… aims to have smooth lockdown next time
Yangchen C Rinzin
With the Covid-19 positive cases increasing, total lifting of the nationwide lockdown is still uncertain.
The implementation of lockdown did not go seamless for many who faced various inconveniences.
The government is in the process of developing lockdown guidelines that will streamline and implement endurable lockdown henceforth, according to an official from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
Experts from different agencies are in self-confinement developing the guidelines and standard operating procedures (SOP). The official from the PMO said the guideline and SOPs are developed based on the lessons learnt from three-week lockdown.
“As this lockdown was the first time, the implementation was complex and many services were affected,” the official said. “This is why now various groups are looking to have a systematic operation and lockdown hereafter.”
The guidelines will spell out details of events or activities in sequence when a lockdown is declared including what services would remain open.
The official added that different SOPs will also be developed under the overall lockdown guidelines. The first SOP would be on the safety and welfare of the frontline workers.
Other SOPs will look into essential delivery services, and handling people stranded in different parts of the country.
“We’re looking to making efficient essential delivery. The complex strategy this time led to many complaints. The SOP will be streamlined,” the official said.
Learning from past lessons, different SOPs on different issues would be prepared.
“Various experts are also looking into 12th Plan with the objective to engage as many Bhutanese to protect their livelihood,” the official added. “Various economic activities are being explored, as we need to identify other sources for finance.”
The government is expected to finalise and announce soon the guidelines.
Meanwhile, the national Covid-19 task force endorsed a guideline for zone-based opening of shops in thromdes and dzongkhags throms last week.
The guideline will ensure that every zone is a self-contained unit that would require to have shops selling grocery, vegetables, livestock products, and medicines.
The zone will also have an outlet that has an endorsement from Bhutan Duty-Free Ltd to cater to tobacco consumers. Those zones without shops especially that sell essential commodities, dzongkhag or thromdes would facilitate the issuance of license for new shops in coordination with economic affairs ministry.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering in his public address published by the PMO said that going by the situation the lockdown might take place on and off. With every lockdown, the government will streamline so that people can experience seamless lockdown.
“Until a vaccine is available, it will be difficult to contain and we’ll have to go through similar situations. We cannot say how many times we will have to go through a lockdown and this will depend on people’s behaviour and cooperation.”
The nationwide lockdown has delayed Opposition Leader’s plan to leave office to join the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).
Opposition Leader Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) was scheduled to leave office on August 17.
Many were taken by surprise when the ICIMOD in July announced the OL as its new director general although most Members of Parliament were aware of his plan to leave active politics.
The National Assembly (NA) has formally accepted the opposition leader’s resignation. The OL had submitted his resignation to the Speaker on July 22.
Secretary general of the House, Karma Weezir, said that the NA and the OL had not completed formalities on the resignation. “We could not do handing-taking of the office due to the lockdown,” he said.
The opposition leader is supposed to join his new office in mid-October according to the announcement of ICIMOD.
However, Health Minister Dechen Wangmo on August 28 said that given the rising number of Covid-19 positive cases, the lockdown could stay for some days and that it would be lifted only once health surveillance and tests for all the vulnerable people are completed.
The ICIMOD is a learning and knowledge-sharing centre which serves eight countries—Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan.
This will be Pema Gyamtsho’s second stint with the ICIMOD. He had previously worked with ICIMOD as a watershed specialist.
Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar
Since De-Suups started distributing the movement pass to the residents of Samdrupjongkhar thromde yesterday as the task force had completed the zoning exercise, it is expected to implement from tomorrow.
De-Suups visited homes and briefed the households on the movement timing, and other requirements.
Meanwhile, few people in the town came for shopping as soon as they got the movement pass.
Thromde’s executive secretary, Tougay Choedup, said the thromde was divided into five zones- Throm, NPPF, workshop- dzong area, Tinkilo (three kilometres) and Dewathang town, with more than 1,520 households in the five zones.
“We’d not issue movement passes to residents in the self-containtment areas like police and an army camp, IMTRAT, DANTAK, and Jigme Namgyel Engineering College (JNEC), among others as they are not allowed to leave the campus. Their administration would manage for the residents,” Tougay Choedup said.
Tougay Choedup said the movement cardholders are allowed to be out of their homes for three hours. The timing is divided between 8am and 7pm. The residents of Dewathang would get five hours and two shifts a day.
He said the dzongkhag Covid-19 task force had identified 15 shops in the core Samdrupjongkhar town, six shops each in the workshop – dzong and NPPF zones, and two shops at Tinkilo zone, two vegetable vendors in the town, while two vendors each would be deployed to other three zones.
The executive secretary said five shops a day in the town and Dewathang, and shops in other zones would open on alternative days. Two shops in Tinkilo would remain open throughout the week. He said all the shops in the extended areas like Bangtsho and Samdrupgatshel in Dewathang would be open.
“People can go shopping and can also go for walks but within the zones. People would also follow the health protocols while De-Suups, among others, would also monitor in the respective zones,” Toygay Choedup said.
Seventeen days after the nationwide lockdown, the Thimphu Police received 102 cases—prowling (58), domestic violence (15), and substance abuse (29).
Every day, at least six individuals are taken to the detention centre.
The crime branch of the Thimphu Police has to patrol around the clock through the zones to ensure that people do not breach lockdown protocols. They have to also convey all the people who committed crimes to and fro. Additionally, with those who wishes to register their cases.
Thimphu Thromde and gewogs are divided into 44 zones. Six Community Police Centres—Taba, Motithang, Changzamtog, Changjiji, Babesa, and Khasadrapchu are assigned a police officer each.
Officer in Command (OC) of Thimphu Police Station, Gembo Penjor, said that they tried their best to keep people away from the police station as the whole team was residing inside the police station. “We are on Covid-19 duty but cases pop in regularly and we have to take action.”
Intoxicated persons who are caught by the patrolling team are taken to a temporary detention centre for a night and are handed over to their parents or guardians the next day with warning. For non-severe cases, they are not detained.
However, persons with past criminal record are detained for the case to be interrogated after lockdown. So far, only one person has been detained.
The patrolling team also came across 29 persons aged between 14 and 30 sniffing thinner and marijuana. After the lockdown, they will be handed over to Bhutan Narcotics Control Agency for counseling.
For verbal domestic violence cases, the victim and abuser are counselled over the phone. However, domestic violence battering cases are called to police station, interrogated, and the cases are registered. The OC said that so far they did not receive any severe battering cases.
The domestic violence cases registered would be further interrogated after the lockdown. The husbands are handed over to the relatives on a surety agreement.
All cases which need further investigation and charge sheet to the court after the lockdown are sent on surety agreement, the OC said.
The OC said that the challenges the police faced was the reality of Covid-19 itself and to ferry persons to and fro who wished to register their cases which needed additional manpower and additional expenses which exceeded their fuel allowance. “As far as possible, we encourage people to solve their problems at home but if one wishes to register the case, we are there are you.”
We enter a new month, the beginning of fall or autumn from tomorrow. Fall is a season of bountifulness and festivity. However, with a nationwide lockdown and uncertainties surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, the new season is not quite the one we look forward to.
The pandemic has taken its toll. The economy has come to a standstill. Businesses, big and small are affected. Revenue from the domestic market is at all time low. Controlling the spread of the virus is expensive. All resources are directed to fighting it. The government is broke.
The call now is to cut costs wherever we can. The finance ministry has asked state owned enterprises (SOE) to rationalise and cut down on expenditure, wherever it can. Basic economic tells us that if we cannot make profit the best option is cut down on expenditure.
This seems to be the mode many are in. Those on government payroll and in the safety of big corporations and SOE have not felt the impact of the pandemic, at least financially. Some are now and the prospect is bleak.
Cutting down or getting back what is given is difficult and sensitive. But that seems to be the only alternative if we want to see through the year and perhaps, beyond. It’s been only eight months since the government revised the salary with generous allowances. That was when the government was confident of funding the revision. It is different now. SOEs salaries and allowances is the biggest recurrent expenditure both for the government and the state owned enterprises.
Except for a few, most of the SoEs too are panicking as businesses are hit hard.
It is time to implement what the Prime Minister always says, milk the red cow and have milk everyday rather than kill it for meat. Since March, the private sector retrenched employees, sent people on unpaid leave to slashed salaries by more than half. The government’s recurrent expenditure depends on how the economy functions. Internal revenue is more than enough to cover recurrent expenditure like salaries and wages. The source of that revenue has dried up. The fiscal and monetary policies, to help the people, have left a huge dent on the government coffer.
It is time to make some sacrifices. Cutting allowances alone could save the government millions. Allowances are paid for specific jobs. For instance, there is no logic in paying fuel allowance when movement of vehicles is restricted. There are several allowances across the civil service, corporate organisations, parliamentarians and many more that can be witheld or slashed without affecting the income.
SOEs not subsidised by the government would do it even without having to be told. The writing is on the wall. We could pay salaries and allowances for another month or two and close shop thereafter. At this juncture, bold decisions are what is called for while also being able to identify critical areas where people have to be compensated for their sacrifices.
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
A 30-year-old-man, who has been stranded in Phuentsholing since the lockdown began on August 11 will not forget in his entire life the night of August 26.
Out of his hotel, without a proper place, he had to sleep at the Zangdopelri Lhakang.
“It rained that night and there were a lot of mosquitoes,” he said.
He was in a hotel since August 10, one day prior to the lockdown. He continued in the same hotel until August 26.
While he was going broke each day, there was good news for him that he would be given a pass to travel to Thimphu on August 27.
“A friend of mine then asked me to spend a night at his place,” he said.
“So I went.”
However, to his surprise, the hotel manager had lodged a complaint in the police station that he had run away without paying the bills.
Prior to leaving the hotel, he claimed he had even discussed with the hotel manager to pay the bills once he reached Thimphu but the manager had asked him to pay at least half the bills.
However, on August 26, a vehicle had come to pick up and drop him to his friend’s place. The manager was not at the counter when he checked out.
“I had even informed the person at the counter,” he said.
“But the manager thought I ran away and had come with the police.”
Later, the matter was solved with the hotel manager. However, he was chased away by the people around his friend’s place.
“After that I was homeless,” he said.
“I called 5555 but got no help. Then, I went to Zangdopelri to sleep.”
Next day, he was again taken to police custody for the same pending hotel bills. He paid the bills worth Nu 16,669 after calling his relatives and was let go.
After that, he was placed at a hotel facility sponsored by the government.
A driver from Jabana, Paro also stayed in hotels on his own until August 28. Kado, 33, had come to Phuentsholing on August 10 to drop potatoes.
“I called 5555 so many times but there has been no confirmation yet,” he said.
Kado also said some of his friends, who were stuck after the lockdown, had returned to their respective places.
He said he had to change the hotel when the first one he stayed in was turned into a quarantine facility.
“I haven’t paid the bills to none of these hotels. I have told the owners I would be able to pay only after lockdown when I get some business,” he said.
Kado’s Paro-bound truck, which is also loaded with goods, is still at a parking lot. He fears the goods inside may have been damaged now. Since August 28, Kado has been living in a government-funded hotel facility.
A total of 1,403 people had registered to move out of Phuentsholing. However, not all are considered stranded except for 150. Of the total 414 vehicles left the town, 95 vehicles are stranded.
Meanwhile, with the number of positive cases increasing by the day in red zone Phuentsholing, people stranded here have lost hope of their return any sooner. Many said they are frustrated.
Tshering Dorji, 40, from Paro said he is getting anxious each passing day.
“Government is thinking that they will send us home once the number of cases falls to zero,” he said, adding that it is not possible now.
“Although the hotel bills are paid by the government, the wait is getting too long now. I don’t know about the corona virus but I think I will get another disease here.”
The PMO’s Facebook page yesterday announced that people who are stranded in Phuentsholing, given the increasing number of cases, would be released only after testing to avoid any chance of transmission.
“For those who would like to travel to Phuentsholing, we are trying to work your way in, wary of the fact that you are opting to enter a red zone,” the statement said.
Kado and Tshering Dorji said they have tested negative two times.
Another man, 46, who is also stranded said he shifted to a friend’s place after spending some time in a hotel.
“I’m surprised why despite registration on the first and the second day I was never called, while so many people were sent home in between,” he said.
“I called the helpline numbers and asked them. They said my number on the list has not come. Then they said that I haven’t given my destination details.”
If destination detail was not given, the online registration will never accept the registration in the first place, he pointed out.
The 46-year-old also said that the helpline number 1216 was unable to connect from Tashi Cell number since August 28.
48 out of 62 new cases since lockdown are non-Bhutanese
Of the 62 new Covid-19 positive cases detected after the nationwide lockdown on August 11, 48 are employees of Project DANTAK (43) and Indian Military Training Team (IMTRAT).
The highest one-day jump of positive cases was recorded yesterday when 27 new cases were detected from the Project DANTAK cluster in Phuentsholing.
Health Minister Dechen Wangmo on Friday (August 28) shared that 16 DANTAK and five IMTRAT employees (three on the same day from Haa) had contracted the diseases.
Following the detection of the first positive case (at the mini dry port) in Phuentsholing outside the quarantine facility on August 11, this was the first time the health ministry shared that the positive cases in the border town were not all Bhutanese.
Today, Phuentsholing has become the epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak in the country with 43 people testing positive in the DANTAK camp alone and one at the IMTRAT camp.
The border town was declared a red zone on August 15.
What went wrong at DANTAK camp
The health minister said that irrespective of the nationality, every individual in Bhutan must abide by the national Covid-19 and lockdown protocols that were in place.
Lyonpo added that the cases from IMTRAT and DANTAK were detected from a particular cluster and individuals there were not “roaming freely”.
However, following the news of the 27 new cases, many took to social media to share their concerns on how strictly the lockdown protocols were enforced on the two organisations.
Many questioned the possibility of contracting the disease within the camps amidst the nationwide lockdown. Some also alleged that DANTAK vehicles were freely moving across the border to Hashimara when Bhutanese were strictly restricted to cross the border after the closure of the gates on March 23.
Even after the nationwide lockdown, people claimed that the DANTAK vehicles were freely plying in Phuentsholing when Bhutanese were confined within the walls of their homes. Kuensel couldn’t get in touch with DANTAK officials.
Many also related the source of the outbreak in Phuentsholing to the unrestricted movement of DANTAK and IMTRAT officials as the RRCO’s mini dry port was located near the DANTAK camp.
A Phuentsholing resident, Kezang said that not many Bhutanese tested positive during the mass testing surveillance conducted in the town. “But there are many from DANTAK,” he said. “I have also seen DANTAK people delivering food for their people quarantined in the hotels. How was that even allowed?”
Some of the concerns were shared on social media in July.
Residents of Bangyena village in Haa that shares a boundary with the IMTRAT campus shared that IMTRAT officials continued with construction works even after the nationwide lockdown came into force.
A resident said that only after three IMTRAT employees tested positive, the work stopped. Residents are concerned as one of the two men and the woman who tested positive resides near the settlement.
An elderly from the village said that even after they tested positive, the couple was still at their home. “They should be in an isolation ward in the hospital,” he said.
Bangyena-Kipri-Takchu tshogpa, Tshering, said that the people were raising concern as the couple resided right next to the gewog centre road and only a fence separated the village from the camp.
However, he said that IMTRAT officials monitored the couple on a daily basis.
Prior to the lockdown, people from the village and IMTRAT campus engaged in small businesses such as selling milk and vegetables. The villagers usually collected animal feed (leftover food) from the camp.
Tshogpa Tshering said the movement of people and trade was stopped following the nationwide lockdown. With the possibility of farmers entering the IMTRAT campus with their cattle, he said that he patrolled the area regularly.
Given the close proximity of the village to the Covid-19 active zone, the tshogpa said that 50 people from the village would undergo testing today to rule out the presence of transmission in the village.
He said that the oldest, youngest and those who had regular contact with IMTRAT officials before the lockdown would undergo the test.
The Bhutan Telecom office in Haa is also located within the self-containment zone. About 18 people from the area will also be tested.
Meanwhile, Kuensel learned that the 16 DANTAK employees who had tested positive to the virus earlier had migrated to India.
According to sources, DANTAK employees entering the country after the closure of the gates were quarantined for 21 days in India. Health officials from Bhutan used to test the individuals before they entered the country.
Of the 187 total positive cases in the country as of last night, 21 of them are Indian nationals working for Project DANTAK and Indian Military Training Team (IMTRAT).
Health Minister Dechen Wangmo during a press conference yesterday said that three new positive cases were detected at the IMTRAT headquarters in Haa yesterday morning.
Another two IMTRAT employees, one each in Thimphu and Phuentsholing had also tested positive recently. The one who tested positive in Thimphu had travelled from Phuentsholing. The 35-year-old man tested positive while in the quarantine on August 22. He was a primary contact of one of the positive cases in Phuentsholing.
Following the announcement yesterday, many questioned if the government was trying to conceal the identity of the Indian nationals testing positive. The positive cases among 16 Project DANTAK employees in Phuentsholing were not new. The information was revealed only yesterday.
Lyonpo said that the ministry has been sharing all possible details with respect to the pandemic. She said that picking positive cases in the DANTAK or IMTRAT camps made no difference to the extensive preventive measures that are already in place.
Lyonpo said that irrespective of the country of origin, anyone who is in Bhutan has to abide by and follow the national protocols put in place. “We cannot custom design different protocols for different people. The national-level testing, quarantine or movement protocols applies to everyone who is in the country.”
She said that these cases did not make a difference to the existing control and preventive measures mainly because the country was already in a nationwide lockdown that prevented the movement of people from one place to another.
“Another advantage is that the cases were detected in a cluster. They were not freely roaming individuals. Therefore, it was much easier for us to do the contact tracing, testing and assessing the risk within a short period of time.”
Gelephu frontline worker
Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that the ministry was still assessing the case of the frontline worker who tested positive on August 27 in Gelephu. “So far none of the contacts of the case has tested positive.”
“I’m a big believer that along the border areas, the compliance towards basic use of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks and shields and handwashing has been amazingly good,” Lyonpo said. “So I hope and pray that this would have a certainss impact on preventing the virus from being easily transmitted.”
She added that given the nationwide lockdown, movement of people was reduced, which gave the ministry enough time to plan and implement the interventions in time.
However, Lyonpo said that the government is not ruling out possible multiple cases in Gelephu.
“We are considering the case as a local transmission mainly because for now there is no particular source of infection for the person,” she said, adding that the risk is being assessed and the ministry would be able to establish the extent of the transmission in the community within the next 48 hours.
Testing is underway in Gelephu and although the primary contacts have tested negative so far, they would be retested after three days.
Lyonpo said that the next course of action in Gelephu would be contingent on the results of the risk assessment.
With cases detected from Phuentsholing, Gelephu, Haa and Paro there is a growing concern of a full-blown transmission of the disease in the country.
However, the minister said that for the government the current situation would be more of a cluster epidemic rather than a full-blown transmission.
“We would still call it a cluster because it is coming out from a cluster from a specific population,” she said. “But we are also looking if other areas have been infected from these clusters and if the virus has gone outside.”
She said that for this the government will have to strategise on whether to conduct a mass screening of the entire population like in Phuentsholing or carry out random sampling.
“To strategise, we would require at least 24 hours to assess the risks. In about 24 to 48 hours we should be fairly confident enough to gauge the risk of the epidemic and that will determine our next course of action.”
However, for Bhutan, Lyonpo said that the mode of transmission – sporadic or cluster – would make no difference as the country has already taken the maximum-intervention approach.
“If you look at our testing, we are testing like it’s nobody’s business. We are in a highly aggressive testing mode. As long as we rule out importation which is from the quarantine centres, rest all mode of transmission does not make a difference to us.”
Following the local transmission in Phuentsholing, the health ministry tested the entire population in the town. During the 10-day mass testing, over 26,000 people were tested in the community of which 25 have tested positive so far.
Beginning yesterday three teams of health officials were deployed to test over 3,000 people living along the Phuentsholing-Thimphu highway.
“Recognising that there is a higher risk in Phuentsholing, we are sweeping the entire Phuentsholing-Thimphu highway,” she said.
“Every member of the household along the highway will be tested. The data would give us a fairly good idea of the extent of the transmission.”
Meanwhile, Haa Dzongdag Kinzang Dorji said that although three IMTRAT personnels have tested positive for Covid-19 in the dzongkhag, residents should not panic.
Speaking to Kuensel, the dzongdag said that the positive cases were detected from a self-containment zone where movement in and out of the zone was restricted.
However, as a precautionary measure, the dzongkhag administration has imposed lockdown in Bangyena and Kipri villages under Uesu gewog, as the two villages are adjacent to the military training camp.
Bangyena village shares boundary with IMTRAT camp and the residents have to route through the camp to connect with the highway.
Dzongdag Kinzang Dorji said that with the restriction on movement, the dzongkhag administration would deliver essential items to the village.
“We should be alert but people should not panic as the dzongkhag isn’t in an emergency situation yet.”
He said that if people follow the protocol set by the dzongkhag administration, there was nothing to worry about.
In case of emergency, residents should call the toll-free number 1007 for essential items and 1008 for medical emergencies.
Additional reporting by Phub Dem, Paro
When lockdown ceases
Yangchen C Rinzin
The Ministry of Education has submitted a proposal to the Prime Minister to re-open Classes IX and XI along with Classes X and XII if the pandemic situation improves and the lockdown is lifted.
Education Minister Jai Bir Rai told Kuensel that the proposal was readied before the nationwide lockdown came into force on August 11, as the ministry felt the need for face-face teaching. “But before the ministry could submit the proposal to the government, the nationwide lockdown was declared,” he said.
Classes X and XII were re-opened before the lockdown in July. Regular classes for X and XII have been suspended following a nationwide lockdown on August 11.
The minister said that the ministry is concerned, as the pandemic has affected students. We’re already noticing that closure of schools has impacted students and many students have also started losing interest in studies,” the minister said. “We know that we’re not in a good situation, but we need to make a decision by keeping the virus at bay, as the trend is worrying.”
More than 200 students from Classes X and XII dropped out from school when the schools resumed in July.
Lyonpo said that although it would depend on the decision of the government whether to approve the proposal or not, it was important to continue education.
“Yes, we need to take Covid-19 seriously, but we can’t keep students out of education. Things may not go back to normal, but education must go on, and by following safety measures, we must look into re-opening of schools.”
Students in Classes IX and XI have to learn the lessons well to perform in the board examinations.
Relocation of students from Red Zone
The ministry has also proposed to relocate Classes X and XII students and teachers of Phuentsholing to a safer area to continue education. It is proposed given Phuentsholing remains a red zone.
The proposal also includes re-opening of Classes IX and XI and relocating students of these classes.
“While we understand the situation right now, we cannot keep the rest of the schools closed because of the situation in Phuentsholing,” Lyonpo said.
Lyonpo said the proposal to relocate schools in Phuentsholing would happen if the government decides to re-open other schools. Although the figure of students and teachers was not shared, Lyonpo said that they could be relocated to nearby schools that have classes from PP-VIII and are closed right now.
“This is just a proposal to help students continue education and if approved, we can work further including the help from the health ministry in relocating them,” Lyonpo added. If approved, the relocation would also apply to two private schools in Phuentsholing.
There are one public higher secondary school and two middle secondary schools in Phuentsholing.
Schools in other dzongkhags with similar situations would also be relocated according to the proposal.
The ministry has also proposed the government to relook into re-opening of ECCDs, Non-Formal Education, Community Learning Centres, and two institutes of deaf and blind if the situation improves.
However, classes for PP-VIII will remain closed for the 2020 academic session.
Meanwhile, the minister said that all the normal teaching for Classes X and XII will remain suspended, as announced earlier while other students would continue learning through online lessons provided through Self Instructional Materials and other online platforms.
Lyonpo said the school administrations cannot conduct normal classes for boarding students who are on the campus right now, as this would be unfair to students who are at home.
“It cannot be possible for teachers to conduct normal classes since some of the teachers are in the campus while some are off-campus,” Lyonpo said. “The school administration can, however, come up with their own ideas to keep boarding students engaged meaningfully.”
Many principals of boarding schools Kuensel talked to said that students are either asked to complete the project works or assignments, read books and are sometimes allowed to watch movies on BBS.
Yangchen C Rinzin
As Covid-19 reaches to interior parts of the country, the health ministry is unable to establish how and when the virus entered Phuentsholing, which is today a red zone.
According to Health Minister Dechen Wangmo like Bhutan, many countries are unable to track down patient zero or pinpoint individuals who may have been the first person to start spreading Covid-19.
Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said, “Epidemiologically, it will be difficult to prove the source for local transmission in Phuentsholing.”
Phuentsholing today has 41 people who are primary contacts of the 25-year-old loader, who was the first to test positive from the mini dry port.
However, during the active community surveillance of the 27,134 people tested, 25 tested positive. None of them was connected to the mini dry port case. This had confirmed the local transmission in Phuenthsoling and the town was declared a red zone.
Although Bhutan’s first local transmission (25-year-old loader) is technically an imported case, health minister during a press briefing yesterday, said that the source of infection and local transmission in the country cannot be established.
“It’ll depend on time but it’ll not be easy to find how did the virus spread or where did they get it from,” Lyonpo said.
“We cannot pinpoint the index case and conclude they triggered the outbreak.”
Patient zero or the index case refers to the first person to be infected by the Covid-19 in an outbreak in a community and spread the virus.
Lyonpo said that based on the cases in Phuentsholing, the health ministry although not concluded, calls the source as a cluster of a specific population and well contained areas.
This will let to exact primary contacts and its details.
For instance, one cluster is a mini dry port where the loader tested positive, as all the positive people were in the same unit. Another cluster was the 16 positive cases detected from Project DANTAK and one from IMTRAT in Phuentsholing.
“It’s still a cluster (mode of transmission)- where positive cases are coming from a specific place,” Lyonpo said. “If we’re to find out whether mini dry port workers got it from Project DANTAK or vice-versa, it will not be easy to prove.”
Health officials urge people to cooperate
Despite the nationwide lockdown, the health ministry has managed to keep essential medical services running uninterrupted across the country.
Services like mother and childcare, immunisation, reproductive health, emergencies, care for vulnerable population (infants and elderlies above 60 years) including persons with disabilities and medication for ongoing management of chronic diseases including mental health, among others continues to be available in all the health centres.
Health Secretary Dr Ugen Dophu said that even before the nationwide lockdown was enforced, all health facilities were asked to dispense refill medicine for three months except for those requiring frequent consultations.
Following the lockdown, refills for patients who were on long-term medication for chronic diseases were delivered at their doorsteps.
However, the ministry recently piloted another mechanism to further streamline the delivery of medicine refills in Thimphu. With the introduction of the zoning system, health ministry identified one outlet (shop) in each zone as an access point to pick and drop medicine refills.
People requiring the refill are asked to drop their prescription with their contact details at the identified shops. In the evening health staff collect the prescription, collect the medicine from the pharmacy at the national referral hospital and drop it back at the same shop.
Health officials said that individuals could collect their medicine the next day. And should someone forget to collect the refill, the shopkeeper or a De-Suup on duty would contact the individual to collect the refill.
Dr Ugen Dophu said that this method was found to be more sustainable and easy rather than health workers having to drop the refills to individual households. “So far we have received good feedback on the initiative. We want to replicate this in other urban centres too in the future.”
He said that the method was piloted in Thimphu as there were complaints of delay in delivery. The mechanism he said was possible and more effective in urban areas.
The ministry has also put in additional vehicles to complement the existing ambulance fleet at all levels of health care centres up to basic health unit (BHU) grade I.
Depending on the size of the centres, the secretary said that additional vehicles were put to reach maximum public and carter services immediately.
However, he said that despite the additional vehicles it was challenging for the centres to provide timely response to all. “This is because our vehicles have to wait for the individual for almost an hour. This disrupts our strategy and we land up doing only three trips instead of 10 in a day.”
“I would like to request people if they have called for ambulances to be ready on time and not to keep the vehicles waiting,” said Dr Ugen Dophu. “Don’t delay the vehicles as they have to cater to other people as well.”
For an efficient system
The health ministry has made it mandatory, since August 11, to allow only one attendant per patient in all hospitals across the country. To reinforce the regulation and in preparation of a worst-case scenario, the ministry on Thursday announced that all patients who are going to be admitted to the hospital along with their attendants would be tested for Covid-19.
A notification from the ministry stated that patient attendants would not be allowed to change until the patient is discharged. No food from outside would be allowed and health facilities would provide a balanced diet food for the patients and the attendant. Also no visitors or relatives would be allowed to visit patients.
Dr Ugen Dophu said that although admissions to the hospitals are continuing, the overall patient visiting hospitals decreased including people visiting the emergency unit.
“Unlike before, only the real and genuine patients are coming now. This is what we want even after the lockdown is lifted. We want people to visit the hospitals only if they really need the service.”
The secretary also said that people should only call the hotline numbers if they are in need of the medical services. “There are people who call our hotline numbers to flirt with lady health workers attending the calls.”
He said that prank calls and queries about other issues such as garbage collection, vegetable delivery and other services clog the hotline and deprive opportunities of those requiring health services.
“Please cooperate with us so that we can cater to as many people as possible. If people continue calling these numbers unnecessarily, we might have to take legal action against them,” he said.
Dr Ugen Dophu said that since more lockdowns could happen henceforth, the health system has to be more efficient with each lockdown. “Covid-19 will stay for a while and the health system has to be wiser and more efficient going forward. And people should also become more cooperative so that things can work more efficiently.”
Tshering Namgyal | Mongar
As days passed, the little they had was running out – rice, oil, cheese and vegetables. It was near crisis as the lockdown continued for two weeks. There was no money to replenish even if a few shops opened.
Tenzin Dema (name changed) was worried. She had a family to feed. Desperate and lost in Yadi town, Mongar, she called up the Royal Kidu Office. Help came and came immediately. The Dzongkhag Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu (DGRK) team immediately made to the site and delivered essentials like rice, oil, milk powder, cheese and salt among others. Ngatshang gewog administration also supported the families with butter, cheese, and vegetable items.
The 26-year old said her year-long ordeal came to an end after she received His Majesty The King’s kidu. Tenzin has been living with her husband and two daughters at Yadi town for a few years now. Her husband, after losing his job with a corporation, left in search for work in Gelephu. He had never returned nor sent any money.
Tenzin and her family rented a small house for Nu 2,300 a month and started weaving for a living, but couldn’t afford the rent. They had no money to even pay the cable operator for a year. A restaurant above her house had come to their rescue with leftover food from the kitchen. Their source of meals came to an abrupt end when the lockdown closed the restaurant.
“I’ve been bearing the situation as much as we could. Without any alternative, it was inevitable and had to ask for kidu,” she said. “I am very grateful to His Majesty The King for saving us from going hungry.”
Tenzin Dema is not alone. Many people who were badly affected by the pandemic and the lockdown received Kidu form His Majesty’s Kidu office in Mongar.
Another beneficiary, Tshewang Namgyal, from Mongar gewog said he had to ask for kidu after he lost his business in January. “All the little savings I had were spent on house rent and I didn’t even have rice to eat at home,” he said. “We are putting extra burden on His Majesty who is worried about the disease, but we had no choice but to look for help.”
As of yesterday the Mongar Dzongkhag DGRK team handed over His Majesty’s kidu to 68 vulnerable families who were mostly day-wage workers, who were affected by the lockdown. Following the recommendations from the gewogs, the DGRK team members said they went door-door to verify the applicants.
Every time the health ministry updates the status of Covid-19 cases in the country, there are more questions than answers. People want to know who, where and how an individual contracted the virus. They are after details to the extent that the media is blamed for releasing half-baked information.
Both the health ministry and the public have their own justifications. The public wants to know the details because they are concerned. If they know the details of the person like where he or she had travelled or visited, it would help them report or help authorities in tracing contacts. Some are even questioning the pleas the health ministry made to help them trace as information provided is vague or incomplete.
The health ministry is governed by rules and ethics. They cannot issue details. In our case, people are ready to stigmatise and it is right to be socially concerned about revealing details. The debate will ensue as long as the pandemic lasts.
After the health ministry revealed that 21 of the 187 Covid-19 positive cases so far are Indians, officials of Project DANTAK and the Indian Military Training Team (IMTRAT), there were more questions. The instant reaction was that the government was hiding information, as they had no control over the two foreign organisations in the country. There had been rumours, for many weeks now, that these officials were free to travel in and out of the country even when the border was sealed.
The health ministry confirmed 16 positive cases among Project DANTAK officials, five among IMTRAT and revealing a case from August 22 only after a week gave reasons for people to be suspicious. The health minister assured that it was not important to reveal who tested positive as long as the national protocols are followed. Whether it is an official of a foreign organisation or a local farmer, as long as the case is managed well, the risk too is managed. If contacts are traced and quarantined following protocols, it doesn’t matter who or which nationality tested positive.
If all foreign organisations in the country are governed and strictly adhered to the protocols and standards established, the fight against the spread of the virus could be controlled.
However, the concern among the public makes sense. The government had been telling people to be concerned, not panic. When rumours are not clarified, it creates panic. Bhutanese say there won’t be smoke without a fire. They heard that foreigners had contracted the virus. It became a concern to the extent that some are convinced that the virus reached Phuentsholing through uncontrolled movement of foreign officials.
The health minister clarified that every individual in the country, foreign or local are governed by the same protocol and it is being followed. This should convince the people. Transparency could help people become more cautious. We have seen this before. With three new cases confirmed among IMTRAT officials in Haa yesterday, residents of Haa would be more cautious, for instance. These would help the government’s effort in controlling the virus or the people during the lockdown.
A democratic government must ensure transparency, openness, and accountability. Government’s willingness to uphold the fundamental right to information is key to transparency and accountability. This right is presumed to exist when the information is “freely available and directly accessible to those who will be affected by such decisions and their enforcement.” Any secrecy would extinguish these basic tenets of a democracy.
This week, Kuensel, through an editorial cast doubts on government’s willingness to share adequate information. The editorial further raised concerns about risks of speculations or rumours in the society which could seriously impede the collective fight against the pandemic and prejudice the functioning of a responsible media. An editor of private newspapers on his social network wrote: “Private media houses are not short of news, we are short of sources and the only solution is transparency and cooperation to give right information.”
First, with the nationwide lockdown, the state has suspended almost all our rights under article 7 of our constitution. The only visible right now is the right to freedom of media under Article 7(5). In this pandemic, access to right information by media is the most crucial because the entire nation relies on details through media. Our unity and collective effort to fight this pandemic solely depends on the correct and adequate information. Any confusing information will result in social chaos and eventually cost people’s confidence in the government.
Second, any distortion or denial of right to information will result in fake news, rumours, and anonymity. Further, since the public authorities are vested with unlimited power during the lockdown, it may amount to abuse and threaten the foundations of our democracy. The only way to ensure that the government functions within the limits of democratic values and uphold the people’s confidence now rest with media.
Third, our freedom of speech, opinion, and expression, right to information and right to vote depends on freedom of media. Though article 1 of our Constitution states that power belongs to people, it is our representatives, the government, who actually has the power. Article 20 (6) of our constitution thus, mandates the government to “promote an efficient civil administration based on the democratic values and principles.” People can judge and speak to government only when there is access to information. Information is key to upholding the democratic values and principles.
Fourth, one of the framers of our Constitution wrote “Information is knowledge. Knowledge empowers people and removes the uncertainty and doubts. When citizens are well informed, mutual trust grows between the citizens and their government.” Proper access to accurate information will not only “facilitate active participation of the people in the democratic governance process, but also promotes openness, transparency and accountability in administration.”
Fifth, unlike most other rights, right to information benefits both the government and public directly. Access to information will help people build confidence in our government and promote mutual trust between the state and people. Mutual trust and confidence in government are key essentials in success of the lockdown and fighting this pandemic together as one.
Finally, in any true democracy, the public has the right to demand and scrutinise the actions of public authorities and hold them accountable. The code of ethics for the journalist requires that media must report accurately without fear and favour. The question of accuracy, correctness and unbiased reporting will largely depends on their access to information.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.
Neten Dorji | Trashigang
In Trashigang, 872 staff of Indian Military Training Team (IMTRAT), Project DANTAK (GREF) officials and Bhutanese workers were tested for Covid-19. Swab samples would be sent to Monger Regional Referral Hospital to test on RT-PCR.
Health officials visited places such as IMTRAT and DANTAK campus in Kanglung, Khaling and Moshi, among others, to conduct the tests.
Health officials say they conducted the test following the notification from the Ministry of Health. “Individuals working along the road sides was identified as higher risks,” said an official.
“We are conducting a rapid diagnostic test and sending nasal and throat swabs for PCR to Mongar hospital,” said Jigme Tenzin, Doctor of Reserbu General Hospital.
A machine operator, Tashi Dorji, said that it was important to test for Covid-19.
“We are now feeling relieved as the officials conducted a test, and the result was also negative,” said Choki wangmo, who is a day worker with DANTAK. “I also learned that it is important to maintain the safety measures to ensure the safety for both the parties.”
Another worker, Dawa Norbu, said that they were safe and relieved. “If someone is infected among us, all would be infected easily. It went well, the health official conducted the test before it was too late.”
Trashigang has quarantined five individuals at facility quarantine and placed 85 in home quarantine.
The surveillance teams trace the travel history at the entry point and if someone comes from an infected area, he or she is directly quarantined.
The urban agriculturists under the urban and peri-urban agriculture initiative in Thimphu supplied about 500 kilograms (kg) of vegetables to the Centenary Farmers’ Market during the lockdown.
They collected their second harvest yesterday.
A group harvested 399kg of vegetables from 21 plots of land in Beybena, Changtagang, Kushuchen, and Begana during the lockdown. They earned Nu 18,585. A farmer said the prices were comparatively lesser than the market price but “this is the time for us to help the nation.”
Some of the farmers, however, were upset with the prices they were given. For example, a kg of beans fetched Nu 23 and Nu 19 for cabbage according to the government-fixed price during lockdown. “Such prices might discourage farmers,” one of them said.
Sixty percent of the crops like beans, carrot, pumpkin, coriander, chili, peas, radish, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and spring onion was harvested. The group expects to harvest the remaining crops in the coming days as per the instruction of the agriculture department and the national Covid-19 task force, which allows only one person from the group to visit the field.
“Due to movement restriction and delay in harvest, crops such as spinach, carrot, coriander were damaged by rain, sunshine, and invasive weed,” a farmer said, adding that some of the crops were stolen.
The initiative which rolled out in May as a part of Covid-19 initiative converted 26 acres of fallow land converted to agricultural land in places such as Begana, Bebeyna, Kushuchen, Changtagang and thromde areas in the capital. There are 34 groups, mostly laid-off workers from the hospitality sector. The initiative was funded by Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Now with the nationwide lockdown, the groups said they were worried about self-sufficiency if the lockdown continues. “Our work plan is to continue the agriculture work as before and would like to request the government to allow us to work at the field with few people.”
The coordinator of the initiative, BB Rai, said that although they did not get time for cleaning and weeding due to lockdown, the production was good. He said that the agriculture department had arranged special permit and was taking farmers to the field following proper health protocols. “Except for the harvest, we aren’t allowed to work in the town areas according to the protocols. The permit is for one person and he or she can’t do much.”
“Few of them are disheartened,” he added.
The farmers officially harvested the produce twice before the lockdown.
He, however, said that due to the lockdown they had missed second cropping which starts in August-September and is harvested by the end of October. Crops like turnip, radish peas, and onions are grown in the second cropping season.
He said that the pricing system was fixed by the national task force in collaboration with the agriculture department and included the cost of production and prevailing market price.
Some members proposed door-to-door sale of vegetables in places near their fields.
Education will never be like before; new normal education has begun. New normal education will start with new normal teachers.
Children lost the whole of 2020 academic session and we are uncertain of 2021 academic session or beyond. This will cost everyone dearly. The pandemic has affected education like never before. It has forced homeschooling and online learning—suddenly, children stopped going to schools and stayed home. Education was synonymous to schooling and there were very less or no alternatives to education. Suddenly, when the school gates closed for children due to the pandemic, the otherwise lively classrooms and play grounds were nothing more than empty structures.
Homeschooling and online learning were something no one was familiar with but we had no options. Bhutan saw one of the best continued education delivery right from the beginning when the pandemic’s pandemonium started hitting us. Under the farsighted guidance of our beloved King, a supportive government and a dedicated Ministry of Education along with various stakeholders, every effort was made by this tiny yet nation of big dreams. eLearning through Tele Education, Google Classrooms, Social Media platforms and Self-Instructional Materials reached all 170,000 plus children. We are still doing the best.
Now, six months into the pandemic and the nation in lockdown, it is certain that the new normal education should take a good shape and foundation. We are continuously blessed by His Majesty’s visionary’s guidance. The government will support. Ministry of Education will lead and every other stakeholder will do their best for future fitting our education system and going forward with a promising and practical new normal education. However, it is teachers who can make everything deliverable. New Normal Education will start with new normal teachers. Teachers must start accepting, preparing, learning, unlearning, relearning and delivering the new normal education. Our children are out there in their homes and every passing day without school should be made as worthwhile as possible. Parents will do their part. Time calls for teachers who are resilient and possessing strong emotional intelligence. Teachers should be tech savvy innovators who are continuously learning to create the new normal teaching learning cycle. Technology is a big part of the new normal education. Teachers must become creative content creators. Video conference-based classes, Google Classrooms, Virtual Learning Environment, Chat rooms and virtual connectivity with learners are some of the many things that teachers start learning seriously and accepting it as an integral part of the profession. Using technology and online platforms to deliver lessons will be a challenge to overcome because technology based learning is the future. A PDF file sent in a class chat room with notes and questions is just a small start-interactive, user friendly and creative ways of lesson delivery along with assessment and engagement strategies are the bigger steps. The new normal education will require the leadership of self and teachers collaborating with each other as well as stakeholders is a new normal priority. Teachers must become the most creative and versatile professionals. Critical thinking and communication skills should be a constant focus for every teacher. In summary, teachers need to inspire themselves to move up from the comfort zone of being just teachers.
Most of our strategies learnt at the colleges are already becoming obsolete and so will our skills. The uncertain times is calling all teachers to gear up for a whole new way of teaching learning. Time is now to invest your time in getting ready for something that is uncertain. When everyone else is taking care of their role in the new normal education, the 9,000 plus teachers, who are the key players, must gear up. Teachers will play the biggest role in realising the new normal education as a success. The stakeholders must equally equip, engage and empower teachers with the opportunities of taking forward the new normal education. Teachers are humble professionals and are always ready to adapt, innovate and initiate. Teachers are important in every society at all times but this uncertain future calls for an added importance and responsibility of teachers.
Lobesa LSS, Punakha
In Drubthob Thangtong Gyalpo’s (1385- 1446/1458?) biography, the valley of Haa is referred to as Hay. The Choekey, word is used to express breath-taking surprise. Five centuries later, the great Tibetan Dzogchen master, Polu Khenpo Dorji (c. 1896-1970) confirmed the name of the valley as Hay.
Like Haa, there are multiple sacred sites by the same name, both in Bhutan and elsewhere. For example, Paro Taktsang was called Hay Taktsang. The monastery of Neyphug is actually Hay Phug. In Tibet there is a monastery called Hay Puri. Similarly in Nepal, the village next to the sacred site of the Draphu Ma Ra Tika is called Hay Li Si. All these sites have two things in common: association with Guru Padmasambhava and towering hills.
The eighth century mystic Guru Padmasambhava is credited with the creation of several hidden lands to offer safe refuge in times of crisis. Several of these sanctuaries are in Bhutan. Haa is considered one of them.
Ancient lore embraces tales of how Guru Rinpoche hid many ter or treasures in Bhutan including in the Haa valley. The great Buddhist master blessed Haa as a bes ney or hidden land. Following in the Guru’s footsteps, many other great Buddhist masters visited and blessed the valley. Some of these luminaries include Gelong Ma Pem, Terton Sherab Mebar and Drubthob Thangtong Gyalpo.
The 13th Je Khenpo of Bhutan, Yonten Thaye (1724-1784) recognised the sacred state of the Hay valley. His Holiness said that the valley is so pure that there are no traces of impediments or obstacles. So it does not come as a surprise that the valley is filled with ney, or sacred sites. It has at least 17 neys, 42 Lhakhangs and 113 Chorten Dangrims.
The main protector of the sacred Hay valley is Ap Chungdu. People in the valley revere him as their principal protector as much as they fear his wrath.
Ap Chungdu features in Terton Pema Lingpa’s book of revelations, Thuji Chenpo Muensel Droenme. According to a legend in the book, during the eighth century Guru Rinpoche performed the fifth series of Avalokitesvara’s Abhisekha ceremony at the cave of Gyon-yul-pal.
At that time, Ap Chungdu had been working in concert with other evil deities. Together, they were trying to obstruct the Guru’s spiritual pursuits. The combined evil forces created cyclones, set lakes on fire, split rocks, cut down forests, reduced mountains to rubble and rolled the resultant debris down the hillsides. In defence, Guru Rinpoche simply wielded a golden dorje and knocked the evil forces unconscious.
According to the legend, when Ap Chungdu regained consciousness, he found himself turned into a boy. Realizing Guru Rinpoche’s power, he prostrated himself in submission before the almighty Guru with the following words: “We are all your subjects. We pledge to dedicate our lives to your service. We shall be the protectors of the Buddhist doctrine.” It is said that Guru accepted Ap Chungdu’s peace offering and blessed him, and made him the principal protector of the valley.
Although Ap Chungdu is only the deity of Hay, his status is that of Zorarakye, the protecting deity of the beyul (bes yul) or hidden land, Khenpajong north of Bumthang in Lhuentse. Because Ap Chungdu received blessings directly from Guru, he has been included amongst the deities of the Tantric Mandala. To this day, people in the valley pray to Ap Chungdu for protection. There is a statue of him in the Lhakhang Karpo.
Black and White Temples
Lhakhang Karpo, the White Temple is one of the most important temples of the valley. The other is Lhakhang Nakpo, the Black Temple.
In the Lho Chojung Sarpa by the 69th Je Khenpo Gendun Rinchen who is regarded as a great scholar, there are two stories about the history of the temples. His Holiness says that in the absence of documents he had to base his research on oral accounts. According to the first story, the 33rd Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo (c.605-650, dates vary) built the two Lhakhangs at the same time as Jambay and Kyichu Lhakhangs. But this is yet to be attested.
Je Gendun Rinchen relates that the Tibetan King set a black and a white pigeon free from Lhasa. The places where these birds landed in Haa are where he had the temples built miraculously in one day.
The second story is as magical as the first one. It recounts that people appeared from the three hills, built these two lhakhangs in a day and then disappeared back into the hills. These three hills are considered Ap Chungdu’s neykhang or abode. Hence, from that day the hill was called Rig-sum and the valley given the name Hay Lung or the Valley of Surprises.
In Lopen Pema Tshewang’s paper titled, Neyig of Hay Valley, he records an oral account of how the head of the Amitabha Buddha statue miraculously appeared in Lhakhang Karpo. Lopen Pema Tshewang said that while the main statue was being sculpted, a stranger came to sell the head of the statue. Drawn by the workmanship, the sculptor placed it on the body and it stuck like a magnet.
Fondly known as Lopen Pemala, his story validates local knowledge but the village elders have more details to share. According to them, when the sculptor was finding it difficult to sculpt the head of the statue, a stranger dressed in blue appeared at crack of dawn. After delivering the head of the statue he disappeared from view.
Seeing the statue fit perfectly, the sculptor is amazed. When he looks for the stranger, he is nowhere to be found. Overwhelmed, the sculptor exclaims “Hay”.
That statue is the main nangten (relic) of the Lhakhang Karpo and can still be seen today. The peculiar feature is that the head is slightly bent and somewhat disproportionately large for the body.
The other main nangten of the Lhakhang Karpo, a statue of Jowo, is considered equally sacred. Lopen Pemala found that both temples were built by the same carpenter. It is believed that the master craftsman was the manifestation of King Songtsen Gampo. While no written records have yet surfaced, oral tradition holds it that the master carpenter miraculously built the temples at the same time as the Kyichu temple in Paro.
In Lopen Pemala’s Neyig, he also unravels the enigma of Kirpri Budethangkha. The popular pilgrim site is where the rock with the impression of Guru’s body and hat can be seen. It is believed that the impression is similar to the one at Kurje Lhakhang in Bumthang. The impression of where Guru tied his horse Balaha on the rock can still be seen today.
Stories in the Neyig tell of Guru’s pursuit of a demon that had transformed itself into a serpent. When local residents heard about it, they hid behind a hill, an act that gave rise to the name of their village Yipri, which is now known as Kipri. Guru is said to have tamed the serpent and transformed it into stone. The place where the rock stands is Budethang, with Bu meaning snake and De means demon and thang meaning flat land.
A village elder narrates another version. He said that when Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel was fighting the Lam Kha Nga, it is said he hid behind the hill and hence the name Yipri.
Below the Budethang rock is another rock. Though smaller in size it is associated with Guru. It is said that when Guru visited Kipri (Yipri), the locals hid behind the hill because they were feeling shy.
Another legend talks about how the tutelary deity Vajrakila Kumar (Dorji Zhonu) appeared at a house in Kipri. The man of the house was not the most pious person in the valley. When he saw the deity, he threw sticks and chased the divine being away. It is said that the deity took flight, landing on an oak tree in Chubarna in close proximity to the Black Temple. It is said that the deity then flew onwards, flying above the Hay Dzong and finally settling down on another oak tree in the village of Bangyena.
The owners of the two houses went in front of the tree and invited the deity to their respective homes. The deity went to the upper house, causing the owner of the lower house to become envious.
He began quarrelling with his neighbour, the quarrel escalating into a bloody fight that resulted in the death of the owner of the upper house. As required by the traditional laws of the time, the accused offered the family of the victim a plot of land. Since then, every year on the eleventh month, the Vajrakila ritual is performed. A statue of Vajrakila is said to have flown to the Zang Lhakhang at Hechu. The statue can still be seen today.
Our elders in Haa are convinced that the three sacred hills in the valley represent and remind them of our two living monarchs and Gyalsey, our Crown Prince.
According to these elders, the central hill represents Chenrezig (Avalokitesvara) and corresponds to His Majesty the Fifth Druk Gyalpo who has evidenced this appellation by his actions and is revered by the populace as representing the ultimate embodiment of compassion. Our elders are convinced of His Majesty’s ability to recognize and empathize with the suffering and pain experienced by all sentient beings.
According to our elders, the hill that represents Jampelyang (Bodhisattva Manjusri) symbolizes His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, as he is seen by them as the embodiment of transcendental wisdom.
The right hill represents Chana Dorji (Vajrapani) the Holder of the Secret Doctrines, remover of obstacles and our spiritual guardian. This reminds the elders of our Gyalsey who is seen as the embodiment of the energized power of all the Buddhas of the past, present and future.
Haa is often described like a mirror covered by the vapour of one’s breath. The sacred valley is filled with traditional folklore that often blends with facts. In the valley of the three sacred towering hills, hangs stories that are now only seen in movies. As a cool, wet alpine haunt of Bhutan, with pristine white water gushing through it, the magnificent valley of Hay can easily qualify as an earthly paradise filled with breathtaking surprises.
Happiness and Well-being Project, coordinated by the Paro College of Education (PCE) for the nine colleges under the Royal University of Bhutan (RUB), is on track.
European Union (EU) has certified the overall progress of the project as ‘good’ in the last two reports.
Project Officer, Pelden Dorji Dadil Jamtsho, said: “Due to the good certification, we received budget on time which is crucial to carry out activities. “Fund is from EU’s Erasmus+ programme under its capacity-building project in the field of higher education.”
The total budget for the project is Euro 505,960. So far, for the last two pre-financing period, 90 percent of the budget has been received.
“Remaining budget will be disbursed soon,” said Pelden Dorji Dadil Jamtsho.
To enhance mental health, counselling and well-being support for students, the project has some specific mandates such as establishing a happiness and well-being centre in all the nine colleges, with lead centre at PCE with an extension at Samtse College of Education.
“We are in the final stage,” Pelden Dorji Dadil Jamtsho said. “So far training level-three has been completed at PCE and Thailand.”
The two-year project, which started in November 2018, was supposed to be completed by November this year. However, due to Covid-19 restrictions, the project completion dateline had to be postponed until November next year.
Some of the activities delayed, Pelden Dorji Dadil Jamtsho said, were proper setting up of ICT equipment and books at the centres, signing of final memorandum of understanding between 10 national stakeholders, further training and certification of trainees by the Bhutan Board of Certified Counsellors, among others.
He said that during this pandemic, time and stress management handouts were developed and yoga, meditation and other mindfulness activities were carried out in the colleges. “Counsellors are supporting frontline workers at Paro airport by printing and issuing brochures related to mental health for those who came from abroad.”
University of Birmingham, the UK, Institute University of Da Maia ISMAI, Portugal, and Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium are the project partners.
Fortunately, due to the enlightened leadership of this country, we have been spared the trauma and the tragedy that follows this scourge. There is an air of tranquillity which is all pervasive. We are living in an extremely protected environment with a sense of security which only this country can give.
The damage and destruction wrecked by this pandemic is unparalleled in recent history. Global economies are in ruins and the financial markets have gone into a tailspin. Stimulus packages that the governments of various countries offered for its revival have failed to stem the tides of recession. Yet in all the chaos and turmoil that is swirling around us, we have remained imperturbably unaware of the hardships and privations which people have faced elsewhere. The audacity of this global contagion can never be downplayed because of the trail of desolation it leaves behind. Despite the government’s adoption
of extreme measure for our protection and safety, Bhutan cannot insulate itself totally by creating an impenetrable bubble. But it can control and mitigate its impact through proper planning and execution. The risks can only be contained by motivating the task force at the ground level and making the public sufficiently aware of the dangers and the preventive measures. They say the mettle of a nation can only be tested in times of crises. Bhutan is facing that crises today, and facing it with confidence. The strength of this country and the ability of its people to confront such unforeseen calamities is consecrated in the unshakeable faith which the people have placed in their beloved King. He has won their hearts with his charm, and their trusts with empathy and compassion. His Majesty has galvanised the entire population into a nation of foot soldiers proudly marching behind his footsteps.
The steely resolve of the people of this country is the result of the resolute efforts of our King and his creative ideas. The effulgence of a new dawn began with the coronation of His Majesty The King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. It was a momentous moment of history which brought into focus the extraordinary gift of leadership and character possessed by the Druk Gyalpo. It also revealed the essence of the man: a person whose vision for the future was fuelled by his dreams and powered by his foresight. His Majesty could foresee the digital revolution changing the world. He could feel the urgency of revamping the education system with greater emphasis on science and technology and the need to strengthen the backbone of the country with good governance. Institutions like RIGSS were specifically created to impart to the bureaucrats a deeper understanding of their responsibilities. A militia of trained volunteers, who came to be known as De-Suups, the Guardians of Peace, were raised to support the government personnel in times of unforeseen disasters. The national health care system was further strengthened and given the additional task of preparing for epidemics and other unforeseen contingencies. These tasks were implemented with fierce urgency. We are prepared today only because of the measures taken yesterday.
Despite the hurdles the lockdown must have created, no one was allowed to suffer any extreme hardship. The garbage van invariably arrived on time. The sorely needed vegetables reached us just when our supplies started to dwindle. FCBL was mandated to supply all essential commodities to all people at all times, and they never lost sight of that credo. While we sleep comfortably in our homes, our heart goes out to the hundreds of FCBL workers, officials as well as fellow workers, who are toiling day and night to ensure that the vegetables are delivered to every household on time. Even the CEO and the directors of FCBL are lending
a helping hand. They are all there, merrily eating and sleep- ing in the FCBL complex so that they are available for duty at all times. They voluntarily opted for these jobs: for them this is a lifetime opportunity to serve their country and their beloved King. No less is the contribution of the health workers who are spending sleepless nights to cover the tracks of Covid patients and test thousands of suspects for the slightest sign of the disease. Then there are the De-Suups, who are seen everywhere, involved in all the multifarious activities. They are always there within easy reach to help the old and the feeble. They are there helping with medication and food deliveries and securing the borders against infiltrators and intruders.
For the homeless coming in from Jaigaon, the army built 6,000 apartments in record time. The army personnel are always at the forefront of any emergency that may arise. Only recently four of these fearless soldiers lost their lives while rescuing some people who were stranded in the midst of a river in full spate. They are the ones who are ever ready to make such sacrifices. While all these activities were going on at a hectic pace, the police force was busy ensuring compliance with their smile and polite words. The members of the task force heading the Covid-19 team were charged with the planning and execution of all activities, which must be undertaken to meet this challenge. They synchronised the entire gamut of the intricate and divergent aspects of these operations with clockwork precision. This is a team, comprising of the best brains the country can produce, nothing can come better. We are also fortunate to have a Prime Minister who is a doctor by profession. His knowledge and advice is an integral part of the drive by the government launched to contain the spread of the dreaded coronavirus and he is carrying out that task with “surgical precision”. The way Bhutan has handled and contained this pandemic is a matter of pride not only for our own people but also for the international community.
We were quite apprehensive about the rumoured lockdown which was about to take place. When it did occur, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the logistics for supply of food and vegetables, to every household both in urban and rural areas, were already in place. When some of our friends from across the border telephoned to enquire about the lockdown, they were shocked to hear that no one was facing any hardship due shortage of food. The government had taken care of it. How- ever, what they found amazing and unbelievable was the fact that the government had not only ensured uninterrupted supply of food and provisions for the people, they had also ensured that the stray dogs on the street did not go hungry. Things that we take for granted looks quite different from the other side of the table.
But the towering figure behind this story is that of His Majesty The King. It was his vision and foresight, which energised the people to reach out to one another and present a cohesive and united front. Whereas the Kidu of land went a long way towards alleviation of poverty, the Kidu of cash subsidy in the form of monthly allowances sustained the lives of thousands of nationals who had lost their livelihood. The compassion and empathy, which His Majesty bestowed on the people, percolated down to the lowest rung of the society. Just as they received it from the bountiful hands of His Majesty, they too felt obliged to offer it to their neighbours and to their needy countrymen. The sudden lockdown had deprived many of the opportunity to stock up on their immediate needs. It was heartening the see neighbours stepping up to share their provisions, ensuring that no one went to bed with hunger in their bellies. I was pleasantly surprised to see my own neighbours coming forward to offer me home cooked food and any other assistance that I may require.
His Majesty has enthused the nation with grit and determination and enabled them to meet these formidable challenges. The capability
of this nation, which could launch its own satellites, can never be underestimated and the resolve of the people to confront this pandemic can never be undermined. His Majesty was always at the forefront. The frenetic pace of activity required His Majesty’s presence at diverse junctures. He was perpetually on the move, moving like the wind, from once place to another, just to ensure that you and
I remain safe. His presence was the greatest motivating factor for the frontline workers and the greatest source of inspiration for the entire nation. During his speech His Majesty had pledged never to rule but always to serve, and today he has redeemed that pledge. Nothing stood in the way, not even the need to be present at the birth of Their Majesties’ second son. We can never recompense him for the sacrifices His Majesty has made, but we can fulfil his dreams with some of our own sacrifices.