As of yesterday evening, 27 people in Phuentsholing tested positive for Covid-19 of which four cases were detected outside the RRCO’s mini dry port (MDP).
Health Minister Dechen Wangmo, during a live session on BBS television yesterday, said that the situation in Phuentsholing was deteriorating.
Given the situation, Lyonpo said that besides testing all the contacts of the positive cases from the MDP, the entire population in Phuentsholing will be tested.
“Upon the completion of the tests, we’d then know the extent of transmission and the pulse of the epidemic in the community.”
Of the 6,500 samples collected from the town in the past three day, about 5,000 samples were tested so far.
“So far we have four confirmed positive cases and 40 individuals who have tested positive on the rapid diagnostic test (RDT). This further established that Phuentsholing has a local transmission.”
Lyonpo said that the contacts of the index case from the MDP have been identified in 12 dzongkhags so far. Three individuals, contacts of positive cases in Phuentsholing, have tested positive in Paro. The latest was a 59-year-old man who was detected yesterday.
Lyonpo said that based on the extent of local transmission in the community, the priority would then be to prevent deaths from the virus. For this, she said that it was important to break the chain of transmission, which could be achieved only by following the lockdown protocol.
“We know that it has not been easy for the people of Phuentsholing but the priority now should be to break the chain of transmission. If we can stay inside our homes for 21 days, we can achieve this.”
The minister said that the surveillance team is facing a difficult time in tracing the contacts of the positive individuals mainly because the movement of people prior to the lockdown was extensive.
Although for now the situation in the capital remains comparatively lenient as compared to Phuentsholing, it could change anytime.
Lyonpo said that since Thimphu and Phuentsholing could be considered epidemiologically as a single unit given that more than 1,000 vehicles ply between these two commercial hubs daily.
Considering the threat, screening for the Thimphu residents is also underway starting with individuals who have visited the border town on or after August 1.
Lyonpo said that as of yesterday afternoon almost 800 people from Thimphu had registered by calling the toll-free number 1023. So far none have tested positive to the virus.
“Symptomatic individuals are tested first,” said the minister. “However, our aim is to test all those who have registered with us.”
Lyonpo also requested those who travelled to Phuentsholing to be honest with the travel history as many were seen registering in the hope to get tested even without recent (on or after August 1) travel to Phuentsholing.
She said should there be an indication of a local transmission in Thimphu, the community’s surveillance system would be activated whereby all the 130,000 plus population in the capital would be tested.
These are extraordinary times, said the minister. Following the preventive measures like wearing masks, maintaining social distance, regularly washing hands with soap should become the new normal henceforth.
“If individuals do not take the responsibility, we cannot control the spread of this disease,” the minister added.
Meanwhile, Lyonpo also clarified that all essential health services such as child immunisation programmes would continue despite the current situation. However, she said that while going for the routine immunisation, mothers should practise all the precautionary measures.
Phub Dem | Paro
With three positive cases outside the quarantine centre in Paro as of yesterday, the dzongkhag has entered a high alert zone.
Starting yesterday Finance Minister Namgay Tshering was stationed at Paro to facilitate and coordinate the functioning of the dzongkhag taskforce with that of the national task force.
He will be in Paro until the situation stabilises.
Lyonpo said that irrespective of the number of cases, Paro is no different than Phuentsholing.
Except for medical emergencies and supply of essential items, dzongkhag task force restricted outbound movement from Paro.
“Despite the lockdown, congestion at Paro hospital was an issue,” the minister said.
Considering the public health safety, he asked the task force and the dzongkhag health team to restrict the number of patients visiting the hospital and allow only those who are in emergency and require life support.
For instance, the hospital was treating minor cases like rashes.
In an attempt to decongest the hospital, the flu clinic at Paro Tshongdue will cater to schedule immunisation and community health department including anti-rabies shots.
Emphasising on the safety of the health officials at the hospital, lyonpo asked the security team – Police and De-Suup – to restrict unnecessary movement towards the hospital from Taju junction along with a health team to screen those visiting the hospital.
“I encourage the health team to focus on telemedicine as well,” he said.
Paro health surveillance team identified Bondey and Woochu as a high alert zone and imposed strict surveillance in these communities.
He also asked the dzongkhag administration to facilitate the supply of vegetables to other dzongkhags, as there is a surplus in Paro.
So far, Paro supplied vegetables to Gelephu, Haa, Samtse, Chukha, and Thimphu.
The dzongkhag administration has imposed travel restriction between chiwogs and made it mandatory for those involved in service delivery to wear face masks.
My shrinking universe receives another bolt today. In my saddest moments, I would recall my time with Dasho Sangay Dorji and his boundless goodwill and love healed me. His passing away creates a void that will never fill.
The year was 2006. It was my good fortune to be invited to join an exclusive team of eminent experts in our national language charged to produce the first English-Dzongkha Dictionary under the auspices of the erstwhile Dzongkha Development Authority that Dasho Sangay Dorji headed.
In the course of the many months of intense work that followed, I came to know intimately Dasho Sangay Dorji the country’s pre-eminent Dzongkha scholar as well as Dasho Sangay Dorji a deeply caring, compassionate and large-hearted human being who embodied boundless goodwill towards all, radiated immense positive energy wherever he was, and endeared himself to everyone with his native good cheer and winning smile.
The project was vital, long drawn-out, deeply engaging, and often exhausting and frustrating. But Dasho’s Sangay Dorji’s unusual stamina, infinite knowledge and rare wisdom, and, above all, his sense of humour and uplifting outlook would immediately relieve the moment and energise us to keep going.
Our base document was the Oxford English Dictionary and my job was to try and check the match between the translated Dzongkha term and its meaning in original English. I was always struck not only by the promptness with which Dasho Sangay understood the often complex meaning of the words in English but by the accuracy of the terms that he effortlessly supplied in Dzongkha. He had an instinctive understanding of the nature and character of languages regardless of their distinctiveness.
Some words had straight-forward equivalents but many terms had to be invented anew to explain the more recent additions to English vocabulary. Dasho Sangay’s natural facility with language made our work not only fun but a great learning experience. Besides, Dasho took personal care of every detail of our comfort wherever we worked till the project was completed.
I was in for a most pleasant and deeply humbling surprise two years later when I received the sacred Dakyen from His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo on my appointment to serve as the minister of education. Formal preparations for the event were totally out of my mind and I left it completely to my colleagues to do whatever they deemed fit.
Dasho Sangay was worried. He thought that my rented apartment in Motithang would be rather spartan and sparse and I would not be inclined to do it up. Dasho thought that it had to be reasonably presentable because from his experience he knew that such occasions merited at least a minimum level of preparation.
The day before the big day, Dasho came unannounced with all the necessary religious items and personally prepared the reception room and the sitting room befitting the protocol of a formal ceremony. While the external arrangements were done by my former students, particularly Tshering and Lhaba, and colleagues and other volunteers, with Aum Kuenga, again, coming unannounced with all the necessary crockery items befitting the occasion, Dasho Sangay saved me the embarrassment with his foresight and thoughtfulness.
Only later did I realise how I would have felt receiving their royal highnesses, the princes and princesses, senior officials and well-wishers in my dreary apartment if Dasho Sangay Dorji hadn’t saved me from inevitable and imminent embarrassment.
The last time I called Dasho was in April this year when I wanted to request him to contribute his reflections to the tribute-anthology Bhutan at Her Best: Sunrays through the rain that I had planned. I was pained to learn that he was not keeping well. He said he was due for an operation in the next few days.
Hospital visits were restricted so I sent a message when he got home. The response was that he was improving. I received no response to my latest query a few days ago. And, today, I was confronted with the news that leaves me shattered.
Confined, locked in, and lost, I will never be able to repay my debt to a father-figure from whom I received love without limit, goodwill beyond measure, and faith in the goodness of humanity that Dasho Sangay Dorji so abundantly embodied.
Bhutan is the poorer for the loss of this heart son of Druk Yul the likes of whom are rare and will be few and far between. Here was a veritable institution in himself, a walking encyclopaedia of culture and history, and a human being at once humble, at once noble. Here was a life dedicated to securing the soul of a nation.
Follow as you must the inevitable law of impermanence, may you join, beloved Dasho, the ranks of your virtuous ancestors in Zhingkham and achieve your noble rebirth, soon and swift…
May the Almighty watch over the bereaved family and grant you the strength to tide over this tragic loss…
With gratitude, prayers and love, always… Goodbye Dasho, for this life…
Thakur S Powdyel
If you are bored at home without any meaningful engagements during this national lockdown, social media movement hash tagged lock down reads could be for you.
Started by Drukyul’s Literature festival formerly known as the Mountain Echoes, the movement is expected to encourage reading while in lockdown through social engagements. It is a solidarity move to create a reading community and keep everyone engaged, inspired, and connected to each other through books during uncertain times as Covid-19.
A participant of the movement can take a minute long video on the current reads or take a picture with the book and write a review of about 200 words. Although the movement was started on the day of the nationwide lockdown, it has been only few days since it has gained momentum.
As of yesterday, 37, 000 people have participated in the movement. “In these uncertain times, social media is filled with disturbing news. This campaign is creating an enabling and positive environment to encourage reading in Bhutan. It will be a success even if one reader becomes a lifelong reader because of this campaign,” a member of the initiative said.
The festival hopes to create a vibrant reading community among youth and continue with the same momentum even after the lockdown is lifted. Most participants are young.
The founder of Youth Advocacy Network, Tshedrup Dorji, is a participant of the movement. He said that the social media campaign had inspired and helped him read and re-read old books during the lockdown.
He said young readers in the country faced several challenges such as access to libraries and good books and lack of motivation and support from family members. “I think our elders and parents must inspire our children to read books at home and develop a reading culture.”
A constant reader himself, he said reading shaped his mind to be more effective and a forward thinker.
During lockdown, besides reading, he is engaged with youth-led initiatives such as conducting literally competitions among young people across Bhutan.
Another participant, Kezang Dechen Choden, said that the initiative would help encourage youth like her to read more and engage others who were overwhelmed during such difficult times. Through reviews shared and recommended by others, she plans to be exposed to different types of books, which would inspire her to read more. She had read 10 books so far.
The official website and logo of the Drukyul’s Literature Festival: Bhutan Echoes was launched on June 10 this year coinciding with the 65th birth anniversary of Her Majesty Gyalyum Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, the chief royal patron of the festival.
One of the main missions of Bhutan Echoes is to encourage reading, especially among the youth. This is in line with the national vision of His Majesty The King for a well-read Bhutan.
The social media campaign is supported by the Tourism Council of Bhutan.
Neten Dorji | Trashigang
Despite a nationwide lockdown, Tshering Yangzom and friends in Benshingma village in Trashigang are busy harvesting, packaging and transporting watermelon.
They supply fresh fruits to Trashigang and Kanglung.
Tshering Yangzom has been growing watermelon for the past five years. Last year, made Nu 1,50,000 from the sale of melons. This year, she has grown more melons.
“I am happy looking at the yield increasing every year,” she said. “It usually goes for Nu 65 per kg in Kanglung but I am selling at Nu 45 per kg because of lockdown.”
This week, Tshering Yangzom made around Nu 60,000.
Another villager, Chimi Dema, grew melons on her 40-decimal land. She earned about Nu 10,000 this year. “I plan to double the plantation next year. As imports are restricted, it is an opportunity for us to earn income.”
Kezang Wangmo, a farmer, said that growing watermelon was easy. She has grown melon is about a 2-acre land. “It will be ready for market after in about two weeks.”
The gewog agriculture extension officer, Nerayan Subha, said that the gewog and dzongkhag agriculture sector supported farmers with tools, electric fencing and water pipes. “We also support them with technical management and marketing.”
He said fallowing of land had reduced after farmers started growing watermelon. Gewog agriculture office, he said, had plans to encourage mass plantations of watermelon in Udzorong.
Chimi Dema | Tsirang
Four days ago, Ap Dorji, a retired civil servant and dairy farmer in Gosarling gewog, Tsirang was worried about supplying excess dairy products from his farm.
He usually supplies the products to Punakha.
However, after the vehicles movement was restricted since the government announced nationwide lockdown on August 11, Ap Dorji was not able to sell the products. The dzongkhag livestock sector had to walk in to collect the products from farmers.
He said that the initiative came as a relief to many farmers who were worried about repaying loans after they couldn’t sell the products.
Ap Dorji supplied about 150 cheese balls and five kilograms of butter to the sector yesterday.
Senior Dzongkhag Livestock Officer, Gyem Tshering, said that the dzongkhag was comfortable in terms of livestock produce supply. “If everything goes well, we might be able to produce surplus,” he said.
Besides feeding residents of the dzongkhag, livestock products from Tsirang are being supplied to Thimphu and Punakha.
The sector supplied 4,500kgs of chicken and 5,000 cheese balls to Bhutan Livestock Development Corporation (BLDC) in Thimphu yesterday.
About 900 cheese balls and 35kgs of butter has been supplied to Punakha.
As of yesterday, the sector collected surplus dairy products, 1,400 cheese balls and 70kgs of butter from four gewogs of Kilkhorthang, Semjong, Gosarling, and Doonglagang.
Gyem Tshering said that the collection from other gewogs was underway. “The surplus produce would be supplied to other dzongkhags based on demand.”
The sector has also supplied around 400 cartons of eggs (210 eggs per carton) to BLDC recently. The sector is expecting to supply 800 cartons of eggs today.
Tsirang, the second-largest egg-producing dzongkhag, has about 91,400 layer birds in 115 farms.
Today, with feed agents running short of supplies due to restriction on vehicle movement, one of the main concerns of Tsirang poultry farmers is feeding the birds.
Gyem Tshering said that the agents managed to get about 300 bags of feed from Gelephu on August 17.
“But the agents have run out of supply,” he said. If the lockdown continues and we keep on facing problems with getting animal feed, our poultry farms would be affected.”
Tsirang has enough vegetables except for potato, tomato, and onion.
Dzongkhag Agriculture officer, Dorji Gyeltshen, said that the sector was getting potatoes from Wangdue. “For tomato and onion, we have submitted a requisition to the department of agriculture for help.”
In terms of chilies, the dzongkhag is managing with supplies from Wangdue to distribute in schools and institutions.
Dorji Gyeltshen said that as it is off-season for summer crops and nursery period for winter vegetables, there is hardly surplus supply this time.
In addition, the continuous rainfall over the past months has affected vegetables production.
Essential items and vegetables are being delivered door-to-door during the nationwide lockdown. People who can pay can avail themselves of the service but it’s a different story with people from low-income backgrounds.
Phul Maya Subba works with Thimphu Thromde office and earns Nu 6,500 per month. Her husband, who used to work with a contruction company, has lost his job.
Phul Maya’s family had dahl and rice for lunch today. “I have only rice, dahl, and oil which I bought on account from the thromde office after the lockdown.”
When the vegetable truck came, she could afford to buy only half a kilogram of tomato. “I am picking whatever little I have in my kitchen garden.”
Following the nationwide lockdown on August 11, suppliers of essential items across the country were overwhelmed by hundreds of phone calls. People complain about poor co-ordination and irratic supply of essential items. Some people received essential items and vegetables only days after they placed their order.
To ease service delivery, the government allowed various shops and online site to deliver essential items in the following days.
Karuna Gurung, living in a temporary shelter in Olakha, Thimphu said that although receiving essential items was just one phone call away, she did not have the money to buy groceries in large quantities. She said that according to her convenience she used to buy groceries and vegetables in small portions.
Nirmala Gurung, who also lives in a temporary shelter in Olakha, said that her husband lost his job months ago. Nirmala has only Nu 1,000. The family needs a bag of rice.
Tshering Tashi, who lives in temporary shelter below Hindu temple in Thimphu, is a mechanic in one of the workshop in Olakha. Tshering Tashi lives with his brother, niece, and nephew. His brother works in construction site—it is not a stable job. His niece and nephew are doing management and tally courses in Thimphu.
Tshering Tashi said that as he was working at a private workshop he was bot sure whether he would get paid for August if the lockdown prolonged. He has been able to save only Nu 5,000.
Tashi Tenzin, Sangay Choden, and Pema Choden live together below Buddha Point, in a temporary shelter. They all work as salespersons.
Tashi Tenzin said that on the day lockdown was announced they rushed to buy a bag of rice. Their landlord gave them some vegetables.
Phul Maya, Nirmala, Tshering, Tashi, and Karuna have been able to get by somehow. But what if the lockdown extends? What would happen to many families and individuals like them?
Yangchen C Rinzin
Although the implementation of movement card, which would allow easy access to essential items, was suspended in Thimphu the government will allow people to use the card from today only to buy vegetables.
The use of movement card was suspended right after it was distributed after two people tested positive of Covid-19 in Paro.
The cards were distributed to more than 30,000 people in two days in 45 zones.
Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that when a toll-free 1010 was installed for people to clear doubts on the zoning, more than 50 percent called to complain.
People complained about having run out of vegetable stock and not getting vegetables that they ordered.
Realising that people are faced with challenges, the government following His Majesty’s command has decided to distribute vegetables based on zones and allow people to come out with the card to buy vegetables.
“The challenges indicate that there was short in supply of vegetables and we failed in the beginning because of poor supply strategy,” Lyonpo said. “This was because of the lack of human resources and vehicles to deliver vegetables.”
The distribution of the vegetables, which will be carried out zone-wise, is expected to begin between 9.30am and 11am today. Additional vehicles and people were deployed yesterday.
“We’re confident that this time the delivery will be smooth. We have otherwise enough supply of vegetables as of now,” Lyonpo said.
Almost 25,000 packets of vegetables were packed as of last evening. There are two packets costing Nu 350 and Nu 450. The government will inform the people when the distribution starts. Lyonpo urged people to practice safety measure like wearing a face mask and maintain distance when they come out to buy vegetables.
Each household should come out only as per the time period they are allotted in each card. The cards have specific timings for three hours – from 8-11am, 12-3pm and 4-7pm. A cardholder cannot go to another zone to buy vegetables.
“We’ll try our best to ensure all the people in their own zones get the vegetables, and we’ll continue to supply every day. They must have patience if the vehicles do not reach their area. I urge people to let those people without vegetables to buy first. If you’ve stock, you can wait for the delivery next day,” Lyonpo said.
For zones without Bank of Bhutan ATMs, the bank will bring cash to the sale location. Those with accounts in other banks can also withdraw through the BoB representatives. Residents can pay either in cash or through online.
However, grocery shops are not allowed to open. Lyonpo said that there was still a high risk of community transmission in Thimphu, and until confirmed the movement will be restricted.
“If people do not follow the safety measures, then we may have to suspend this strategy too,” Lyonpo said, adding the decision to continue with the card would depend on people’s behaviour.
Lyonpo also shared that there were several reports of shopkeepers and wholesalers hiking the price of essential commodities. The licences of those shops have been cancelled.
Meanwhile, with many poultry farmers faced with issues of running out of Karma feeds, Lyonpo said that the government would be supplying to other dzongkhags soon.
“About 23 trucks were stranded in Phuentsholing so, the stock couldn’t be sent. Now the drivers have been tested negative, and trucks were brought to Thimphu. It will be dispatched in the next few days.”
Following the report of the first local transmission of Covid-19 in Phuentsholing on August 16, and another two positive cases in Paro yesterday, the concern now is of a potential full-blown local outbreak.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering during a live session on BBS television yesterday said that except for Gasa and Lhuentse, 1,673 people from the 18 dzongkhags have reportedly visited Phuentsholing on or after August 1.
Of the total who called the toll-free number 1,023 and registered themselves with the health ministry’s surveillance team so far, about 900 are in Thimphu. Also, almost 100 primary contacts of the positive cases in Phuentsholing (24 positive cases) are in Thimphu.
Lyonchhen said that the two people (59-year-old man and 44-year-old woman) who tested positive for Covid-19 in Paro yesterday had come in search of work to Paro from Phuentsholing on August 9.
Lyonchhen said that Paro for now (as of late evening yesterday) did not have any indication and evidence of a local transmission. Contact tracing is on-going in the dzongkhag.
However, he said that given the highly infectious nature of the virus, people should continue to be at their homes and cooperate with the officials.
Regarding Thimphu, Lyonchhen said that while there are a large number of people who have come from Phuentsholing since August 1 so far none have tested positive. As of yesterday, about 60 of the contacts tested negative.
Lyonchhen said that declaring Thimphu a red zone would depend on the test results. The results for all the tests should come in within a day or two, he added.
The implementation of the movement card in Thimphu Thromde is also suspended until the completion of the contact tracing and testing of all the contacts of Covid-19 positive individuals.
Meanwhile, a 40-year-old woman from Mongar tested positive on the rapid diagnostic test yesterday morning. She was in Phuentsholing with her husband who works there as a driver. The husband came to Mongar on July 27. The woman reached Mongar on July 31 along with their three children. Her RT-PCR result declared late last night came out negative.
Disease prevention is a priority for now
Lyonchhen said that the lockdown so far has caused several inconveniences especially with the delivery of essential goods. However, he said that the priority for now should be on preventing and controlling the spread of the disease.
“There are issues and people are unhappy with the services so far in the lockdown. We are sorry for the inconveniences but everyone is working hard to improve the services on a daily basis and we are doing all we can for now.”
Lyonchhen said that in absence of a vaccine currently, the most effective tool to combat the pandemic is through effective lockdown and professionally testing the suspects.
The government is spending at least Nu 4,000 to test an individual.
Lyonchhen said financially it is very challenging but if money can protect and help keep the citizens safe, it is of least concern for now.
Besides adhering to the lockdown protocol, the Prime Minister urged the public to strictly follow preventive measures such as hand hygiene, wearing face masks and maintaining physical distance.
The country today has adequate and quality testing kits and equipment. The country will receive Nu 600 million worth of testing kits and equipment today. Another batch of testing kits will be flown in on August 23.
Phub Dem | Paro
Two primary contacts of the positive patient in Phuentsholing, a 59-year-old man and 44-year-old woman tested positive for Covid-19 in Paro yesterday.
The couple came in search of work on August 9 to Paro from Phuentsholing.
According to a source, the positive case in Phuentsholing alerted the health ministry that the couple stayed with him while in Phuentsholing. The health surveillance team in Paro isolated the couple in a quarantine centre at around 10pm on Sunday. They will be moved to the isolation ward in Thimphu.
The couple on reaching Paro on August 9 spent a night with their relative at Paro town and moved to their worksite next day.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering during a live discussion on BBS yesterday said that except for Gasa and Lhuentse, residents from 18 dzongkhags visited Phuentsholing starting August. However, late in the evening Kuensel confirmed that two people were home- quarantined in Lhuentse.
He said that the dzongkhag would enter the red zone if positive cases come from the community with no travel history. The health surveillance team in Paro has traced and quarantined nine primary contacts of the couple as of yesterday.
Kuensel learnt the couple was working in a remote area near Dakophu in Lamgong gewog which is located away from populated settlement and all their primary contacts were identified and quarantined. Health officials, meanwhile, urge people not to panic and refrain from calling health officials for testing, as it was not required and the congestion was depriving the needy ones from reaching the surveillance team.
Stocks started arriving from other dzongkhags, but not enough
Nima | Gelephu
Over 50 people came out in a queue to purchase vegetables in the evening at Rabdeyling demkhong in Gelephu yesterday. In the queue were residents who waited for at least two days or more to get vegetables, calling vendors, and texting their list of vegetables. De-Suups and police were at the location, monitoring the crowd.
Nima Dorji from Gelephu came out of his home for the first time in six days to purchase vegetables. He returned home with a bagful of vegetables. “We are not sure how long the lockdown would continue. I called for essential items and vegetables several times. The contact numbers were either switched off or busy,” he said.
He added that there was no information about vegetable supply at Rabdeyling. “Many are not aware. Information about the location should be shared properly,” said Nima Dorji.
Tenzin Wangchuk, a volunteer with Bhutan Red Cross Society said it was difficult to get essential items until FCB started to deliver. “Orders were placed through messages. I was told the essentials would reach within three days but it did not,” he said.
However, it was a busy week for Namgay, a vendor who was authorised to supply vegetables in the Chuzanggang area during the lockdown in the dzongkhag.
The vendor delivers vegetables to people until 11pm. Work resumes the next day early in the morning, trying to reach the essential on time.
He said that it was challenging to deliver vegetables on time because of the distance. “It was confusing when the call came from all over the places,” he said.
The vendor suggested working in collaboration with the gewog officials. “They could help us with the demand for vegetables in the gewog. We don’t have to move from place to place which is time-consuming and challenging,” said Namgay.
To cover the expenses for transportation, the vendor has increased the price of vegetables. One kilogram of potato is sold at Nu 40. Most vegetable authorised vendors in Gelephu ran out of stocks by August 15, the fifth day of the lockdown.
However, they received two DCM truckloads of vegetables from Wangdue yesterday.
“This would be able to meet the demand for one day. There are continuous calls for vegetables,” said Namgay.
A member of the Bhutan chamber of commerce industry in Gelephu, Ugyen Rabten said the authorised vendors couldn’t contact other vendors of the vegetable market as the lockdown happened suddenly.
“Only three were allowed to deliver vegetables in the beginning. The stocks of other vendors who were home during lockdown got damaged,” he said. He added that the available stock in the vegetable market could sustain only for five days.
To make delivery more efficient, plans are made to supply vegetables to designated shops in the six constituencies in the thromde.
Local farmers with the help of gewog extension officials are also trying to meet the demand during the lockdown.
Dzongkhag officials collected three bolero pick up truckloads of vegetable items from Jigmecholing and Dekiling gewog.
There are 11 authorised vendors supplying vegetables in the Sarpang Gelephu region today.
The vendors from the dzongkhag collected over three DCM truckloads of vegetables from other dzongkhags and supplied ginger to other dzongkhags.
There are no stocks of imported vegetable items today.
The zoning of the Thimphu Thromde will enable residents to go outdoors (but only within a designated area) to buy essential commodities.
However, the delivery of household commodities by Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCBL) and authorised retailers will not be stopped, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said at a press conference on August 16.
He said that consumers should order commodities either through phone calls or online services. But he added that the stores would not be able to provide everything that people were looking for.
There are more than 20 authorised retailers, including the FCBL, NN Tshongkhang, Dagana Trading Centre, Wangchuk Mart, and shoponline.bt, catering to the needs of households in the capital.
Each retailer or service provider has been allocated designated areas beyond which they cannot deliver their services.
The retailers have been overwhelmed during the lockdown and are unable to meet the demand of customers.
However, some retailers said that they did not see significant increases in sales turnover due to the physical work involved in reaching the commodities to the customers.
Proprietor of 8 Eleven, BB Gurung, said that the store made more than 300 deliveries in the Motithang area on a daily basis.
He said that most of his employees were on duty despite the risk of Covid-19 infection.
Another retailer said that although the government had encouraged them to accept only digital payments, many people were not used to the online payment system. Items ordered are mostly rice, cooking oil, milk powder, meat products, and milk powder.
An authorised cooking gas supplier, Kinley, said that he delivered about 30 cylinders of LPG on a day. “The demand dropped slightly today,” he said yesterday.
There are about 11 authorised LPG service providers in Thimphu.
The Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA) has identified and listed 21 commodities, including butter, cheese, sugar, noodles, soup items, sanitary napkins and pulses, as essential items. Meat products have not been included in the list of essential items.
The MoEA in collaboration with Thimphu Thromde has informed that face-to-face shopping and physical contact should be avoided.
The ministry has notified that strict health protocols should be observed including minimum distance and use of facemasks while delivering the commodities. The authorized shops delivering the essential items should not open shops for normal business.
According to the notification, customers must receive their goods within four hours of confirmed order. However, some customers said that it took them about a day to get their orders delivered.
Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) records show that there were 426,448 digital domestic payment transactions worth Nu 377.91 million (M) in the first two days of the lockdown.
…due to limited stocks
Yangchen C Rinzin
Bhutan Duty Free Limited (BDFL) will be dispatching tobacco products to other dzongkhags from today. New stock was brought from Phuentsholing on August 15 and was kept for 24-hour quarantine as per the health’s safety protocols.
Following the decision to distribute tobacco products in Thimphu from August 14, several people from other dzongkhags were left disgruntled calling on the government, on social media, to make the product available in dzongkhags outside Thimphu.
Messages started pouring in various social media platforms with some accusing the government of considering the interests of those in the capital city only. Desperate, after running out of tobacco, some even called the numbers given for Thimphu residents to order cigarettes and requested them to send to the dzongkhags.
A smoker in Trashigang said that he had only five sticks of cigarettes left and he has been smoking judiciously so that it lasts till he gets to order and buy from the duty free outlets.
Finance minister Namgay Tshering said that they would first distribute to the western region and then to other regions in phases because of the limited stocks.
“We’ll have to get new stocks to dispatch to other regions. We’re trying to get new stock but with Phuentsholing declared red zone, it has been difficult.”
Lyonpo said that whatever stock they had exhausted in two days after more than 3,000 people ordered for the tobacco products in Thimphu. “This is despite reducing tobacco quota.”
Tobacco users can order only two boxes of cigarettes (each box has 200 sticks). Currently, there are 11 types of cigarettes for sale from the BDFL outlets.
Depending on the brand of the product, cost for a box of cigarettes ranges between Nu 3,610 and Nu 5,550. The tobacco products are delivered on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in Thimphu.
For the rest of the dzongkhags, the Covid-19 task force in respective dzongkhag will arrange for delivery.
Lyonpo said that this was just an interim measure to stop people from breaking the quarantine rules and do not intend to promote the use of tobacco. “The initiative is to rationalise, taking into consideration the habitual need of the individuals.”
BDFL sold 673 boxes of cigarette as of yesterday in Thimphu.
The message of exigency has not changed. In fact, the threat of Covid-19 is coming closer to our homes. In circumstances such as these, irrational fear will not do us any good. Reasonable precaution and care will. That’s been the vital message since the first day of Covid-19 outbreak.
The number of Covid-19 positive cases in the country has been increasing by the day. It might appear as though we were ill-prepared to face the onslaught of the virus. But no nation, even the technologically and economically far more advanced, was as fully prepared as Bhutan has been since the outbreak of the deadly virus.
When suddenly all else seems to come crumbling down, we are a confident and forward-looking nation. We still have the strongest tracing and quarantine systems—so the detection of more cases every day. We were not caught off guard. But tracing and quarantine systems alone cannot hold the virus at bay. Now that we are faced with an increasing number of positives cases and the threat of widespread local transmission, how we bolster our safety besides and behind these systems will matter all the more.
As a country that shares porous borders with India where the positives cases and transmission rate is overwhelming, and growing, we have been acutely aware of our vulnerabilities. In the event we become complacent and let the pandemic ride, the burden on our health system, challenged as it is already by resource and manpower shortage, will be enormous. Worse, vaccines aren’t coming anytime soon and so much is yet to be understood about the disease and how it spreads.
There is every reason to believe that local transmission of Covid-19, which we worked so hard to ward off, happened due to carelessness on the part of a few individuals who did not abide by the guidelines and protocols set by the health ministry. There were failures from the many quarters, yes, but what is important is to not sink in the futile engagement of pointing fingers at each other. There is so much yet we can achieve together.
A little cooperation from the people is all it takes to secure our country and people from threats and adversaries. It is a rare blessing that only the people of Bhutan can enjoy in such times when the government is providing all the essential facilities at the doorstep of every household. And there is Royal Kidu for the deserving. There is no shortage of food items and access has been made easy so that people can prevent themselves from getting exposed to the virus.
Lockdown is temporary, only until tracing is completed. What is critically important is to prevent the virus from spreading further. And this will require commitment from each and every citizen of this nation. Stay in and respect the lockdown rules. Otherwise, for a small nation like ours, consequences will be consequential.
Bhutan Lottery planning to launch its own online lottery
With his head almost touching the small sheet of paper on a rickety table, Ugyen is busy. The corporate employee, a commerce graduate is working on probability, a branch of mathematics that deals with quantities having random distributions.
On his Samsung mobile is an excel sheet. Ugyen will work out a number that would probably win him some money in a few hours. For the few months, Ugyen had been hit with Teer (arrow in Hindi), his latest obsession with the newest online gambling.
There are thousands, and the number is growing, Bhutanese hooked to the mobile phone–based online gambling. This is despite the Department of Law and Order (DLO) asking people to refrain from illegal gambling. Clamping down on what players see as a harmless online gambling is difficult.
Teer originated in North East India. Teer has been around for about as long as the state of Meghalaya, which was carved out from Assam in 1972 and includes Khasi, Garo and Jaintia Hills. It is legal in Shillong from where it reached Bhutanese players.
There are about 70 to 80 unofficial groups running the Teer lottery business through social media platforms, most popularly the Chinese social networking App, WeChat. Each group has more than a hundred customers. The system works on mutual trust among the group members and the admins of the group.
How Teer is played
Customers chose a two-digit numbers from 00 to 99. Betting amount ranges from Nu 50 to Nu 1,000 or even more. The more the bet, the better the prize money. A player can win Nu 70,000 if he hits the winning number just by paying Nu 1,000 for a ticket. There’s also a chance of winning two side hits. For example, if the winning number is 25, customers who chose numbers 24 and 26 wins the side hit prize. The admins keep 15 to 20 percent of the amount collected.
The game is simple and easy to play. Administrators, commonly called as ‘admins’ share an updated excel sheet in a group whenever players pay for the booked numbers. Players transfer money digitally to admins’ account numbers.
The link for the result is shared in a group chat. They refer to www.teerbhutan.com, www.shillongmorningteer.com and www.nightteer.com for the result. The winning amount is deposited into a winners account through MBoB or MPay. Sometimes the administrators give out one free number to the “loyal customers.”
Given its cheap price and frequency, more and more people have started playing. There are no official records, but going by the members in a group, numbers could be in the thousands. Ugyen’s group had 141 members. He is in a dozen other groups. Some enter different groups to better their winning chances.
Some players book more than 10 numbers at one go. Some book the same number in different groups. “If we can hit the number, the prize from 10 groups will make us rich overnight,” said a player.
If an individual wins repeatedly, the admin throws them out of the group suspecting foul play. “It’s unfair for other players when one player wins a prize from all the group and makes payment at the eleventh hour,” said the admin, a woman.
To ensure fair play, none of the players are allowed to make personal bookings or contact the admin for choosing the number. Everybody has to choose it online in the group for transparency.
Winners and losers
One player said he wanted to try his luck when he saw his frends playing. “The cost was only Nu 50 and I didn’t feel the pinch,” he said. “Now I am hooked to it.”
One player spent Nu 21,000 in two months. “I haven’t calculated how much I have spent so far because I spend Nu 50 to Nu 100 on every draw.” However, he won more than what he had spent.
Not all are winners. A corporate employee lost almost Nu 50,000 in three months. He has stopped playing. There are many others who stopped playing after losing a few thousands.
What the law says
Section 429 of the Information Communications and Media Act of Bhutan 2018 prohibits online gambling. Bhutan Lottery has reported illegal online lottery operations to DLO. DLO has instructed the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) to implement the law.
Bhutan Lottery, a State-owned Enterprise (SoE) is the only authorised lottery operator in Bhutan. Chief Executive Officer of Bhutan Lottery, Phenphay Drukpa said that the issue is not about the competition with illegal lottery organisations but the law only allows authorised lottery operation.
Agents of the Bhutan Lottery are unhappy because online gambling hampered their business. The SOE has 60 to 70 percent sales despite illegal lottery business in full swing. Phenphay Drukpa said, “Our sale could have increased if there was no online gambling.”
Bhutan Lottery agents joined as members of some WeChat groups operating Teer lottery to report the illegal gambling. The agents have cracked the phone numbers of the admins running the illegal business through their bank details and asked RBP to deal with them as per the law. “The admins are smart. They drop the account as soon as they smell danger. Sometimes they hand over the account or they simply change their name. But they still keep making profit from such illegal practice,” said the CEO. “It’s our responsibility as a legal operator to report any individuals doing illegal business,” he said.
Officer commanding in Phuentsholing, Major Ugyen Tshewang said that the RBP have received more than 70 complaints against individuals involved in online lottery gambling. RBP has recorded 20 statements from the WeChat administrators. He said, “They are as good as nabbed. We have not taken any actions other than compiling the statement records. We are waiting for the Thimphu RBP crime branch to take action.”
Section 394 of the Penal Code grades the offence as a petty misdemeanour and section 395 states an authorised lottery is not considered gambling.
Bhutan Lottery is planning to operate an online lottery itself soon.
65 people traced, 30 tests negative
Health officials in Mongar confirmed that the woman who tested positive on the rapid diagnostic test (RDT) earlier yesterday tested negative for Covid-19 when tested on the reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT- PCR).
A detailed report of the woman went viral before authorities could confirm it or before the RT-PCR results were declared. The woman, Kuensel sources said, is a shopkeeper in Gyalpoizhing. She returned to Mongar from Phuentsholing on July 31 along with her three children. Her husband works as a driver in Phuentsholing and came to Mongar on July 27.
Health officials of the regional referral hospital in Mongar managed to trace 65 people who had visited Phuentsholing and Gelephu since August 1.
While the hospital’s outbreak and surveillance team is in the process of conducting the test, about 30 people who completed the test tested negative so far.
Medical Superintendent and Covid-19 medical desk coordinator, Dr Palden Wangchuk, said there were no primary contacts and all were undergoing home quarantine for 14 days starting from the date of arrival.
The contacts were traced through gewogs and primary health centers.
“This is done as part of a precautionary measure in line with the directives from the national technical advisory team,” he said.
Similarly, two people in Lhuentse, with recent travel history to Phuentsholing are also home-quarantined.
Meanwhile, more than 351 people who were stranded in Mongar were allowed to go home as of yesterday evening. Among them were civil servants who were in the dzongkhag on official duty. Some had come to attend funeral rites while some were on leave. Some were truck drivers who came to construction sites to deliver materials and some were patients being discharged from the hospital.
The dzongkhag task force team issued movement permits with validity to reach their destination while some were sent through ambulances and taxis. They were reunited with their families living in Thimphu, Paro, Samdrupjongkhar, Pemagatshel, Trashiyangtse, Lhuentse, Bumthang, Trongsa, Zhemgang and Tsirang.
There are still 56 people stranded according to the record maintained by the dzongkhag Covid-19 control room. Officials are verifying their details to let them travel to their places.
Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue
Officials of five different banks in Wangdue started to deliver cash for those without digital banking mobile applications and services beginning August 15.
Wangdue dzongkhag Covid-19 task force directed five banks—Bank of Bhutan (BOB), Bhutan Development Bank Limited (BDBL), T-Bank, Druk Punjab National Bank (DPNB) and Bhutan National Bank (BNB)— on August 14 to cater services through designated officials to those who were in need of cash.
According to the dzongkhag task force, the BOB has received the most number of individuals withdrawing cash. A total of 13 individuals withdrew over Nu 65,000 until yesterday.
The bank has also provided the agent bankers with cash in case of demand from the residents in their areas.
Financial institutes focal person in Wangdue, DB Rai said that the bank officials tried to ensure that the recipients were in fact in need of these services.
“It was to ensure that minimum movement was involved while people continued to receive services.”
The dzongkhag task force has fixed a withdrawal ceiling of Nu 10,000. However, exceptions would be made for those in difficult circumstances.
Security personnel or De-Suups also accompany bank officials during service delivery to ensure safety and to monitor that the health safety protocols are maintained.
As of yesterday, BDBL delivered around Nu 19,000 to three individuals who sought cash.
BDBL Wangdue branch manager said that because almost 90 percent of the BDBL customers were from rural areas, the officials in Wangdue had informed gups of the service. Village tshogpas are asked to collect and share information on those who need cash.
These information—name, identity card numbers, phone numbers and account numbers, are later shared with the gups and further with the bank officials.
A resident of Wangdue, Tshering Dorji, said that with the sudden announcement of lockdown, he didn’t have cash and his rations were running out at home.
“And those who deliver vegetables and other items require cash or payment through other digital services. We are not educated, so we don’t know how to use them.”
After the dzongkhag administration’s directive, Tshering Dorji withdrew Nu 6,000 and has given his essential items list to the Rinchengang tshogpa, Thedtsho gewog.
The BNB officials delivered Nu 15,000 in total to two individuals in Wangdue. Vehicles are provided by the dzongkhag or the gewog administration for the delivery of cash. However, a majority of the bank officials have volunteered to provide the services with their vehicles.
As of yesterday, DPNB and T-Bank have not received any requests but remain ready with their service.
Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar
Eighty-eight people including trucker drivers who came from Phuentsholing before the lockdown were quarantined in Nganglam, Pemagatshel on August 16.
All of them tested negative to rapid Covid-19 antibody test and antigen (AG) test on the same day.
Dr Sonam Dolkar from Nganglam Basic Health Unit (BHU), said, “But they are not the primary contacts with those people who tested Covid-19 positive in Phuentsholing.”
She said that four truck drivers were put under facility quarantine in Nganglam because they had visited the Regional Revenue and Customs Office (RRCO) in Phuentsholing before they came to Nganglam.
She said they had also put 84 people under strict home quarantine including 10 in Chokhorling gewog who came from Phuentsholing before the lockdown.
“We monitor them through telephonic conversations.”
The doctor said the health officials conducted the Covid-19 antigen (AG) test on the villagers in
Chokhorling who came to attend the final rites of a relative from Phuentsholing on August 8.
“We have told them to inform us if there are any symptoms of Covid-19.”
She said that they had listed people who came from Phuentsholing between August 1 and 10 while they had collected some information from the checkpoints.
“We are still carrying out the contact tracing.”
Meanwhile, of the fifteen drivers quarantined at Tashigatshel hotel in Samdrupjongkhar who came from Phuentsholing last week before the lockdown, two were under strict home quarantine since August 11.
The health officials said that although they tested negative during the Covid-19 antigen test, the health officials would conduct a test after three days.
The officials said they were quarantined because they have no place to stay in Samdrupjongkhar. They are given free food and lodging.
“It is also our extra initiative to make sure that they are 100 percent negative and don’t pose a risk in the community,” an official said.
The health ministry and the Bhutan Medical and Health Council (BMHC) is investigating the case of institutional delivery in Gelephu Central Regional Referral Hospital (CRRH), where a 28-year-old woman succumbed to complications from birth earlier this month.
The case has sparked debates on social media, calling for accountability of the officials involved.
The progress of the case, however, is impeded by the current lockdown.
Director of BMHC, Kuenga Jamphel, said that an independent investigation team was formed to look into any malpractices and lapses in the case and learnt about it through social media. The inquiry team would leave for CRRH once the lockdown is lifted. The deceased relatives did not file a formal written complaint yet.
The relatives of the deceased suspect negligence and incompetence of the health officials on duty. Husband of the deceased said that days before delivery, they were reassured by the officials that everything was normal.
The mother was admitted to the hospital early morning on August 1 and her first labour pain started around midnight. The husband said that by 12.30am she was taken to the labour room by the team of nurses on duty. No emergency doctors were on duty until complications arose.
“The child’s head was out and normal delivery was not possible at that point in time. Emergency doctors were called and they arrived at the labour room at 2:30am.”
Since the mother couldn’t deliver, the doctors opted for an assisted delivery. After several attempts, the child was born.
The husband said the baby could be still-born or have died while he got stuck before the emergency doctors arrived. The doctors told him that the child could be brain dead and survival rate was 50 percent.
After an hour, since the bleeding did not stop, the doctors told the husband that she required immediate surgery if the situation worsens. Few minutes after the husband signed the consent form for surgery, his wife was declared dead.
The husband of the deceased said that he strongly suspected that the doctors performed surgery on the patient during the one-hour examination and when they failed to save her life, the gynaecologist asked him to sign the consent form.
As per the death certificate issued by the hospital, the patient died at 5:15am and it was attributed to coagulopathy and uterine atony.
After a week, the infant was also declared dead.
Once the government lifts the lockdown, the husband said that he would appeal to local authorities and relevant agencies so that such unfortunate events did not happen to others.
The medical superintendent of CRRH said that the hospital had submitted reports to BMHC and the public health department about the incident. He did not want to comment since it would hamper the investigation. They are awaiting investigation team to sort out the cause of the death.
Yangchen C Rinzin
The capital city has been divided in 45 zones and shops identified to ease the lockdown in the capital whose residents had been complaining of not having access to essentials or vegetables in the last few days of the lockdown.
The relaxation, where each household received or will receive a card that allows them to shop from identified areas in their zone, was initiated on the command of His Majesty the King who commanded a special team to develop the card system.
The card, or movement card, will allow people to come out for three hours to shop, take a brisk walk, but it is not a permit to visit other homes or neighbours. Only shops like convenience stores, grocery shops, dairy and milk stores and pharmacies would be allowed to open.
Where there are no vegetable shops in the marked zone, packaged vegetables will be provided in grocery shops for people to buy.
However, many households after receiving the card learnt that the zones they fall in have neither grocery nor vegetables shops. A cardholder cannot get into another zone for shopping.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering during the press conference yesterday assured that an expert committee has worked out and would ensure temporary shops as an interim measure in places where there are no grocery or vegetable shops.
Lyonchhen said the government will try their best to make essentials available in the temporary shops, but it does not mean issuing permanent licenses to run shops in that area.
“Experts have already taken a lot of things into consideration and will work out accordingly,” Lyonchhen said. “However, the temporary shops will have only essential groceries, dairy products, vegetables, and pharmacies.” Lyonchhen added even in areas where there are many shops, they would not allow all the shops to open at the same time.
As of yesterday, many households have received the cards distributed by De-Suups at their door.
Head of the Office of Performance Management under His Majesty’s Secretariat, Karma Yonten during a panel discussion on the national television said that if the distribution of cards completes today, they would announce and open the shops by tomorrow. He said the strategy is a pilot project.
“The card issued is primarily for shopping and a brisk walk and movement will be strictly monitored,” he said. Karma Yonten said that people with children or people with disabilities should use the home delivery services. To discourage crowding, the cards have specific timings for three hours – from 8-11am, 12-3pm and 4-7pm. “One must remain in their confined zone and not be outside for more than the allocated time,” Karma Yonten said. Shoppers cannot use vehicles.
Karma Yonten said that to make stocks available in the identified shops, the team is preparing a list of shops in all these 45 zones and link them with wholesalers in Thimphu.
“If people violate the timing provisions, we would first give them a warning, seize the card for a week if they repeat for the second time and deal them with appropriate laws if they violate it for the third time,” he said.
A total of about 31,000 cards are expected to be distributed by this evening. Shopkeepers should sanitise shops, keep washing facilities and both customers and shopkeepers must wear masks.
The government will announce the names of the identified shops and timing soon. A review will be done to see if it functions as planned or if more shops need to be opened. “It will depend on the cooperation of the people,” said Karma Yonten.