…quarantine period increased to 21 days
In what could come as a solace to many Bhutanese, the partner of the index case, who tested positive earlier, have now tested negative to the virus.
Health minister Dechen Wangmo during a press briefing yesterday, said that the American woman who was undergoing treatment at the isolation ward at the national referral hospital tested negative on March 23 and 24.
Following the test, the 57-year-old woman has been placed under observation for seven days. Lyonpo said that as per the regulations, if she shows no symptoms within these seven days, she would qualify as recovered.
This means that by April 1, Bhutan could have its first Covid-19 recovered patient.
Lyonpo also shared that the two Bhutanese who tested positive to the virus after returning from Europe have started treatment for the symptoms.
The patients at the isolation ward are given the same antiviral regime that is used in Japan, Singapore and Thailand.
Even as some people in the quarantine centres were planning to request the government if they could continue the remaining days of quarantine at their respective homes, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering yesterday announced that the quarantine period would be increased by seven more days starting today.
This means that those people entering the quarantine centres today would now have to stay inside the designated facility for 21 days upon their arrival in the country.
For those who are already inside the facilities, the 21 day will be counted from the number of days they have been in quarantine so far.
Lyonchhen said that the decision was made considering the highest preventive approach the government has taken so far to prevent the disease from entering the country.
He said that as the surveillance picks up more cases from the quarantine facilities, this is one of the ways to minimise the possibilities.
Although incubation period for Covid-19 ranges from 2-14 days, the average being around five days, there are reports of a few ‘outliers’ around the world and this strategy is to pick such cases, Lyonchhen said.
In a Facebook post addressing all those who are in the quarantine centres, Lyonchhen wrote, “We understand it must have come as a dampening news for most of you in the quarantine facilities, who eagerly waited to meet your family and loved ones upon your return to the country.”
“Given the life we are used to, it is not easy to be confined in a room for even a day, let alone for three weeks. But this has become the necessity of the hour,” he wrote.
Lyonchhen said that those people staying in the quarantine facilities are equally serving the country in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. “As grateful as we are to all the health officials and others in the frontline, the sacrifices you are making are no less.”
The Prime Minister also added that while many have braved the situation in solidarity, anyone inside the quarantine requiring support should call the counsellors listed on the Prime Minister’s Office Facebook page.
“These are challenging times and it is not just us but the entire world that is living through this unprecedented journey. But for Bhutan, we have our biggest assurance and comfort in His Majesty The King who is selflessly looking after the people.”
He added, “So when you walk out of that room at the end of 21 days, hold your head high for you have done your part in serving your King and the country. For now, along with the people of Bhutan, I will pray for your good health.”
Meanwhile, the driver and guide, the primary contacts of the index patient and second positive case were released from the quarantine facility on March 29 after testing negative on their fifth test.
The other driver and guide of the Hong Kong tourist were also released on the same day after testing negative twice and upon the completion of their respective quarantine period.
The ministry have tested and released 124 people from the quarantine centres so far.
Aircraft not chartered, say officials
Phub Dem | Paro
Ninety-three medical students from Sri Lanka were welcomed with a surprise at the Paro International Airport yesterday. They left Sri Lanka prepared for the two-week mandatory quarantine, but learnt on arriving, that it has been increased to 21 days.
While some students applauded the government’s decision to increase the quarantine period, others were worried.
A few students said that if they knew the quarantine period was extended, they would have stayed back in their college.
A girl said that she was worried if her college would resume studies before they complete the quarantine period. “Internationally the quarantine period is two weeks, we cannot change the fact reasoning some exceptional cases which were detected positive after 14 days,” she said.
She said that some students, especially final year students, stayed back because they were not sure about the reopening of the college and with the fear that they might miss classes.
A third-year medical student of General Sir John Kotelawala Defense University said that they were taught that the incubation period was 14 days. “The Prime Minister being an expert in the medical field must have extended it with certain reasons,” she said
Some students said that they were willing to intern and help the medical staff especially in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Even though we are third-year medical students, if given a chance we are ready to serve the country,” a student said.
A parent of a medical student in Sri Lanka, Tshering Dorji coordinated to bring home all 182 medical students after many parents requested him.
He said that the process was taxing. “Even though the government was willing to pay the cost, we requested the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to facilitate the evacuation with parents willing to bear the cost.”
Initially, two flights were arranged with a boarding capacity of 126 each since parents of 139 medical students agreed to evacuate their children.
He said that the operational cost of two flights, when divided among 139 students, came around Nu 37,200.
However, at the last minute, only 93 students registered.
“As 93 students could be accommodated in one flight, the other was cancelled and the cost reduced,” he said. The excess amount was refunded yesterday.
He said that the students came with parents undertaking and that everything was sorted out including informing the students about the opening of college one to two weeks ahead of time.
Deputy General Manager of the commercial department, Bhutan Airlines, Sonam Yangchen, said that the company charged only the operational cost, which includes fuel, direct maintenance, ground landing and crew.
She said that the flight couldn’t be categorised as a chartered flight because there was no profit.
Each passenger paid Nu 29,851.61 as fixed cost.
Meanwhile, swab sample of a passenger showing flu-like symptom was sent to the Royal Centre for Disease Control at Serbithang, Thimphu for testing.
To ease crowding and taxis competing for lesser number of passengers, taxis will ply based on the even and odd number all over the country. The rule came into force yesterday afternoon.
The Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) initiated this as a measure to ensure social distancing after the government announced the importance of maintaining distance while travelling.
The government on March 28 announced restriction on the carrying capacity of taxis and passenger buses. It was decided that a four-seater taxi would carry only two passengers and the number of passengers in public buses was slashed by 50 percent. Taxis with a seating capacity of eight people can carry only four.
RSTA has come out with a standard operating procedure (SOP) to ensure the proper implementation of the rule. RSTA’s Officiating Director General, Ugyen Norbu, said that they have distributed the SOP on physical distancing to all the traffic authorities around the country on March 29.
The taxi association and relevant authorities were also briefed about the new rule in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak. Traffic police said that they had been explaining the rules to taxi drivers and bus operators, as this is a new rule.
To reach out the information to all the taxi drivers around the country would be challenging for the Bhutan Taxi Association, as some of the drivers have not registered with the association.
Officials said that registered divers would get all the information from their group’s WeChat. Sharing information by registered drivers would be only solution to spread the message to all the taxi drivers, as per officials.
Taxi drivers, meanwhile are not happy.
A driver, Sonam Thinley, said that the taxi drivers had been incurring loss due to the coronavirus problem. “Now we struggle to get Nu 500 a day.”
Another driver, Man Bhadur Waiba, said that it is difficult to sustain at the moment. He said a trip from town to Olakha with a fare on Nu 35 per passenger brought them only Nu 70. “By the time we move from the town, we have to pay Nu 10 as a parking fee and the net amount becomes only Nu 60,” he said. “While returning, we hardly get passengers. Drivers are worried about house rent, vehicle loans and family expenditure.”
As per the SOP, taxi drivers are not allowed to increase the fare.
Another driver, Tashi Gyeltshen suggested carrying at least three passengers.
“If we are allowed only two passengers, government should keep the provision to increase the fare from the normal rate. Waiving off parking fee for taxi could be one solution to,” said Tashi Gyeltshen.
The SOP would be implemented until further notice from the government and not complying with it would be charged as per the law.
The public at the bus terminals and the taxi parking are required to maintain a distance of 1.5 metres while waiting for bus or taxi.
Covid-19 is going to change the way we plan our future. When it is finally gone away, we would be reacting to home and world events very differently. We will have become a little wiser.
We have been struggling to revolutionise our education system for some time now. Not many years ago, we tried our hands on online and tele-education. It did not take off because growing out of the old system was difficult for many. But then we are doing very well all of a sudden because we are compelled to.
There are complaints from parents and students. This is natural in the beginning. It takes getting used to. Many already have positive reviews regarding tele-education that we have had to start in the wake of Covid-19 threat.
Soon we will be able to figure out what we lack and where we need to focus on. Done right, online and tele-education will come with great benefit in the long run. ICTisation of education will be a reality. When all these things come together, driving our education system for the 21st century needs will be easy.
These are the opportunities that we have today and we should make the most out of them. But success will depend largely on connectivity and access. These infrastructure challenges will have to be dealt with beforehand. Will our children in rural areas, for example, be able to take advantage of these changes?
Besides providing wider learning horizon to students, online and tele-education have the potential to also address the problem of teacher shortage in the country. We would have dedicated and highly motivated teachers in the cadre and they can be retained with good pay. Expenses on school infrastructure, which have recently grown by many folds because of myopic political decisions, can be cut down significantly.
We are talking only about education. Covid-19 will have changed the outlook and the behaviour of all the sectors in the country. Businesses will be looking at their efficiency and sustainability very differently. The government offices will hopefully have become more responsible and caring when it comes to public service delivery. But then the greatest opportunity lies in changing our education system altogether.
Investment will be vitally important in this sector.
About 16 members of a farmer’s group in Drujyegang gewog, Dagana, called the Thuenpa Puenzhi Soenam Detsen, contributed one tonne each of cabbage and cauliflower to the government. The vegetables loaded in two Bolero pick up trucks would reach Thimphu tomorrow.
The vegetables are meant for the hotels used as quarantine facilities.
Bhutan Telecom, TaschiCell and the information and communication ministry have identified a time-slot based access for students to ensure students have access to the online education.
With a time-slot based access, students can access the network during the low use periods in the two companies’ network and avoid the peak use periods that are generally in the afternoon.
The ministry (MoIC) is also exploring other ways and means to restrict student access to only educational resources through these special accounts. “This is done to avoid network congestion using mobile internet while allowing online learning to take place.”
Details on the time-slot and mobile data packages are being decided and will soon be announced.
MoIC is working with the education ministry and the telecom service providers to facilitate data access for eLearning for students across the country.
Since online education has become a priority, accessibility and affordability of mobile Internet for students has become essential. “We are therefore working with the telecom service providers to design a special Internet tariff for students to access online education,” a press release from MoIC stated.
“However, we must do so in a planned manner to avoid network congestion which would otherwise make the network unusable for everyone.”
The primary means of accessing the internet is through the mobile network in Bhutan.
There are other technologies such as fiber optics, and broadband to access the Internet. However, the majority of these connections are in public offices and businesses. This does not help when people are trying to avoid gatherings and are staying at home.
The demand for internet capacities over the mobile network has increased significantly following the Covid-19 global pandemic, and the telecom service operators are already reporting increasing congestion in parts of their network, the ministry stated.
The demand for internet capacities is expected to increase, as more and more people choose to work from home. Similarly, the use of online entertainment platforms, including video streaming and video conferences would also increase pressure on the finite capacity of the existing mobile internet infrastructure.
More congestion expected
The existing mobile infrastructure is not designed for such unplanned demand and will invariably result in congestion, similar to when there are huge gatherings like national celebrations and sporting events.
“If we allow such unplanned use of the network it will become congested across the country and unusable for everyone. Therefore the ministry in consultation with the telecom service providers, plans to adopt measures to use the available capacity optimally while reducing congestion that would make the network unusable.”
The ministry stated that Bhutan is not alone in facing internet infrastructure congestion amid the global outbreak of Covid-19.
“Around the world, authorities are facing similar challenges as a result of an unanticipated spike in demand for internet access amid the current Covid-19 global pandemic.” Countries such as China and Italy, it stated, have experienced up to 70 percent increase in their total mobile network capacity, which no mobile operator would plan for.
While the ministry is exploring more measures to avoid congestion in the national internet infrastructure in close collaboration with the telecom service providers, ISPs and TV cable operators, the public is requested to take more responsibility in their online habits given the current situation.
The ministry is asking parents and students to responsibly use the internet for online education.
The ministry stated that it would ensure that telecom service providers closely monitor the usage of the internet infrastructure to better understand the usage trends and adjust their existing resources accordingly for the optimal benefit of the people of Bhutan.
UNDP Bhutan and the Loden Foundation have come up with a different strategy to support the government’s response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Called the Loden-UNDP Bhutan Covid-19 Response Fund, the special funding window calls for innovative business proposals from Bhutanese individuals and groups.
According to a joint press release, the business proposal should be on how to directly address challenges and problems in the country, as a result of Covid-19 pandemic. Individuals or groups, after selection, could avail interest and collateral free loan support of up to Nu 1.5 Million per project.
“We need to pay attention to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly on vulnerable individuals,” Resident Representative to UNDP Bhutan, Azusa Kubota said.
“That is why we are working with Loden to help mitigate the social and economic consequences and social crisis of the pandemic.”
The press release also stated that this will not only let young people make concrete contributions, but also support Bhutan’s collective efforts to build resilience in the society and economy.
“At a time of crisis, we all feel helpless. One of the most effective ways to gain a sense of empowerment is to be part of the solution,” Azusa Kubota said.
The applicants are expected to explain how to address the problems and challenges imposed on Bhutan through agricultural production, job creation, or tackling emerging needs using innovation, technology and nature-based solutions.
Startups and existing businesses that have potential for upscaling can also apply. A select panel of judges will also review proposals every Friday until the call for proposal is withdrawn.
The application process will be done online and on the phone in support of calls for physical distancing to combat the spread of Covid-19.
The prime minister says he would be the happiest if landlords volunteer
The government is wishing that some landlords will show their benevolent side by voluntarily waiving a few months’ house rents for tenants affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The government estimates that up to 12,000 employees could have lost their jobs. Hotel operators and nightclubs that pay high rents also remain affected due to loss of business.
“I would be the happiest person if some house owners volunteer to forgo a few months’ rents,” Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said at the meet the press on March 27. “But I can only make such requests to house owners as the government cannot make such rules,” he said.
Dr Lotay Tshering said that benevolent gestures would be appreciated the most during difficult times as the Covid-19 pandemic. “The government will appreciate such gestures from landlords. More than us, the public will be thankful,” the prime minister said.
He cited a welcoming development where a hotel operator in Thimphu with 22 staff had come forward to offer monetary support to the government.
“The hotel operator also assured us that he would not lay off the employees despite the loss to his business. He wanted to take care of the employees even if it would force him sell his inherited properties,” he said.
The prime minister said that the government could not ask landlords to forgo house rents.
He said landlords risk their houses being taken by the bank for inability to deposit loan instalments on time. “The government hasn’t invested in their buildings,” he said.
House owners say that such measures are possible only if the banks defer the payment of loan instalments.
However, observers say that rent waivers by many house owners during such a difficult time are actually possible as not all the tenants of a landlord would be affected by loss of jobs.
A Thimphu-based hotel operator recently left the business due to loss of income. “I don’t know when the tourism will be opened again. I am looking for other options,” she said.
About 700 tour guides, mostly freelancers, have registered with the Guides Association of Bhutan (GAB), seeking alternative sources of income.
The GAB expects to deploy the laid-off guides soon, according to the GAB’s executive director, Sonam Tashi.
The prime minister also said that some affected companies had started sending their employees on unpaid leave. He requested the employers not to take such decisions.
Dr Lotay Tshering said sending employees on unpaid leave was equivalent to laying them off. The government, he said, would provide support to affected business enterprises.
“The business houses made profits with the support of those employees during good times. If they manage to take care of their employees by bearing some loss during such times, the government will provide further support,” he said.
The prime minister said that while business houses and persons were looking for government support, they should also reciprocate.
The labour ministry, which is looking into the issue, has notified that any employer laying off their employee must comply with the labour and employment Act.
According to the Act, an employer laying off employees must submit a written notification to the chief labour administrator.
Neten Dorji | Trashigang
Although Trashigang town is not as busy as it used to be and local businesses are affected by Covid-19, retailers claim they have all required essential items.
Daejung Tshongkhang, a whole seller in Trashigang town, stocked 48 metric tonnes (MT) of rice that would last for three months. Another grocery shop, Pema Bakery has stocked 24MT of rice in his new store at Melphey, Trashigang.
A proprietor of Daejung Tshongkhang, Wangchuk Tenzin, said after border gate was sealed, people rushed for essential food items. “I sold trucks of rice but it became normal now. People might have understood the message of the government.”
He stocked all essentials items after trade officials asked him to keep enough stocks.
Wangchuk Tenzin said that after the border was sealed, he stopped selling item in large quantities. “It would be a problem if we sell in bulk. It is mainly for national food security reason,” he said. “It’s our responsibilities to distribute equally at this time.”
Owner of Pema Bakery, Yeshi Lhamo, doesn’t have enough space in her store and opened a new store at Melphey area to stock more essentials items.
The only problem Yeshi Lhamo said was the inflated cost of transportation, as truck charges about Nu 55,000 to reach load to Trashigang from Phuntsholing via Thimphu, which is more than triple the charge of Nu 15000 via Samdrupjongkhar.
“We are told that there were no laborers to load goods from Samdrupjongkhar,” she said. “We don’t have any other options than paying the charges.”
She said she doesn’t sell in larger quantities as items.
There are four FCB depots in Trashigang. More than 200MT of rice, 33.01MT of edible oil and 16.056MT of salts were stocked.
FCB’s depot manager in Trashigang, Tshering Yangtsho, said people need not worry, as depots would received more essential items.
He said that they are selling as per guidelines of national food security reserve, where a household would get two 25kg of rice bags, five litres of edible oil, a packet of everyday milk powder and one kg of salt per day.
In Trashiyangtse, a grocery shop owner, Ten Dorji, said people in the dzongkhag need not worry as Food Corporation of Bhutan stocked enough food items.
He said stocked items in shops would also last for about two months.
Shopkeepers said they stopped selling goods in large quantities.
There is no clue on the two monks who went missing on Friday, March 27.
The monks, aged 18 and 16 of Trashigang Rabdey, were found missing at 8pm while taking attendance in the Lhakhang after the evening prayer. The monks were at the Gomphukora Lhakhang for their usual rituals.
“The monk were best friends and from the same village,” said a source.
A search team member said that there is possibility of the monks being washed away by the river. They found the belongings including robes, slippers and wallets on the banks of Drangmechu, 150 meters away from Gomphukora Lhakhang.
The rescue team that includes police, Desssups, Taxi driver, Red Cross volunteers and dzongkhag officials are searching along the Drangmechhu.
The world now has close to 700,000 Covid-19 positive cases. The number of countries affected by the pandemic stands at 199.
We also know that the world still does not have specific medicine to prevent or treat the disease. According to WHO, possible vaccines and specific drug treatments are being tested through clinical trials. This means the pandemic will continue to affect many societies and communities around the world.
In the face of such a threat, the only sensible thing to do is providing care to the affected people. It has been found that most patients recover where there is supportive care. In Bhutan, free healthcare has been the biggest advantage, but as imported cases grow supportive care will become expensive.
What is heartening at such difficult times is the support that people showing. Many individuals and businesses are contributing in cash and kind to help the government fight the pandemic. Those who can afford are bearing the expenses of facility quarantine. Many offices are preparing for the worse but there is no need to make contributions compulsory.
The kind of success we have achieved in preventing the disease is thanks largely to compliance. Bhutanese people are taking health advisories to heart. And that is very important. In the countries where positives cases are growing rapidly, the problem has been with people’s reluctance to adhere to health and travel warnings.
What we need to know is that we have only imported cases. With stringent measures in place in the country, there is no danger of the disease spreading like wildfire. We should keep it this way and this can only happen with personal care. Travel less. Avoid crowd. Maintain hygiene. Clean your hands frequently, cover your cough with the bend of elbow or tissue, and maintain a distance of at least 1 metre (3 feet) from people who are coughing or sneezing. These are the only tested ways to keep ourselves safe from the disease.
Bhutan is unlikely to come to the situation that some countries are currently faced with. However, we cannot take the problem lightly. That is why the kind of support people are willing to give the government is encouraging.
Even though their businesses have been badly affected, hoteliers are helping the government by making space for facility quarantine. In the days to come, we might need more. Restaurateurs small and big are delivering meals. Those in the transport sector are all set to provide emergency services free.
Most important, the big names in the business are planning big.
It is at such trying times that the Bhutanese show the best in them. With such positivity, tackling Covid-19 ought not to be intractable.
Contributions in cash and kind are welcome but we must not make it mandatory.
Rajesh Rai | Samtse
On Friday, at around 10:35pm, Ramesh Kumar Ghalley received an unexpected call from his brother. He was told to urgently dig up the earth from his courtyard and look for coal.
A paste out of it would ward away coronavirus (Covid-19) if smeared on the forehead, he was told.
Ramesh dug up his courtyard and found some black soil, which he believed was coal. He and his wife made a paste and smeared before going to bed again. The couple also smeared their children’s forehead while they were still sleeping.
This was a rumour that spread as fast as the Covid-19 fake news in remote village of Khenpagaon in Tading gewog, Samtse. Villagers were told that they should dig the courtyard below the roof edges of their houses and unearth coal. The coal paste was to be smeared on the forehead to be immune to the Covid-19. Villagers told Kuensel that a great lama had spelled this for the safety of people as the lama couldn’t reach all the places across the country.
“I asked my brother if it could be done in the morning,” Ramesh, 58, said, adding his brother explained him it was the last day.
For one whole day on March 27, villagers were busy digging for the “coal”.
Ramesh’s brother En Bahadur Ghalley said he got the news from his sister.
“I dug and found the black substances and used it as advised,” he said.
Pema Wangmo knew about it on March 28 morning from a villager. She was dejected because nobody shared it with her.
However, she was able to get the coal dirt and she smeared it on everyone’s forehead in her family.
Tara Maya Ghalley said she doesn’t know much about the virus but heard that it was a disease that has killed many people. She also used the coal.
Meanwhile, villagers realized it was a hoax. Everything has returned to normal in Khenpagaon. The rumour had spread to other villages. In Ngawang Dramtoe, most Doyaps had also dug up their courtyards in search for the coal.
Tading gup Jagath Bahadur Ghalley said that everything is under control.
“We were also on duty. We told villagers it was a fake news and not to believe or panic,” he said.
The gup also said they have advised people to not gather and not to believe in any rumours or fake news until there are some government notices.
Within six hours after the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) uploaded a google form yesterday afternoon, 216 people working in the tourism and hospitality industry registered online for employment as of 6:45pm yesterday.
This is part of an employment support scheme TCB worked in collaboration with its partners in government and private sector for those working in the industry and were severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
TCB stated that while the government would make the formal announcement of the scheme through the economic stimulus plan, they are initiating the online registration so that they could pilot the online registration and improve it if necessary.
Those registered, according to TCB officials, would be provided with temporary jobs and other engagement projects during the travel restriction period and until tourism returns to normal.
The job seekers are expected to be employed in four areas of work, which includes infrastructure and manufacturing, surveys, studies or services, training and reskilling and waste management.
Of the 216 people registered as of yesterday evening, 81.5 percent were male and 18.5 percent female. The highest number of those registered are guides making it 67.6 percent followed by those working in hotels at 15.2 percent.
With more than 57.7 percent choosing survey, studies and services, it is the most preferred job followed by 26.6 percent choosing training and reskilling and 9.9 percent choosing infrastructure and manufacturing, according to TCB officials.
TCB urges everyone interested to register at the earliest so that jobs and similar engagement works could be started. “While we are targeting full-time salaried employees of tourism, others could also apply but they would have to work in one of the four areas.”
Meanwhile, a tour guide said he has opted for survey, studies or services and he hopes it starts soon. “As of now, it is just a registration. I have families to feed and am getting desperate.”
Bhutan Airlines will bring home 93 students from Sri Lanka today.
According to a source, the parents chattered the flight paying Nu 37,000 each. The flight is expected to land today at 4pm.
Meanwhile, Drukair’s new airbus A5-JKW brought home 140 passengers –138 students, one dependent and a minor—studying in Lovely Professional University in Punjab.
The Bhutanese students boarded the flight from Chandigarh on March 28.
The college was closed on March 13 and since then the students were in the college expecting classes to resume soon.
With the lockdown in India, the deputy officer of international affairs of LPU said that special arrangements were made to transfer students from college campus to Chandigarh.
She said that free transportation along with 15 members of LPU including medical staff, administrative officers, and security officials, among others.
Although many believed it was a special flight, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had issued a notification on March 27 stating that the Drukair organised the flight to Chandigarh for a specific government purpose with special approval from the Indian government.
It states that since the flight will return empty from Chandigarh, special approval has also been obtained from the Government of India to bring as many Bhutanese as can be accommodated in the aircraft.
Taking advantage of its capacity, Drukair brought home 140 Bhutanese from Chandigarh; tickets were sold on a first come first serve basis.
Due to the lockdown in India, the Indian authorities allowed the movement of people from one location to Chandigarh airport only.
“It is not an evacuation flight,” states the press release.
According to Sonia Giri, the students had been studying online through University Management Portal which provides access to study materials. Students can also submit their projects through the portal.
Usually the college had mid-term exams around this time of the year, however, with the lockdown the exam was also postponed until further notice.
However, there are still more than 80 students in the college.
“We are hopeful that both governments would help to evacuate the remaining students in the college,” she said.
Five swab samples from those who had flu-like symptoms were sent to the Royal Centre for Disease Control for testing.
The recent directives from the government to encourage farmers in all dzongkhags to increase the production of food items could be a small but significant step. It has been long overdue.
I grew up in a self-sufficient home where my family did not import anything except salt and clothes. Same narratives have come to us through the voices of the elders and the pages of history, but it appears like a joke today due to our policy errors.
It was a national shame that in the aftermath of the rupee crisis in 2012, chili made it to the list of smuggled goods in Bhutan and, today, one kilogram of chili cost Nu 300. We imported 10,454 metric tonnes (MT) of vegetables, worth Nu 152.96 million (M) in six months from January to July 2019 while we were busy making posters about Organic Bhutan or drafting 21st-century paper perfect economic blueprint. No one is responsible for it and the reasons and excuses are plenty: hydropower myopia, climate change, the drying up of springs and water bodies, land degradation, pests and disease, rural-urban migration, and the list goes on.
But the real reason for the current situation of Bhutanese agriculture is because we take vegetables from Falakatta for granted. We make investments of billions of ngultrums in all the sectors except in agriculture. This is compounded by the misguided policy of acquiring prime agricultural land for urban expansion. Chhanjiji, Olakha-Babesa, Semtokha, Hejo, Bajo, Debsi, Taba, Khuruthang were prime agricultural land that we have lost to urbanisation. Bajo township was built on the land that housed the erstwhile Centre for Agriculture Research and Development (CARD) that complemented the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)-funded Punakha-Wangdue Valley Development project. Instead of building on the foundations of such noble projects, the area became a model township with same buildings and centre of controversial sand mining business to fuel urban development on agricultural lands on other parts of Bhutan.
It is not incorrect to say that our new towns export nothing but import everything to sustain it from chips to meats to vegetables to clothes to carbonated drinks. Most of the infrastructure and buildings in these towns are built by the masons and carpenters from India, adding to the informal leakage of the revenue earned from tourism and hydropower.
We have been investing in the industrial estates and since 2006 with limited success and questionable sustainability. Bondeyma in Mongar, Jigmeling in Sarpang, Dhamdum in Samtse, Montanga in Samdrupjongkhar cost government Nu 2,450 million and many are yet to take off.
Given the geopolitical situation in our region, investment in agriculture must be seen an opportunity. Agriculture is an integral part of our culture, the foundation that supported the claims that Bhutan has always been an independent nation. Our directives need to be supported by policy actions. Bhutan can learn and do better than Falakatta or Sikkim that share similar climatic conditions like ours. Our policymakers must not just make a one day visit to these places for Facebook photographs but aspire for Sarpang-Gelephu, Sibsoo-Samtse, Bhangtar-Daifam, Punakha-Wangdue, Thimphu-Paro Agricultural Corporations. Such an investment will not only mitigate the imported and inorganic vegetable flooding in the markets of Bhutan but, more importantly, reinforce our sovereignty and food security.
Institutions like the College of Natural Resources, National Research and Development Centre for Aquaculture and Centre of Rural Development can collaborate with North Bengal Agricultural University and improve on University-Industry partnership concepts like Experimental Farms, Farmer’s Clubs and Organisations. The investment arm of the government, DHI, must incorporate agriculture as an important avenue to strengthen Bhutan in the next decade. It must look to invest in agricultural economics in coordination with agencies like MoEA, MoAF, FCB and the financial institutions to expedite the self-reliance project. DHI’s investment in a dairy plant in Chenary in Trashigang is a good example.
Above all, the government must urgently declare agriculture an all-time national agenda.
Contributed by, Dhrubaraj Sharma
2nd year PhD student
Queensland University of Technology, Australia
In the wake of Coronavirus (Covid – 19) relentless momentum at its pinnacle, every country in the world has shaken over how the pandemic has crushed the global economy, more severe than the ‘Spanish flu of 1918’, ‘oil crises of 1973’ and ‘Ebola outbreak of 2014’.
The epicentre of an outbreak of Covid – 19 has shifted from China in Asia towards Europe and now spiking in the United States of America, while the cases are sharply increasing in our neighbouring country India on a daily basis.
Though the Covid – 19 cases in Bhutan are contained at the moment, with the return of Bhutanese studying and working abroad in particular from Europe, the USA, and other countries, the chances of Covid – 19 cases are likely to increase in the current situation.
His Majesty the King, the Government, Hospitals, Health Professionals and Health Experts are stretching to the breaking point to transform the course of this pandemic in our Country. It has been succeeded thus far following the footsteps of severe measures that countries like South Korea, Japan, and even China have followed and achieved to break the chain of Pandemic. It is achieved mainly through rapid testing, quarantine, and isolation of patients in addition to an early lockdown of the outbreak epicentres.
During this situation, while the Government is taking every measure to contend the Covid– 19, let we wholeheartedly support every effort of the Government gracefully and undergo quarantine for the safety of oneself, for the safety of our own family members, for the safety of our society, for the safety of our community and for the safety of our Nation.
As we are all aware of a high cost and economic burden to the Government during this isolation, quarantine and lockdown period. Still, we are standing behind glaring at each other and leaning towards the Government to completely fund us rather than taking initiatives to fund ourselves for our family members or kinsman in the quarantine units instead. What a shame? I opine that more than 80 percent of the parents of the students and the people who are in the quarantine unit today can afford to pay on their own. Our fellow communities and friends, can we take ‘One Step Forward’ and grasp this as an opportunity to serve Tsa-Wa-Sum by sharing the cost and reduce the economic burden to the Government.
Your small contribution and a sacrifice could pile up a huge to make a difference in curving the current situation as to Julia Carney’s immortal line “Little drops of water, little grains of sand, makes the mighty ocean, and the pleasant land”.
No doubt that the economic downturn caused by Covid – 19 has brought hiccups in our business communities too, like elsewhere around the world and often we hear loud voices for the economic stimulus plan from the Government to support them immediately. Consider the current situation in Business as a regular phenomenon as there are always ‘boom and bust’ in business and prepare to absorb this momentary shock.
Our fellow business communities, can we wait for a moment and gaze carefully on the timeline of our business rather than jumping and asking for support from the Government during this most difficult time. Look carefully at your business trends on the windfall of profits of the past, take ‘One Step Forward’ and utilise a percentage of your past profit to sustain your business during this current situation.
The John F Kennedy, the 35th US President’s said, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. Let us not ask rather serve Tsa-Wa-Sum wholeheartedly.
There is no time to waste and this is not a time to stand still and lean towards the Government for support. This is the time to come and take ‘One Step Forward’, follow the footsteps of His Majesty the King, the Government, the People, and the Nation to fight collectively against Covid – 19 during this most difficult time.
Your ‘One Step Forward’ can break the chain of this Pandemic, together as one we can succeed, we can win!
Contributed by Nar Bahadur Khatiwora,
A family of six lost all their belongings in a fire in Dekiling, Bumthang on March 28.
The fire broke around 3 am.
It was learnt that the family recently bought basic necessities worth of Nu 50,000 including mobile phone procured for e-learning for the kids.
The father while trying to contain the fire suffered minor burn injuries on the right hand.
The cause of the fire is not known and its under investigation.
It took around three hours for the Police, local residents, and desuups to contain the fire.
Meanwhile the dzongkhag administration handed His Majesty’s Semso to the victim.
Yangchen C Rinzin
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said it was not compulsory to teach students through e-learning and there was never a government directive asking to do so.
He emphasised, however, there was a need for students to continue learning.
This is the second time Lyonchhen has clarified the confusion surrounding e-learning in the wake of Covid-19 cases in the country. Following the closure of schools due to the pandemic since March 5 there have been hues and cries among teachers and parents on e-learning in different schools.
There are complaints on social media that children are bogged down with assignments. Some do not have access to internet or gadgets that facilitate e-learning. Many also complained that data charges were exorbitant.
Different schools have tried online education or e-learning through google classrooms and G Suite. Some of the schools are using social media applications like Wechat or WhatsApp where teachers assign students to read certain chapters and send questions. The children are then asked to answer the questions and send picture of their answers.
Many students in the remote parts of the country lack access to internet. Some do not own smartphone or television set. Parents are unable to afford gadgets to facilitate e-learning. Parents say that the new teaching method adopted by schools was more of like distance education where students are provided a list of reading materials, a chapter from textbooks without explaining basic concepts.
Working parents are also faced with problems. They find it difficult to monitor and help children learn. A mother of an 11-year-old, Yangki, said students were given several assignments and always landed up doing homework late into the night.
“We appreciate that teachers are trying to help and are doing their best, but they could reduce the assignment or questions,” she said.
Many also shared teachers should not evaluate students based on e-Learning, as some are doing.
Another parent, Tshering Dendup, said: “Schools can pick up from lessons from where it was left before March 5. More than considering to complete syllabus, the priority is the dire situation Covid-19 has created.”
Many, however, are of the view that such an initiative could be continued as learning experience and to contribute towards innovating e-learning platform and teacher-learning approach.
Considering the concerns raised by people, Lyonchhen said that the government might have to look into developing standard operating procedures on how to keep students engaged through e-learning.
“We did not give any directive to teach children through e-learning but teachers came forward with such initiatives for the well-being students,” Lyonchhen said. “Complaints indicate that parents are bogged down and should understand the value of teachers.”
Lyonchhen said there was no clear information on how to carry out e-learning.
“I do not support teaching through Wechat or WhatsApp although I support e-learning,” Lyonchhen said. “We’ll have to have one policy on how to go with e-learning.”
Lyonchhen expressed concerns that the government might have to look into how to cover such gaps so that children have access to e-learning.
However, an official from the education ministry, during a live interview, clarified that teachers should not give any assignments or homework through e-learning.
Official said that instead children could be helped or monitored and ensure they watch e-learning through Bhutan Broadcasting Service which began from yesterday. This is mainly to keep students engaged.
Education ministry issued a guideline to all the teacher yesterday stating that because of the need to prioritise the intent of the curriculum during an emergency situation, the schools for time being should stop teaching prescribed curriculum.
Teachers should instead implement Education in Emergency developed by Royal Education Council based on thematic approach and curriculum for respective key stages.
Many people also suggested that should the situation persist beyond April, the government should consider changing the school cycle. Some suggested making use of weekends and summer and winter vacations to continue school.
Others say that if worse comes to worst classes could be called off for the whole year because the priority right now is to keep students save.
“But education ministry can continue to engage students through online lessons. Losing one academic year will not have any major impact on the child,” a parent said.
Meanwhile, schools across the country are collecting data on how many students have access to internet, smart phones, and television.
Many have not filed their taxes
Business Income Tax (BIT) and Corporate Income Tax (CIT) filing for 2019 has been deferred until June 30.
As if they knew it was coming, not many paid the CIT or the BIT although the deadline to file the tax ends on March 31, two working days from today.
Those filing CIT and BIT have been asked to refer the guidelines at www.mof.gov.bt, the Department of Revenue and Customs (DRC) announced yesterday.
Out of the total of 426 registered CIT payers, only 86 had filed tax returns as of March 26, according to records with the revenue and customs department.
The number of those who filed their tax returns is smaller in the business category.
There are a total of 40,267 registered BIT payers (both those that submit accounts and that do not submit accounts). Out of the total only 21,342 have filed their tax returns.
Officials however clarified that some of the enterprises may not have operated.
The government yesterday announced that in view of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering announced this yesterday at the meet the press. “It’s fine if people do not file by the end of the regular deadline,” he said.
Business enterprises and registered companies file their tax returns on a self-assessed basis to the Regional Revenue and Customs Office (RCO) of registration with March 31 of every year. The tax returns can be either filed online or by visiting the RRCO.
An official from the department said that the department was yet to receive a formal directive from the government as of yesterday. He said that unlike in the past, he noticed late filling this year.
Corporations are levied a CIT of 30 percent on net profit. CIT is payable by those entities registered under the Company’s Act of the Kingdom of Bhutan.
BIT is a non-corporate business tax. It is also levied at the rate of 30 percent on net profit.
BIT is payable by all unincorporated business entities holding a trade license or registration certificate issued by the Ministry of Economic Affairs.
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Despite the complete lockdown ordered by the government of India, the second gate that connects Phuentsholing to the infamous Bau Bazaar in Jaigaon was a busy place yesterday.
Bolero pickup trucks and trucks carrying essential goods were continuously let in after disinfection. By evening, more than 200 vehicles had entered Phuentsholing.
These trucks brought in vegetables, other essential commodities, and raw materials for the Pasakha industrial estate. While the essential commodities and vegetables were directed to the mini dry port, the industrial bound trucks took the Northern Bypass road and headed straight to Pasakha.
The quantity may have reduced, but the import of vegetables and fruits are continuing. The lockdown may have caused some inconvenience, but the problem is only with shortage of labourers to unload and transfer the goods. With the lockdown, labourers who enter Phuentsholing for odd jobs were restricted.
On March 23, more than 600 labourers exited Phuentsholing.
However, the regional labour office deployed 66 unemployed youth and adults at the dry port to replace the lost hands. Labour officials said there are more jobless youth who would take up the job.
Depending on the load size, the groups are charging Nu 1,000 to Nu 5,000.
About 10 youth from a recovery volunteer group known as Happiness Centre Recovery Voluntary Group (HCRVG) in Phuentsholing has grabbed the opportunity to earn for the centre’s sustenance.
The centre’s co-founder Ugyen Dorji, 33, said they are working since March 26.
“We are charging Nu 1,200 to Nu 1500 for transferring goods to Bhutanese vehicles from the Indian vehicles,” he said, adding that it was a sustenance opportunity for the centre.
Grocery stores in Phuentsholing refilled their stocks yesterday with consignments arriving by the truckloads.
Hundreds of industrial bound trucks that were stuck across the border also entered Phuentsholing yesterday.
At a press conference yesterday, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that the government would ensure continuous supply of vegetables. He said the government had made special arrangements to ensure the supply of vegetables until the local produce could substitute.
The problem is not with supply, it is with transporters, he said.
“If there is shortage, I will go and bring the vegetables,” the prime minister said emphasizing that there is no need to panic or hoard vegetables.
By late afternoon yesterday, the farmer’s market saw truckloads of vegetables come from Phuentsholing. “People are unnecessarily panicking,” said a wholesale dealer. “There are enough for everyone and we keep receiving vegetables,” she said.
The only vegetable in short supply is chili. “There is no chili in the market,” said a vendor. “The chili that many bought thinking it was local is not local. With the import of vegetables scrutinised, chilies will not reach the market,” he said.