the four yellow clusters to green zones declaring the dzongkhag safe from the virus.
The four yellow clusters are Tsilungkha and Beltso village of Uesu gewog, Karjena and Nagtsho villages of Katsho gewog and Haa throm.
The areas were declared yellow zones after a student tested positive for infection on December 25 last year.
One member from each household in the yellow clusters and all the boarding students of Gongzim Ugyen Dorji school were tested.
The health team collected 795 RT-PCR samples from the green zones and were sent to the Royal Centre for Disease Controls in Thimphu on Tuesday.
Haa health officer Samten said that the dzongkhag carried out 1,800 tests as per the health ministry’s instruction.
He said that those residing in green zones underwent rapid tests that are selected based on random sampling, and it covered every nook and corner of the dzongkhag.
For instance, a separate health team was sent to Sektena in Gakiling gewog, one of the remote villages in the dzongkhag, to collect 20 samples.
Haa Dzongdag Kinzang Dorji said that the task force would ease the restriction after the mass screening.
He said that the residents had been cooperative and never complained about the restriction on movements. However, he said that the people were worried about people coming from Paro and Thimphu.
The dzongkhag administration received calls from the local residents raising concerns about those coming from other dzongkhags in their locality, he said.
According to the dzongdag, the dzongkhag officials advocated people regarding the strict protocols before entering the dzongkhag and asked them not to look down on incoming travellers.
He said that if the results were clear, the dzongkhag administration’s responsibility would be to closely monitor the people coming from other dzongkhags. “By today the task force will have the result in hand and will decide accordingly.”
The dzongkhag has sufficient essential items in stock, and two southern gewogs had been supplying vegetables to other gewogs.
Kinzang Dorji said that in a few weeks the winter vegetable from Sombaykha and Gakiling would be available in nearby dzongkhags. “We are also supplying excess livestock products to Bhutan Livestock Development Cooperation.”
Unlike the first lockdown, the local government played an essential role in addressing and helping the locals. This, according to dzongdag, empowered the local leaders to address the issues as they understand the locality better.
“Local government has been proactive during the lockdown. The dzongkhag administration only provided backup,” he said.
Nim Dorji | Trongsa
With hydropower projects in the two gewog of Langthel and Tangsibji in Trongsa, gewog officials have issued letters and introduced penalty to ensure residents follow the Covid-19 protocols.
In Tangsibji, gewog administration issued a letter to relevant authorities to follow all the health protocols and monitor it.
Gup Gyempo Dorji said they asked Nikachhu Hydropower Project authorities to keep the labourers in their area.
The gewog has also requested the dzongkhag Covid task force to conduct random testing for workers in the dam, powerhouse and headrace tunnel areas. “This is for the safety of the workers and people in the gewog.”
He said 14 labourers have reached the project site after completing the quarantine period. “We are asking the projects to quarantine them for a week.”
It was learnt the labourers tested negative after completing the quarantine but they have to again test for safety. They will be allowed to go to workplace if they test negative.”
In langthel gewog, the gewog Covid-19 task force issued an order stating that if anyone is found without a facemask, they would be imposed a fine of Nu 300.
Langthel gup Sonam Dhendup said that the people were not using a facemask. “We had to issue the order.”
He said that it was not issued to penalize people and collect fine, but to ensure that people follow the health protocol. “It is for their safety.”
He claims people are wearing facemask after the office order. “The strategy is successful in the locality.”
Meanwhile, mass testing was conducted for the third time in Kela on August 12, where 179 people were tested. The result was negative for the two earlier tests.
In Bumthang, 1,013 people in yellow zone were tested for Covid-19 and the sample was sent to Mongar. Mass testing was conducted in Domkhar on August 12.
Phurpa Lhamo | Punakha
As part of the nationwide mass testing, health officials in Punakha and Wangdue tested more than 1200 individuals for Covid-19 in the last two days.
In Punakha, by January 12, 667 individuals from across the dzongkhag were tested. Antigen testing was also conducted yesterday.
The tests are conducted with directives from the health ministry’s Technical Advisory Group (TAG) to implement further relaxation in the dzongkhags.
Punakha Dzongdag Karma Drukpa said that 150 samples each from Toebisa gewog, Guma gewog, Khuruthang and Lobesa towns were collected.
He added that 63 individuals from Phenteykha village, identified as yellow zone, were also tested earlier. They all tested negative.
On December 21, two individuals—parents of the index case—from Phenteykha village tested positive. It was learned that a primary contact of the index case had visited the village for an annual village rimdro.
Meanwhile, in Wangdue, 600 individuals were tested through random sampling. On January 12, 450 people from Phobjikha, Bajo town and extended areas were tested for the Covid-19. The samples collected from Phobjikha, Bajo and the extended town have tested negative.
Yesterday, samples from self-contained zones of Punatsangchhu Hydroelectric Project I and II were collected.
Radom samples from Pelela, yellow zone in Wangdue, were also collected for testing. The testing was conducted in the flu clinic in Phobjikha.
Meanwhile, Wangdue dzongkhag has notified the public that the first phase of unlocking, which was implemented on January 5 would be extended until January 15 in view of on-going mass testing.
The Ministry of Health received 50,000 RT-PCR test kits from the Government of India, yesterday in Phuentsholing.
This is the 10th consignment received from India.
Consul General Prashant Das handed the consignment to Medical Services Director General Dr Pandup Tshering.
“The timely delivery of these RT-PCR test kits is meant to assist Bhutan’s Ministry of Health in carrying out essential testing during the ongoing lockdown in the country,” stated the press release from the Indian Embassy.
Other consignments received from India since March included paracetamol, cetirizine, hydroxychloroquine, PPE kits, N95 masks, and x-ray machines.
The press release stated that India was collaborating with Bhutan to conduct Phase-III clinical trials of the Covid-19 vaccine candidates.
India’s gesture to continue delivery of essential medical supplies is a reflection of the special bonds of trust and understanding between India and Bhutan that have existed over decades, states the press release.
Yangchen C Rinzin
With increasing expenditure and several economic activities on hold, government spending increased by manifold.
The government has spent about Nu 3.6 billion (B) while responding to the Covid-19 pandemic from March till December 2020, according to finance minister Namgay Tshering.
The expenses account mainly for the purchase of Covid-19 kits, personal protective equipment, facility quarantine, and stocking of essential items.
The minister said that every expense for Covid-19 response was met from the fund mobilised through internal and external arrangements.
The government had reprioritised and redesigned plans to meet the increasing expenses. It identified expediting cases that impact the economy to revive the economy as a contribution from the judiciary.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, in an earlier interview with Kuensel, said that he requested the Supreme Court officials and Chief Justice to expedite cases including non-performing loans (NPL).
He said expediting the cases that freezes loan, construction activities, trucks and machinery impact economy.
NPL has ballooned to almost Nu 27.5B by the end of the first quarter from Nu 15.161 in December 2019 and loan deferment period will be over in June 2021.
According to the public accounts committee report, there are cases of about Nu 748.105 million still under unresolved irregularities (excluding hydropower projects) of agencies.
Of the 748.105M, almost Nu 395.567M irregularities (2010-2018) are under litigation process as of September 2020. This means some cases are forwarded to Office of the Attorney General for prosecution and some cases are yet to be taken to the court.
The report also mentioned that about Nu 500.589M irregularities (2010-2017), 40 cases amounting to Nu 395.567M are pending before the court, meaning the cases is still with the court.
An official from the Supreme Court said that judiciary was supposed to sit together to discuss, thrust out ideas and issues on how to expedite such cases during the national judiciary conference.
“The conference could not take place because of the pandemic,” an official said. “Judges in the southern dzongkhags had to follow seven-day quarantine protocol and that also delayed the time to conduct the conference.”
The official said that many judges were also transferred and they are in process of handing-taking.
“It’s easy to resolve the commercial cases but it would be difficult to enforce the judgment because there are lapses from both parties,” the official said. “We’ll have to go case by case and it’s not easy to expedite.”
The official cited examples of some people are not in a position to pay back the loan and with the economy shrinking right now, many might land up behind the bar in the process of resolving the case. “If we enforce the judgment now, they will not have money to repay. Even if the case is resolved then only rich can buy the seized mortgage right now.”
He said that although some people suggested judiciary to increase commercial bench, that will not solve the problem or expedite the cases. “Court will have to look into the root cause of such irregularities.”
Thimphu dzongkhag with technical support from the Royal Centre for Disease Control (RCDC) are conducting Covid-19 mass screening in the gewogs.
Of the eight gewogs, mass screening was completed in five gewogs of Mewang, Dagala, Genekha, Kawang and Chang and a total of 4,400 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and 429 antibody samples were collected as of yesterday.
The mass screening started on January 12.
For Kawang and Chang, 1,128 and 742 PCR samples were collected yesterday with additional 113 and 74 antibody samples respectively.
On January 12, 2,530 PCR and 242 antibody samples were collected from Dagala, Mewang and Genekha.
Of the 2,530 PCR samples collected, 1,686 were from Mewang followed by Dagala and Genekha with 498 and 346 respectively. Mewang also saw maximum antibody samples with 165 followed by Dagala and Genekha with 43 and 34 respectively.
The samples were collected from the most mobile and active family member of each household and will be tested at the RCDC.
Dzongkhag’s senior health officer, Kencho Wangdi, said the team from RCDC took the samples and they are waiting for the result. “For Lingzhi, Soe and Naro, we have decided to conduct the test if there was any case of flu symptoms. The highland gewogs are still safe at present.”
He said that if the test results of the other five gewogs are negative, there wouldn’t be a risk in Lingzhi, Soe and Naro.
For the sample collection, people gather at strategic venue by following strict health protocols.
According to Kencho Wangdi, health assistants of Lingzhi, Soe and Naro are asked to inform them if there are case with flu symptoms.
… many plead landlords to defer or waive rent
Before lockdown, Tshering, a laid-off tour guide, worked in Thimphu Thromde’s beautification project. His daily wage topped up with kidu was enough to sustain his family. But as the nationwide lockdown extends without any income source, he is at the verge of being kicked out of his house.
He tried borrowing from friends who are also laid-off workers from the hospitality sector. No one had enough. He asked his house owner to delay the house rent payment until the lockdown ends but was told to vacate the house within a week. “The owner told me to bear the penalty for late payment or vacate the flat.”
He then went around seeking help from relevant organisations like the Guides Association of Bhutan (GAB).
As the lockdown is extended to contain community transmission, many daily wage earners are worried about their livelihood.
A housewife recently wanted to borrow money from a friend. Her husband is a painter, and their savings are not enough to sustain on.
Another guide in Taba is also at the risk of being kicked out. He received text messages from his owner asking for house rent. “I explained to him my problems and requested to delay payment until lockdown relaxes but he doesn’t want to hear anything.”
Most of the laid-off workers have taken up unskilled jobs in different sectors. Many of them said that kidu was used for paying rent while their earnings were spent on essential items. Some, however, were not eligible for kidu which is one-time during lockdown.
Another man in Changzamtog is worried since his house owner increased the rent recently. He earns Nu 12,000 but with lockdown, he has no income source. He has to pay a rent of Nu 5,000. “Kidu has helped us until now but if lockdown extends for months, we are not eligible for kidu again. I am worried.”
Without daily wages, eight construction workers are stranded at a site and their savings are running out. They were trying to return home in Phuentsholing but could not.
A labour contractor in Thimphu in the past few weeks has been feeding 21 workers stranded at a construction site in Thimphu. He spent about Nu 10,000 monthly.
He said that since workers have tested negative for Covid-19, he requested the authorities to allow them to work. “It is a block work and doesn’t involve machineries. They live in an enclosed site. There is no risk.”
The request, however, had been declined. He is worried because he had to pay for the rations and not the company.
On behalf of the laid-off workers in the hospitality and entertainment sectors, GAB, on their social media page appealed to the house owners, individuals, and concerned agencies to bear with them.
“We are quite certain that they will do needful things once the situation becomes favourable,” the appeal stated.
People have suggested organisations like GAB to take initiative to raise funds to help those in need.
As living expenses, particularly house rents are increased, people are questioning the basis of lockdown. Business owners have to pay two rents—business space rent and house.
“After 25 days of stringent lockdown, there is no credible evidence that lockdown is containing the community transmission. People have psycho-socio-economic crises due to lockdown,” a man wrote on Facebook.
All house owners, however, are not the same. Some have shown sympathy towards those vulnerable in the current situation.
A tour guide Pema Dorji received a text message from his house owner in Changzamtog. He was not only told that the house rent payment had been deferred but also asked to inform the owner if he needed financial assistance. “The owner asked if I had enough essentials.”
People questioned the government’s passivity in asking the house owners to defer payment or waive off house rents since their loan interests were waived off according to the command of His Majesty The King.
“It’s high time the government has to somehow come with affordable housing for people who are desperately in need of a house to rent at affordable rate in Thimphu because most of them have no option but to relocate in Thimphu due to nature of work,” a guide wrote on social media.
“Expensive housing problems would be solved if we had a sound policy. Tenants are always at a disadvantage when landlords charge exorbitant rents. Maybe it is because most of the policy makers are house owners in Thimphu,” another wrote.
Dhan Maya Tamang, a micro shop owner in Phuentsholing said her life has been affected badly due to low volume of sales these days.
“My highest sale of the day is about Nu 400,” she said.
But the rent for her business space is Nu 10,000 per month and she also pays another Nu 7,500 per month for a house.
“It is difficult,” she added.
Recently, during the lockdown, she had to arrange Nu 42,000 for her daughter’s school fees.
“I had to borrow it from here and there, as the school management had called,” she said.
Dhan Maya Tamang said the shop is her only source of income.
A hotelier in Samdrupjongkhar, Jigme, said their business is in total loss since the pandemic was first reported in the country as there were no customers in the town.
“I have been paying the rent for my hotel and apartment from the little I have saved from the business so far. I am worried now as the savings are exhausted,” Jigme said.
A hotelier Mahandar Singh said his hotel has been closed since April last year as there were no customers because of the pandemic. He has been paying more than Nu 40,000 a month for his hotel and apartment.
“I have paid only 50 percent rent and have more than Nu 100,000 in debt. I would be able to pay only after the border gate opens,” he said. So he is returning to India and wants to return when the situation improves.
In Wangdue, Kunti Maya Pradhan has not paid rent for her shop in Lobesa, Punakha for the last two months.
“I stay in Bajo, Wangdue so I cannot go to Punakha to open the shop. It has remained closed for the last one month,” she said.
With restrictions in Wangdue, income for many small business owners has ceased.
Lachi Maya Tirwa who runs a restaurant in Bajo said that she pays Nu 13,300 as rent for shop space and for her home.
Lachi Maya Tirwa, 27, said that her husband had earlier been working in Paro. He returned home on December 18 for daily wage work in Lobesa, Punakha. “But the lockdown was announced on December 23 and he couldn’t work,” she said.
With easing of restrictions since January 6 in Wangdue, Lachi Maya Tirwa opened her shop.
However, not a single customer turned up. “I opened it again yesterday. I hardly earn Nu 250 a day.”
“The pandemic has caused us so much loss,” Kunti Maya Pradhan said.
Gawa who runs a hotel in Trongsa said that his business is affected by the pandemic.
He has to pay house rent of Nu 43,000 a month, which has been difficult for him to pay the rent.
During the first lockdown, the landlord waived 30 percent, but now he has to pay the full amount.
He has been relying on the saving. He said that the income from the hotel is not enough to pay the rent and that he has to top up from his savings.
A hotelier in Mongar town, Kinzang Yenten, said that although there was no positive case in the dzongkhag, he couldn’t understand why businesses were restricted.
“I pay Nu 65,000 house rent for one business space and Nu 30,000 for a restaurant. I have to pay my two employees,” he said.
But there is no income source due to lockdown. “I am worried and hope lockdown opens soon.”
Meanwhile, in his Traditional Day of Offering’s wishes yesterday, the Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, urged people to help and support those suffering due to the current situation.
“If you hear of a family suffering, if you’re more comfortable than your neighbours, offer to do what you can. Route through relevant persons or agencies because we are in lockdown. If you can afford, consider a discount on house rents or the price of the grocery for some families who have limited income but more members to feed,” his statement on the Prime Minister Office’s Facebook page stated.
“This is perhaps the best thing to do on a traditional day of offering. Let us leave no one behind,” he added.
Zhabto Lyonpo (Minister for Works and Human Settlement) Dorji Tshering, said that unless the landlords decide to waive off or defer house rent payment, the government did not have the authority to direct them.
Tenants, however, can lodge complaints if the landlords go against the Tenancy Act by increasing the rents unreasonably.
Additional reporting by Phub Dem, Phurpa Lhamo, Tshering Namgyal, Kelzang Wangchuk, Rajesh Rai, and Nim Dorji
Wait for quarantine longer than expected
A week after the Covid-19 test, Tshering Norbu is still waiting for permission to travel to Samtse.
“I’m waiting for the call from 1010,” he said.
After being stranded for 18 days, he was called for testing for Covid-19 on January 6. He said that after the test there was no information about his movement or the test result.
Anxious, he called 1010 on January 8. He was informed that the standard operating procedures (SoP) had changed and he had to undergo a 7-day quarantine.
He had not received a call about moving into quarantine so far. “Instead of keeping us waiting if clear information is provided to us we wouldn’t be this anxious,” he said.
On January 8, Prime Minister’s Office announced the revised SOP for stranded people. For emergency cases, travellers going out of Thimphu need to undergo a 3-day quarantine and other travellers have to stay seven days in quarantine.
According to the revised SOP, stranded people will have to register with 1010 public call centre and upon validation of the details of the individual, he or she would be directed to a quarantine facility. The person will undergo RT-PCR test on the eighth day and be allowed to travel if the test result is negative.
Among those stranded in Thimphu is an eight-month pregnant woman with her son. They have been waiting to return home to Chukha. She registered for emergency movement but she was discouraged for quarantine following her health condition.
She said that her husband applied for movement to Thimphu from Chukha but the call centre informed him since there were no quarantine hotels in Thimphu. So the family could go to Wangduephodrang for quarantine. She said that they declined the offer.
She is waiting for a more suitable response from 1010. “Every time I call 1010 different officials responded and I have to narrate the whole story repeatedly.” She said that systematic service delivery would be helpful.
Another stranded person, Tshering Thinley is also waiting for a call from 1010 to move into quarantine. He said that he hesitated to call for 1010 hereafter as his friends were told by people working with 1010 not to call and 1010 would call if they received directives.
Tshering Thinley had registered for movement to Tsirang as soon as the lockdown was announced. With his whole family stranded in Thimphu, he called 1010 repeatedly asking if he could get movement clearance. “As a last resort, I mailed the Cabinet and then got to test for Covid-19 on January 7.”
Later that night, he was told the SoP had changed and he could not move. “My friends who tested with me travelled to Tsirang on December 8 while I’m still stuck.”
Bikash Rai and his eight friends from Phuentsholing came to Thimphu before lockdown to work as a daily wage earner. With the lockdown still on, they said that they are running out of savings and wish to return home at the earliest.
Bikash Rai had been calling 1010 for the past two days as his calls remained unanswered. 1010 received his call yesterday and informed about the quarantine requirements. “We are waiting to be sent to quarantine.”
Most stranded people Kuensel talked to are waiting for a call from 1010 to take them to quarantine.
Kuensel couldn’t get a response from officials with 1010.
One of the officials with PMO said that it was a lockdown and they did not encourage movement of people as they could be carrying the virus. “According to the press release sent we are allowing movement of stranded people but we could not allow everyone to go at once and stranded people would be sent slowly,” the official said.
Tshering Namgyal | Mongar
Mongar dzongkhag Covid-19 taskforce forwarded the cases of those who breached lockdown protocol last week.
The taskforce had registered two violation cases during the second nationwide lockdown. One involves three groups of archers in Ngatshang gewog, while a woman’s group in Saling gewog played Khuru on Nyilo.
Sixteen men, including one of the tshogpas and a former gup, played archery in three separate groups in two chiwogs of Ngatshang gewog. On the same day, in Thrindangbi village, Saling gewog eight women played khuru.
One of the women, Rinchen said that she had played khuru for the first time in her life and it turned out to be bad luck.
“I just went there with a friend for a walk and met a group of neighbours who were playing just for fun,” she said adding that they played only two rounds and it was not a real match.
Officials from the gewogs said that they have breached the law despite knowing it was not allowed.
“Despite repeated reminders, it’s difficult to keep an eye on everything as the settlements are scattered and the officials have to remain in the gewog center,” Ngatshang gup, Dorji Leki, said.
Meanwhile, the police are yet to investigate the case given the lockdown.
Chimi Dema | Tsirang
Without exporters coming to buy his mandarin orange, a farmer in Kilkhorthang in Tsirang, Sonam, sold his orange worth Nu 130,000 to a local vendor who supplies to Thimphu.
Owing to the global pandemic, the farmer who used to take orange to depots in Gelephu in the past couldn’t this time.
Sonam said that he had also bought fruits from his neighbours expecting buyers for export.
He said that although the price wasn’t as expected he had to sell the orange due to financial situations. “For the amount of orange which could fetch about Nu 50,000 in the past, I couldn’t get more than Nu 15,000 this time.”
Another farmer from the gewog said that it was difficult to sell his orange even within the dzongkhag with the weekend market closed due to the nationwide lockdown.
He said that owners of small orchard faced major market problems.
Local vendors are helping link farmers to local market.
Budhi Man Tamang, a vendor, supplied three truckloads of orange to Thimphu last week.
A vendor from Semjong, Deo Bdr. Jogi, has so far supplied more than 40 boxes of orange to Thimphu and Paro. A box of oranges (about 300 pieces) is sold at about Nu 1,300.
The vendors, however, said that it was difficult to sell orange without ready buyers.
“Moreover, we need to return to our station on the same day,” Budhi Man Tamang said.
Tsirang so far has supplied over 17 metric tonnes (MT) of mandarin orange to Thimphu and Paro.
Dzongkhag agriculture officials said that given the labour intensive task, exporters could not go to orchards to buy orange.
“Instead, farmers owning small orchards or from far-flung places were encouraged to take their produces to depots,” the official said.
In an effort to solve market problem facing orange growers, officials said that farmers were asked to explore different options. “They can take to either depots in the dzongkhag or in Gelephu or Phuentsholing.”
Officials also said that major orange growers were asked to contact the exporters and negotiate rates accordingly. “We have also requested gewog administrations to help with transportation should need arises.”
However, despite the second nationwide lockdown, mandarin export from Tsirang is going on smoothly these days.
Damphu-based exporter, Dina Nath Adhikari, has exported about 30MT of orange since the nationwide lockdown on December 23.
As of yesterday, he has supplied over three metric tonnes of mandarin to local market.
About 10MT of orange that did not meet export quality were bought by Bhutan Agro Industries Limited from the depot.