Fresh vegetables supplied to Thimphu, Chukha and Samtse as of yesterday
Phub Dem | Paro
There is a nationwide lockdown, but farmers in Paro are busy. They are harvesting vegetables, packing and transporting them.
With many dzongkhags running out of fresh vegetables and Paro becoming the summer vegetable capital, farmers have no time to waste or stay home. It has been three days since Paro dzongkhag’s agriculture officials began collecting vegetables from the gewogs.
After receiving orders from the dzongkhag agriculture office, gups communicate with farmers through social media and inform them to harvest vegetables and keep it ready for pick up. Encouraging every farmer to participate in marketing their produce, Lungnyi gup Jamtsho asked members of his gewogs to contribute five sacks of chillies each.
He said that as a majority of the households in his gewog grow chillies, it was essential to set the limit. Besides, to avoid overcrowding, the gup identified five collection points. Only one representative from each household is allowed to drop and register their produce.
With export restricted because of the lockdown, dzongkhag officials witnessed a massive surplus in vegetable production. The dzongkhag supplied the surplus vegetables to the Centenary Farmers’ Market in Thimphu, Food Corporation of Bhutan’s depot in Damchu, and Chukha and Samtse dzongkhags as of yesterday.
The dzongkhag has supplied 18.3 metric tonnes (MT) of chillies and 45.9MT of cabbages to the CFM and FCB depot alone. Other than chillies, Paro also supplies beans, cauliflower, broccoli, brinjal, radish and carrots.
Without human resources and restrictions from the lockdown, the dzongkhag agriculture team faced challenges in carry out the door-to-door collection service. Dzongkhag Agriculture Officer, Tandin said the collection team worked late into the night when they had to unload the vegetables at the depots.
Meanwhile, the price of vegetables is reasonable, according to farmers. Chencho Pem from Shomu has been harvesting chillies for the last two days. Along with her son who recently completed his graduation, she has stacked 30 sacks of chillies on the roadside. The collection truck will collect the chillies today.
Farmers are paid Nu 100 per kilogramme of chillies, which according to Chencho Pem and other farmers, was a fair price. Although the chillies from Paro fetched good money this year, she said that the market was short-lived because of the lockdown. “If lockdown extends, the chillies will rot. But the dzongkhag administration saved us.”
Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue
To ensure employment and supply of dairy products in the dzongkhag, Wangdue’s dzongkhag administration has allowed work at the four milk-processing units (MPU) amid lockdown.
Two of the MPUs are located in Sephu gewog and two in Gangtey gewog.
According to livestock officer, Ugyen, there were about 10 permanent employees and about 250 members who bring milk to the MPUs.
He added that the dzongkhag administration did not want the employees to lose their job and income.
MPUs also have enough space at the cold storage room to store their products.
Employee of an MPU in Rukubji, Yangka Dorji, said that the MPU in Rukubji had double and single deck fridges. The single deck fridge can store over 400 pieces of cheese.
A majority of products from the MPUs were sold in Thimphu before the lockdown.
An employee of an MPU in Sephu, Sethup, said that the products were first sold among the locals. The remaining products were sent to Thimphu.
According to Sethup, the MPU received around 100 litres of milk every day. The members of the MPUs make around Nu 100,000 in total every month.
The MPUs were closed until August 13 after the lockdown was announced on August 11.
An employee of an MPU in Gogona, Chimi Dema, said that because the quantity of milk was huge, it was too much for household consumption. Thus, the farmers raised concerns over the closure of the MPUs.
The MPU in Gogona produces yogurt, curd, cheese (gouda, cheddar) and butter, among others.
It is confirmed. There is local transmission of Covid-19 in Phuentsholing. Five people tested positive and 18 tested positive on the IgG, which indicates that they were infected.
How does this change our fight against the novel coronavirus?
Phuentsholing has been declared a red zone. There are strict restrictions and more people are being tested. As of yesterday evening, about 2,000 people, two from each household, were tested. The health ministry fielded 20 teams to screen all the residents to ensure that the virus is not spreading to other parts of the country. If there are more cases, they will be separated, isolated, tested and treated. The priority is to contain it.
A case in the community means the virus can spread fast. But that is only if we are not prepared and are complacent. The attention is on Phuentsholing. Besides those on the frontline giving their best to contain a rapid spread of the virus, we have the biggest weapon. Let us listen and cooperate with the authorities.
The government is pleading with the people to cooperate to help contain the spread of the virus. Help, here, is simple. They are only asking us to stay home and follow the rules and protocols of lockdown. The purpose of the lockdown is to prevent the spread. While it has caused inconveniences, it was not the intention.
As a commercial hub, thousands of people and vehicles had left Phuentsholing to other parts of the country before the lockdown was enforced. The concern is that people could have been exposed to the virus. The request is to report to authorities if anybody had left Phuentsholing since August 1. We can only trace and test if people report.
The greatest service to the nation during this pandemic is being honest and informing authorities of our travel history. This is not to punish people. It is to prevent the virus from spreading further. For those who are worried, it is comforting to know that we have 138 positive cases so far. Nobody had to be put on a ventilator. Some are saying that except the boredom at the isolation or de-isolation ward, it is just like another day spent alone. The problem is the vulnerable group or if cases go out of hand.
We all grew up learning that prevention is better than cure. This is the appropriate time to put it into practice. We can be our own saviour.
Meanwhile, as lockdown enters the seventh day, we are seeing improvements on all fronts. Those “inconvenienced’ by lack of essentials or fresh vegetables should receive their share from tomorrow. On the command of His Majesty The King, a card system was initiated yesterday.
By late evening yesterday, appreciations for the access card replaced frustration on social media. In the dzongkhags, local authorities are ensuring that nobody goes hungry. Villagers are carrying rice bags, oil and other essentials home even at places where roads are blocked
Inconveniences will not last long. It is in our hands. If we cooperate, we will win the fight against Covid-19.
Neten Dorji | Trashiyangtse
Repeated floods and increasing human-wildlife conflict had forced them to abandon paddy cultivation.
Three decades later, the farmers of Bumdeling could plant paddy gain. And harvest time is approaching.
This had been made possible with the Royal Society for Protection of Nation’s (RSPN) initiatives to revive paddy fields to improve feeding ground for the black-necked cranes.
The revived land was handed over to the people with irrigation canal and electric fencing last year.
“We are happy to be able to grow paddy again,” said a villager, Cheten Tshering.
Another villager, Passangla, said with the revival of paddy fields, people could achieve self-sufficiency in rice.
The revival of about 10-acre land began last year. Rice terraces were left covered in sand and debris.
“Now we are confident to produce enough rice to sell even,” Dechen, a farmer, said.
Chief communication officer with RSPN, Jigme Tshering, said that RSPN with Bumdeling Gewog Administration and Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary (BWS) was seeking financial support to restore the rest of the agricultural land affected by the flood.
He said that the project also provided electric fencing for 113 households. “In collaboration with US-based International Crane Foundation and Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary, the RSPN have embarked on restoring degraded crane habitats in Bumdeling.”
To encourage farmers to continue paddy cultivation, BWS, RSPN and dzongkhag administration are exploring markets for farmers, branding the rice as Thrung Thrung Rice.
Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH) in Thimphu saw 61 women give birth in six days of ongoing nationwide lockdown.
Birthing centre recorded 52 newborns and maternity ward nine.
Sangay Lhaden became a first-time mother on the third day of nationwide lockdown. “I was home when I got bleeding at midnight and had to call the ambulance.” Emergency services were available and she did not panic.
Tashi Zam said that after the Lyonchhen announced that women could avail maternity and child vaccination services, it posed no problem to take her niece Dorji Tshomo to the hospital on August 15 for child delivery. Dorji Tshomo gave birth to a baby boy on August 16.
Pasang Wangmo was referred to JDWNRH from Paro on August 8. She delivered her baby on the first day of lockdown. Due to some complications, she had to stay back in the hospital.
“I have no relatives in Thimphu. If the lockdown prolongs after I am discharged from the hospital, I have nowhere to go,” Pasang Wangmo said.
The problem facing the hospital is with families who are stranded and had to deliver their babies in Thimphu during the lockdown. “Some do not have any relative in Thimphu, so they could not be discharged from the hospital,” said a health official.
One of the nurses said that reduced manpower was one of the main challenges facing the birthing centre. She said that the centre functioned with only three staff with 12-hour shift routine.
Usually there are five to six staffs doing the morning, evening, and night shifts.
The waste collection routine in Thimphu municipality (thromde) has changed since the city went under lockdown. However, most of the residents in Thimphu were unaware of the new schedule and timing to dump their waste. Most of them were still following the old garbage collection schedule.
The silent street of Babesa along BCSEA office road was thrown into commotion on the fourth day of lockdown. The residents were seen out on the street, gathering with garbage bags while De-Suups on duty tried to manage the crowd.
Bishal Rai and his housemate rushed out with their garbage bags as soon as they heard the distinctive garbage truck sound. He said that he saw the garbage truck on the upper lap from the attic of his apartment.
The garbage truck usually collects wet waste on Fridays from the Babesa area. Residents have been waiting for the waste truck since 10 am on the day.
Gopal Lagun, a senior resident said, “I need to guard my garbage. Otherwise, the scavenging dogs will make a mess out of it.”
He didn’t want to miss the garbage truck, so he chose to miss his lunch.
Residents said that each building should have a secure place to throw the tenant’s garbage to discourage people from leaving them in open spaces. “People can dispose of their waste safely if the city corporation can provide the community with waste segregation bins or trolleys,” a resident said.
The garbage truck came at 6pm when the Thimphu Thromde learnt that people were still waiting and some left their waste on the roadside.
Thimphu Thromde’s Chief Environment Officer, Sonam Desel, said: “Waste management begins at home. I am requesting the public to segregate their waste.”
She said that the residents should dump the waste properly into the dump trucks and not spill them on the roads.
Sonam Desel said that it’s unsafe for the people to wait outside if the garbage vehicle hasn’t arrived. “I would advise residents to stay in and let out only one member from each household to throw their wastes.”
People should wear their mask, maintain physical distance and rush home as soon as they dispose of their waste and wash their hands, she said.
Sonam Desel said that Thimphu Thromde doesn’t have enough garbage trucks because one garbage truck is kept solely for the purpose of collecting waste from quarantine facilities which can’t be used for municipal waste collection.
Thimphu Thromde identified three waste collection service providers during the lockdown. Clean City for north Thimphu, Greener Way for core Thimphu and Bhutan Green Servicers for South Thimphu. The service providers have started implementing a new schedule on Wednesday.
The Chief Environment Officer said that the garbage collectors and handlers are being trained on the standard operating procedure for waste management during Covid-19 pandemic. She said this could have led to some initial disturbances in collection.
Thirty six waste handlers and collectors are living away from their families in a highly restrictive hotel in Bebena, Thimphu. They are provided personal protective equipment like cover-alls, N-95 respirators, surgical masks, goggles and face shields, inner gloves (non-sterile medical gloves), outer gloves (Utility gloves), plastic aprons and gumboots.
“Health and safety of both our crew and the public is the highest priority,” said Sonam Desel.
“The waste collectors have been trying to reach every nook and corner skipping meals, working overtime, living away from their families and risking exposure to Covid-19.”
She said: “I hope the public will understand how difficult it’s for our service providers too.”
Residents are asked to follow the new schedule for waste collection given on Thimphu Thromde’s website.
“You can call the respective service providers instead of waiting all day for the garbage truck,” said Sonam Desel.
Mass testing started in the town with about 30,000 people
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering confirmed that there is a local transmission of Covid-19 in Phuentsholing during a press conference yesterday.
This is following the detection of four new cases outside the quarantine-like facility at the RRCO’s mini dry port (MDP) in the already marked red zone, Phuentsholing.
Two men aged 32 and 33 years, a 38-year-old woman and a five-year-old child (second child case) tested positive on the RT-PCR during the active surveillance test, which started on August 15.
These people had no direct contact with the positive cases detected from people within the MDP and also did not have any recent travel history outside the country.
In absence of a source of exposure, the cases established that there is a local transmission in the town.
Also, a 28-year-old man who is a primary contact of the index case from the MDP tested positive taking the overall tally of positive cases to 138 and active cases to 36.
Lyonchhen said that after testing more than 1,200 people during the active surveillance, 18 people tested positive for IgG antibody, meaning they had past exposure to the virus. One person tested IgM positive meaning he or she had recent exposure.
These cases were detected during the active surveillance, which was initiated in addition to the ongoing contact tracing of those who have tested positive from the MDP. The active surveillance was conducted to establish if there is an outbreak in the community.
Thimphu under radar
On an average, about 1,500 vehicles left from the Kharbandi check post in Phuentsholing to rest of the country everyday. Majority of these vehicles were Thimphu-bound.
Considering the movement pattern between Thimphu and Phuentsholing (very high frequency), Lyonchhen urged anyone with travel history to Phuentsholing since August 1 to call the toll-free number 1023 and register for a test.
This was because the index case who was detected on August 11 from the MDP could have been infected with the virus at least 10 days before he showed symptoms. Meaning the chances of spreading the virus was likely since August 1.
Speaking to Kuensel, Lyonchhen explained that irrespective of symptoms, any individual who visited Phuentsholing and returned to their respective dzongkhags since August 1 has to call 1023 and register themselves.
“You don’t have to come to any health facilities. Call this number and we’ll send health staff to collect the samples at your residence.”
Lyonchhen said that for now testing the entire population in Thimphu (over 130,000) would not be practical and realistic given that none so far, including the contacts of the Gelephu woman and the positive cases from the MDP who are in Thimphu, has tested positive to the virus. “For now, we want to start from people who have visited Phuentsholing. If all of them are negative, there is no point testing the rest of the population,” Lyonchhen said. “If we do detect one from Thimphu the possibility is that he or she would have been to Phuentsholing.”
Should there be any indication of a possible positive case in Thimphu, the prime minister said screening would be conducted in a zone-wise manner. “Things should be much faster in Thimphu because of the lessons we have learned from Phuentsholing.”
Lyonchhen said that unlike Phuentsholing where there was enough evidence to start a mass screening, there are no evidences or indication of a local outbreak in Thimphu so far.
In Phuentsholing, he said a woman outside the MDP facility tested positive. “The moment we got an indication, on the command of His Majesty we went full out on conducting mass screening. We have 20 teams testing currently in Phuentsholing, this has never happened before.”
The economy is bleeding
For every individual the government is conducting two tests amounting to more than Nu 1,800. This does not include cost of consumables (syringes, needles and other equipment) and PPEs. A single-use coverall costs about Nu 1,000, which has to be changed at least twice in a day.
Lyonchhen said that the government for now has around 70,000 RT-PCR kits and around 250,000 rapid test kits. “We placed orders for more kits worth around Nu 600 million.”
“We have been operating on a fiscal deficit and this is in addition to that fiscal deficit. We are bleeding,” the prime minister said.
Delivery of essentials a failure, say residents
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
With three new cases detected yesterday, Phuentsholing has now 16 confirmed Covid-19 positive cases. All are from the Mini Dry Port (MDP).
Two men and a woman, who are the primary contacts of the positive case in Phuentsholing, were all found to be Covid-19 positive yesterday. Health ministry said they are from the MDP and not from the community.
Kuensel sources said that the woman is a sweeper at the MDP. She also worked at the MDP canteen. By late yesterday evening, rumours that three policemen in Phuentsholing had been infected with the virus had gone viral. Kuensel sources said that one of the two men is a traffic policeman. However, Kuensel couldn’t confirm this officially.
Meanwhile, the lockdown has brought the country’s largest commercial town to a standstill. Although figures couldn’t be confirmed, Kuensel learned there were Bhutan bound trucks stuck across the border. Many trucks are also stranded at the MDP.
Without the entry of trucks to Phuentsholing, the MDP has also ceased to function. Along with loaders (about 140), at least 60 customs officials have been quarantined.
Revenue and customs officials from Paro will be brought to Phuentsholing to replace the staff quarantined, but finding new loaders is a problem. About 420 primary contacts were traced on the first day after the MDP positive case.
In Pasakha, some factories are operating. A source said the government gave the industries certain conditions to fulfil and those who fulfilled were allowed to operate, while others had to shut down. However, export and import has come to a standstill.
All the factory workers are confined to individual factory premises. Nobody is allowed to move in or out of their factory premises.
An industrialist said that without the local transmission until recently, every effort was put to ensure the economy was not affected.
“Now that we are in a lockdown, it’s life before livelihood. The good news is that Pasakha is still a green zone,” the industrialist said.
“We are hoping to keep it that way.”
As Phuentsholing is a red zone, the Covid-19 Task Force in Phuentsholing in a press release yesterday announced there would be no regulated access to grocery shops.
Earlier modality for purchase of essential items allowed people to register over the phone with the hotline (5555) from 9am to 5pm and a regulated access to designated retail outlets was allowed. One registered member of a household was allowed to go out shopping twice a week on Wednesday and Saturday. Designated retail outlets were supposed to open from 10am to 5pm.
However, in the press release yesterday, the Task Force announced all essential items would be delivered at homes by identified stores.
“To place orders for essential items, individuals should call the trader directly. If the trader cannot be reached, the individual can call 5555,” the press release said.
“Identified traders will receive orders of essential items for home delivery from 8am to 1pm every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Home delivery will be carried out from 2pm to 8pm on the same day.”
The press release stated that customers are advised to order quantities to last for one week at a time to reduce frequency of movement for home delivery. Identified traders are asked to avoid cash transactions and encouraged to facilitate payment through e-payment applications.
Individuals who are not able to get home delivery services are asked to call the Regional Trade and Industries Office. For the delivery of vegetables, residents could contact FCBL or other vendors through the hotline centre at 5555.
Much to the relief of the residents, the Task Force also announced that people from other parts of the country currently stranded in Phuentsholing could register with the Covid-19 Control Centre Helpline at 1216 from 9am to 7pm on weekdays, and hotline 5555 during other times.
Until the third day of the lockdown, many people took to social media platforms to express their frustration over difficulty in buying essentials. Many were able to go to the stores and get the groceries but couldn’t buy vegetables.
Vegetables are still a problem in Phuentsholing. Without import, relevant agencies are mobilising vegetables from different regions in the country, it has been learned.
One Phuentsholing resident, Namgay said he has run out of vegetables. “I also called for LPG refill but they told me that they don’t have a vehicle to deliver ,” he said. “This is very sad.”
Although the introduction of home delivery service was appreciated from safety points, Namgay is worried after the failure to deliver. “From beginning it has failed here,” he said.
Many said there is some improvement in terms of essential delivery.
Namgay Wangchuk, another resident said home delivery of groceries was a brilliant initiative.
“Officials from the Task Force and regional heads are even following up on us to check the deliveries and its effectiveness,” he said. However, Namgay Wangchuk said vegetable suppliers didn’t have vegetables other than potatoes, cabbages and carrots.
With more than 80 percent of imports coming via Phuentsholing, many said the country’s economy must be the priority still.
One Phuentsholing resident, Tshering Yeshi said that as the Covid-19 would not go anytime soon, the socio-economic development must not be compromised while battling Covid-19.
“We have to keep fighting and keep running businesses. Otherwise, more than the damage by Covid-19, Bhutan might face an economic disaster.”
Another resident said the lockdown is timely and well managed by the government and the health ministry.
A corporate worker, Tshewang Dema said that people were following the lockdown rules strictly.
“If everyone cooperates, the virus cannot hamper us,” she said. “Staying home is the priority right now. It is serving the nation in the best way possible.”
None of her primary contacts have tested positive
The Covid-19 positive case in Gelephu on August 10 not only became the first positive case outside a quarantine facility, but also triggered a nationwide lockdown for the first time in the country.
The case of the 27- year-old woman also raised several questions on the testing mechanism based on the current understanding of the mechanism.
The woman had tested five times negative on the RT-PCR test, the confirmatory test for Covid-19.
Medical technologist and a member of the technical advisory group (TAG) of the health ministry, Rixin Jamtsho said that the woman could have been exposed to the virus in the past and had recovered.
This he said was because the woman tested positive for IgG antibody on three occasions, which is representative of a past infection. “And the positive result on the PCR test (test number six) could have been due to the shedding of the dead virus particles.”
He said there are several literatures that show RT-PCR results can test positive even for a dead virus. A PCR test, he said, amplifies the genetic materials exponentially by making exact copies of the molecule. “The copies produced are then used to compare with the gene of the virus. The sample here can be dead or alive.”
Rixin Jamtsho said that the evidence of the index case shedding dead virus could be deduced from her primary contacts. “None of her primary contacts have tested positive. If she was shedding live virus, she would have infected at least one of her close contacts.”
He explained that the initial results on PCR for the woman could have been negative because the virus had not reached the upper respiratory tract from where the swab for test is collected.
“If there are no viruses in the swab collected for the test, the test would not detect the virus. PCR might not be a sensitive method but it is a highly specific test, meaning even if the sample contains a small fraction of the virus, the result would be definitely positive.”
While there are very little chances of error in the sample collection, he said even if the samples were incorrectly collected, by now at least some of her close contacts should have tested positive.
This means that the woman did not have active infection, which is why she did not test positive on the PCR during the initial tests. The test picked up the virus (dead) during the sixth PCR test.
Who can spread the virus?
The woman in Gelephu continues to be asymptomatic and all the 135 primary contacts have tested negative to the virus.
However, the 25-year-old man who tested positive from the mini dry port in Phuentsholing was symptomatic when he was taken to the hospital on August 11. 15 of his primary contacts have also tested positive so far.
Rixin Jamtsho said that in the initial days of the pandemic, it was assumed that infected persons who are asymptomatic did not spread the virus. “But today there are many literature that say asymptomatic cases play an equal role in spreading the virus.”
He said that irrespective of symptoms, if an individual is infected he or she could infect others. “But the degree of transmission would be more for symptomatic patients because they cough and sneeze more than the one who do not have symptoms.”
The medical technologist said having a healthy body helps in fighting any sort of disease including Covid-19. “We have 100 people who have recovered from the disease so far without any specific medication,” he said. “If we can keep our body strong by eating healthy, our immune system can fight this virus on its own.”
However, he added that for now there is no evidence that the body develops long-term immunity against Covid-19. “But the body instantly fights the virus by producing antibodies as it enters our body. Which is why we must eat healthy and keep the body strong enough for it to fight any disease.”
Rixin Jamtsho said that there are scientific literatures that show about two to six percent of the people developing symptoms for Covid-19 after 21 days.
“We have released more than a thousand people from the quarantine centres following the most stringent protocols. But studies outside has shown that there are people who become positive after 21 days of contracting the infection.”
Because of this, he said that the second layer of surveillance was put in place. Under this, a person completing the mandatory 21-day quarantine is asked to stay home, minimise contact with others and immediately report to authorities if any flu-like symptoms appear.
“However, it seems many don’t take this advice seriously. Considering the threat and the 2-4 percent chance, we need to strictly enforce this again and make people aware of the danger if they don’t follow the rules.”
Meanwhile the government’s decision to extend the quarantine period from 14 days to 21days was because the probability for a 14-day incubation period was between 10-12 percent as compared to 2-6 percent for 21 days.
As we enter the fifth day of the nationwide lockdown, it is a good time to pause and reflect on the emergency situation.
There is a general consensus that we have managed the lockdown quite well. Despite concerns and complaints about not getting essential items or getting stranded, the agreement is that the past four days have been relatively well managed.
The government and relevant authorities are trying to improve service delivery. It should, from tomorrow, as better solutions are being explored.
The government was prepared to face a possible lockdown. Implementation on the ground, however, didn’t meet expectations. Layers of bureaucratic procedures affected service delivery. For instance, it took three days to issue cards to enable vehicles or officials on Covid-19 duty to move. Some are still sorting out the confusions.
However, our inconveniences are nothing compared to the hundreds of people on the frontline who cannot and do not complain, and are risking their lives. While we spend the lockdown in the comforts of our home, there are people guarding our borders in intense heat, exposed as they are to the virus and not seeing family members or loved ones for days on end.
Our memories are short, but many of us saw images and videos of thousands of migrant workers walking hundreds of kilometres to their villages in peak summer in neighbouring India. Some died of heatstroke, of tiredness and out of hunger on the way. The shortage of fresh vegetables and fruits are nothing compared to the images and videos we shared and talked about. Many would say that we cannot compare the situation, but we have not experienced the realities of an emergency. We are only talking about not getting bread or milk or having to put up in a hotel.
The real problem will start if the situation worsens and the lockdown extends for weeks, even months. Beyond the towns, life is no different with farmers tending to their fields and managing with stock from the previous years. Their only worry is wildlife predation when there are no people to guard their fields.
The government, even in a lockdown is being considerate. Priorities are being identified. Those stranded are being registered to be rescued, and rules are being relaxed to look into the inconveniences including delivering tobacco or doma at the door.
The expectation is that the zhung or the government will do everything.
The zhung can only do so much in an emergency. At the same time, promising too much only raises expectations. People get frustrated when what is claimed at press conferences and ground realities do not match. In Phuentsholing, people feel the local authorities failed miserably when they had to come out to buy essentials in a red zone declared area. However, with lessons learnt from the last few days, we can expect better days to see through the lockdown.
Besides vegetables and essentials, there are other pressing issues. There are reports of increasing teenage pregnancy cases during the pandemic. It is learnt that some had approached hospitals for abortion and when denied, threatened to commit self-harm or even suicide. We are also seeing an increase in gender-based violence.
Covid-19 has not claimed a single life so far. In fact, our recovery rate is impressive. Unwanted pregnancies or domestic violence are seen as bigger threats during lockdowns. It is said that many young women have become dependent on emergency contraceptive pills to avoid unwanted pregnancy.
Health officials are worried about the growing use of emergency pills like the popular Ipill. Even as such pills are made available, users must be informed about responsible use. There are side effects to consider. How we list our priorities and respond to them will matter more than anything.
Following Lyonchhen’s approval to continue services for pregnant women and vaccination of children during lockdown, Gyaltsuen Jetsun Pema Wangchuck Mother and Child Hospital saw hundreds of patient availing the services yesterday.
By noon, 21 patients availed post-natal immunisation; 74 availed blood and urine sample tests, 22 availed voluntary counselling, and 20 availed ultrasound facility.
Doctor Sonam Ugen, Head of Community Health Department, said that many who did not require essential services had also come to the hospital. “Some people just had a fever or a headache.”
The hospital had a contingency plan to tackle situations during Covid-19 and lockdown, she added.
The contingency plan—Interim operational guideline for continuity of reproductive, maternal, newborn, child health, and nutrition services during Covid-19 pandemic—aims to reduce hospital visits.
According to the plan, half the health staff would work from home, making remote treatment possible through phone calls. Only emergency patients would be asked to visit the hospital. The other half would carry out face-to-face treatment of patients.
“Temporal measure is to ensure that if the facility goes under lockdown by a Covid-19 positive case, there would still be half health staff for continued service,” she added.
The plan is to also reduce hospital visits by pregnant women; eight visits to the hospital is now reduced to four. Pregnant women on 12, 24, 36 and 38 weeks need to visit the hospital but 20-, 30-, 34-, 40-week treatment can be done through remote treatment.
In case of complication, expectant mothers would be asked to visit hospital and vehicles would be arranged by the hospital, Doctor Sonam Ugen said.
“People are miss-using this special service during the lockdown,” she added
In Thimphu, Community Health Unit carries out outreach clinic for Chang Gewog. Additionally, nine Goenpas and Sheydras, and 16 Schools and Institutions.
Doctor Sonam Ugen said that usually all services were provided in a day according to their convenience, but considering the Covid-19 measures family planning was done on one day and child immunization and medication refill for ailment patient on the next day.
On August 14, seven individuals availed family planning services. Immunisation of 15 children was scheduled for the next day through outreach clinic.
Doctor Sonam Ugyen said that all registered records for mother and child was registered in Health Management and Information System—Mother and Child Health Tracking System (MCHTS)
We call mothers whose child need vaccination by following health protocol through the MCHTS, she added.
“The hospital functioned with half staff today but if the number of patients increases, we might have to call all the health staff,” she said.
The non-performing loans (NPL) ratio to total credit has jumped to 19.5 percent in March from 10.9 percent in December 2019. The total credit, as of April stood at Nu 142.689 billion (B), according to the Royal Monetary Authority’s monthly statistical bulletin for August.
The total NPL ballooned to Nu 27.5B by the end of the first quarter from Nu 15.161 in December last year. This is an increase of more than Nu 12.3B within the three months.
The figures could be much higher by now, but officials said that the NPL occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic should be given special treatment. Interests were waived and loan repayment deferred as part of the Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu since April.
Sector wise, the total loan in the building and construction sector stood at Nu 39.05B or 27 percent of the total credit, which was the highest.
Credit in the service and tourism sector amounted Nu 37.897B while the total loan in the trade and commerce sector was Nu 17.674B.
Loans to the agriculture sector, which engages more than half of the population, stood at Nu 6.505B or only 4.6 percent. This is slightly higher than the credits in the transport sector, which stood at Nu 6.183B.
The total personal loans stood at Nu 14.336B, which accounted for 10 percent of the total credit. The central bank, however, has not released sector-wise NPLs for comparison of which sector has been performing well.
A high-level committee consisting of officials, including the central bank governor and heads of the financial institutions, is expected to be formed and study the problem and come up with a solution to the NPL problem.
President of the Financial Institutions Association of Bhutan (FIAB), Karma last week said that a team (of officials) is looking at possible options. However, he did not elaborate, saying that he would inform the media later.
Some officials from a financial institution said that the high prevalence of NPL was partly because of lack of due diligence on part of the financial institutions.
A bank official said that in some cases, the collaterals were not verified properly and that the loans could not be recovered. The Covid-19, he said, had made the situation worse.
Day five of the lockdown. How are people coping?
More than the inconveniences of the lockdown, people are worried about the uncertainty of the pandemic.
Dawa Tshering, 76, from Tsirang, enjoyed waking up early for his morning walk and meeting his friends for a chat in the evening. But now, he has only to stay home, chanting prayers.
“In the current situation, staying home is helping the nation,” he says. “I will walk around in the house spend quality time with my family,” he said.
Sonam Dema said that she was able to guide her children with studies. “Before lockdown, I could guide them only on weekends. I help them write journals to capture their own experiences.”
Pema Choden, a civil servant, said she now had ample time to read and work out at home. “But I have also been sleeping a lot after the lockdown.”
Deki, 25, said that after lockdown she got to be with her family, which does not happen often otherwise. “It is difficult with professional commitment.”
Rinzin Norbu said he had become lazy after lockdown. To keep himself active, he guides his niece and nephew with their studies. “I am trying to make the best use of this time—to read and do household chores.”
Yeshi Dorji from Zhemgang said that he was on social media most of the time. “I feel caged. So, taking advantage of the situation, I read a lot about cinematography online.”
For the students, lockdown has meant more time to study and follow one’s interests. A 17-year-old high school student said that when she was bored she engaged in activities such as baking and cooking.
Kinley Dema said that she had started practising yoga. “Lockdown is a chance to practise good habits that are important in life.” As a teacher, Kinley said that she would be able to spend more time online helping her students.
Dorji Drakpa, an employee with a private company, said that he would try to cultivate reading habit during the lockdown.
Dorji Tshering, 25, said that his routine had not changed after lockdown. “I spend most of my time inside the house. This is normal for me.”
So it is with Sangay Wangmo, a teacher in Mongar. She spends her time doing gardening in her small backyard.
“Not being able to go for walks makes me feel lazy so I am with my phone most of the time,” Sangay said. To kill boredom, she is also weaving a kira.
Although lockdown brought inconveniences, people say that because of the government’s initiative of delivering essential goods things were manageable.
Phub Dem | Paro
The rural households in Paro are killing boredom due to lockdown either by working in a nearby fields or going into the jungle to collect mushrooms.
Although Paro dzongkhag Covid-19 taskforce did not allow any outdoor activities initially, the government has allowed people to collect mushrooms and carry out fieldwork.
Health protocols must be observed, however.
As per the directive, only one or two farmers are seen working in the field. But, are the mushroom collectors abiding by the law?
Towards late evening on Thursday, the patrolling team at Paro Shomu met with four mushroom collectors.
One of the collectors said that the collectors had to go in groups because of the danger of meeting with wild animals.
She said that she wasn’t the only person who failed to abide by the restriction.
The officials asked them to avoid gathering and advised to remain vigilant.
Tshering Wangchuk from Shomu, who looks after the village’s water supply, went to check the source, as the area ran out of the water after heavy rainfall the previous night.
The water source is about eight kilometres from the settlement. “There are more people than animals in the forest.”
A cattle herder, Kama, said that he saw a bunch of mushroom collectors “I thought during the lockdown, everyone should stay at home, but everyone is in the forest.”
As the dusk descends over the valley, a group of mushroom collectors return home. They are all furtive and watchful.
Neten Dorji | Trashigang
While the nationwide lockdown started on August 11, Kangpara, one of the remotest gewogs in Trashigang has been cut off for over a month now. The gewog’s road was severely damaged following heavy rain in July.
With continuous rainfall, the block couldn’t be clear and the gewog is still not connected. People in Kagapara may face difficulties if the lockdown continues.
A massive landslide blocked the road at 12km towards Kangpara gewog from Thrimshing drungkhag. However, a narrow path has been carved into the landslides to carry essential items.
Thrimshing Drungpa, Wangchen Norbu said that as of now there were no reports of residents running short of essential items in the gewog. “We drop all essential items escorted by De-Suups in government vehicles until the block area. From there the goods are carried by volunteers of Kangpara and De-Suups,” he added.
He said that except civil servants, villagers wouldn’t face much problem, since they grow nine different types of cereals. “Both Kangpara gup and Thrimshing gup were asked to collect information incase of any shortage of essential items in the villages.”
Yesterday, the Drungkhag administration dropped 120 bags of rice, 30 liters of oil and pulses at the block site.
The Thrimshing Drungkhag administration would be arranging transportation to drop essential items and on the other side, Kangpara gup is going to coordinate to transport the essentials items till FCB depot in Kangpara.
Kangpara Gup, Sangay Wangdi said the path is narrow and continues falling of boulders risk transportation. “There is no other option than taking individual risk to transship the essentials items.”
He said that he received a few reports of people in shortage of essentials items from two places. Most of the shops in the gewog were empty since they could not restock due to roadblock.
A shopkeeper, Yeshi Tshering managed to restock some items by transshipping. “Now all items are exhausted,” he said. “We cannot restock the items, as it is lockdown time and no one is allowed to travel.”
FCB depot manager Yangchen Lhamo said people wouldn’t face any problems since they are restocking the essential items even if it has to be transshipped. “Most of the people have enough at their home.”
Meanwhile, Drungpa, Wangchen Norbu said continuing falling boulders and landslides delayed clearing work progress initially. “If the weather favours us, it would take about two weeks to clear the blocks.”
Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar
The rapid antigen test on 36 people, who had entered Samdrupjongkhar town from Phuentsholing, Gelephu and Thimphu before the lockdown, came out negative yesterday.
Antigen test is conducted using a nasal swab and throat sample and is as good as an RT-PCR. It shows the result within 20 to 30 minutes.
The officials also conducted rapid antibody tests on 31 IMTRAT officials as they frequently visit India.
Samdrupjongkhar health officials went to the respective places such as Road Safety and Transport Authority office (RSTA), truck parking, and dzongkhag livestock office, among others to conduct the Covid-19 antigen test.
The chief medical officer (CMO), Dr Kezang Dorji, said that they had contact traced those who entered Samdrupjongkhar between August 1 and August 10 from Phuentsholing, Thimphu andGelephu.
He said although they had managed to trace about 128 people who entered Samdrupjongkhar, about 36 people were currently stationed at the town. Most of them had moved to Pemagatshel, Nganglam, Gelephu and Phuentsholing.
The CMO said that the officials would also move to Orong, Gomdar and Wooling, among others to test people who had come from Thimphu, Phuentsholing and Gelephu today.
“We’re conducting the test to the people who had come from those places to prevent the transmission of the virus in the community,” Dr Kezang Dorji said, adding that they had carried out contact tracing since the lockdown was announced.
A truck driver, Tashi, 39, said they could not sleep after they heard about the Covid-19 positive cases in Phuentsholing as they had also come from there.
“We tried and approached the officials for the test, but could not make it.”
“We are now feeling relieved as the officials conducted a test, and the result was also negative. We have learned that it is important to maintain the safety measures to ensure the safety in the community,” Tashi said.
Feed agents running short of supplies worries farmers
Chimi Dema | Tsirang
Worried that he may run short of livestock feed before relaxing the lockdown, Damber Singh Subba, a farmer in Phuentenchu, Tsirang has reduced the amount of daily feed for his layer birds.
For about 9,000 layer birds in his poultry farm, he usually feeds at least 11 bags of Karma Feed a day. But over the past few days, however, he has been able to feed only eight bags a day.
“I may need to reduce the amount further if the feed shortage continues,” he said.
He was lucky to be able to buy 40 bags of feed the day before the nationwide lockdown.
With the support from the dzongkhag livestock sector, the gewog administration delivered about 100 bags of livestock feed for poultry, piggery and dairy farmers on August 13. Farmer got about ten bags of feed each.
Damber Singh Subba said he managed to get 20 bags, enough for two days.
The gewog has 18 poultry, eight piggery farms and a dairy farm consisting of 56 members.
Soon after the nationwide lockdown on Tuesday, one of the main concerns of Tsirang farmers was feeding their livestock.
Farmers said that although they were quite prepared for the lockdown in terms of essentials and other necessities, they couldn’t stock up livestock feed given a short expiry term.
“We cannot keep them longer than 15 days,” a farmer from Gosarling said.
Although farmers could feed alternative food resources to cattle and pigs, for layer birds, feed was necessary.
About 160 bags of animal feeds were supplied in the last two days in the gewog.
The gewog officials said that although farmers demanded about 10 bags each, only four to five bags were distributed given the short supply.
Gosarling gewog alone has about 25,000 layer birds.
The feed agent in the gewog, Indra Tshongkhang has run out of poultry feed since last evening.
The owner said that they have been receiving continuous orders from farmers.
“Our two trucks carrying 500 bags of feed were stranded in Phuentsholing due to restriction on vehicle movement,” the owner said.
The agent has supplied 150 bags to five gewogs yesterday alone.
In Barshong gewog, no shortage of animal feeds has been reported as of now.
Gup Santa Lal Powdel said, “Farmers have stocked up enough fearing cut-off from the town due to roadblocks,” the gup said.
He said that the tshogpas were also asked to compile lists of requirements should there be any.
Four feed agents in Tsirang distributed more than 900 bags of livestock feed in the last two days. While a few agents have about 50 bags each in stock, others have run short of supplies since last evening.
The Senior Dzongkhag Livestock Officer, Gyem Tshering, said that three trucks carrying feed for Tsirang were stranded in Pasakha due to restriction on vehicle movement.
“We may face severe shortage if there isn’t feed supply from the source within a week,” Gyem Tshering said.
Owing to an overwhelming number of calls for vegetable delivery and mounting pressure on the thromde to meet demands, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests has introduced an emergency measure to deliver vegetables in packages in different zones in Thimphu starting 4pm yesterday.
Across different zones in Thimphu, pick-up trucks were allocated to deliver packaged vegetable items which include potatoes, tomatoes, onion, green chilli, garlic, and ginger amounting to Nu 360. Each truck has three foresters and a De-Suup to deliver and observe proper health protocols.
In his Facebook page, agriculture minister Yeshey Penjore posted that for equity distribution, there would be limitations to purchase in the first round of delivery.
“The door-to-door service will continue until we have phase two service in place.”
Lyonpo said that the stocks of vegetables were mobilised and packaged at the Centenary Farmers Market (CFM) by De-Suups, agriculture and CFM officials.
When the trucks arrive at various places, De-Suups on duty will make announcements but the ministry is yet to issue timing of delivery in different areas. Only one person from each household is allowed to collect the package. Lyonpo said that both types of payment—e-payment system and cash—was accepted to reduce inconvenience for users.
The Prime Minister’s page announced: “This is to complement the delivery of essentials through the agents under the thromde. While this lot of vegetables are from the CFM storage, the ministry has already started receiving agriculture produce from the districts.”
Until August 13, the Thimphu Thromde had regulated the delivery but netizens took to social media and complained about delayed delivery, switched off contact numbers or busy lines to place their orders. Users said that the toll-free number announced by the thromde did not work even.
The thromde, however, would continue to deliver in small quantities as per the demands of the individuals or special items unlike the delivery made by the ministry where the consumers did not have the choice to pick up what they needed.
In phase two of the delivery, sub-zones with an outlet will be created in the eight stock centres in Thimphu, which is expected to ensure efficient delivery.
Nima | Gelephu
Health officials have completed testing all primary and secondary contacts of the
the index case in the Gelephu central regional referral hospital.
The test results of the remaining 11 primary contacts are expected today.
Contact tracing team from Gelephu CRRH conducted over 300 tests after the dzongkhag reported its second Covid-19 case on August 10, resulting in the nationwide lockdown.
Test results of all 278 secondary contacts in the dzongkhag, mostly from Sershong village, came negative on the rapid antibody test performed in the past three days.
There were a total of 98 primary contacts. Of that, 86 primary contacts tested negative on both RDT antibody and RT-PCR test conducted so far.
The remaining test for 11 primary contacts, believed to have come in contact with the index case on August 10 was done yesterday.
Medical Superintendent of CRRH, Dr Dorji Tshering said the tests were usually done after three to five days since the last contact with the case or the suspect. “Many think it should be done immediately which is not the way,” he said.
With the nationwide lockdown in place, the testing of the contacts was slower and time-consuming because the health officials have to move door-to-door.
All primary contacts of the index case are either under facility quarantine or home quarantine – 71 primary contacts are under facility quarantine and 27 are home quarantined.
The official added that the team could confidently say that there is no local transmission. “None of the family members who were in close contact with her for a long time tested positive. All of them came negative. The risk of local transmission is low,” said Dorji Tshering.
The 27-year-old who is currently in the isolation ward is in stable condition and has no symptoms. She was in Sershong most of the time with her relatives and family members.
However, the community surveillance is not yet over and the team would continue to revisit the village, according to the officials.
With the Phuentsholing declared as a red zone, the contact tracing team also started to test truckers who had travelled from Phuentsholing to Gelephu in the past one week.
A total of 83 truckers travelled from Phuentsholing to Gelephu between August 4 and 11. The test is done in relation to a Covid-19 positive case reported from a 25-year-old mini dry port loader on August 11.
Out of 83 truckers, only 31 truckers are in Gelephu- 20 truckers were tested yesterday as of 9pm. The team also tested 50 Indian loaders who were involved in loading and unloading in Gelephu to date. The results are expected today.
Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral hospital recorded 962 pregnancy cases until July this year. In the same period last year, the total number of cases was 867.
Doctor Sonam Ugen, Head of Community Health Department, said that the pregnancy cases increased by 95 which was not drastic but measures to avoid unwanted pregnancies was taken care from March.
She said that contraceptives—oral, injection, and condoms to last for three months—were given to registered patients.
These services are still available during lockdown through outreach clinics.
Yesterday, seven people received family planning services through outreach clinic in Chang Gewog.
An official from Renew said that it was an individual’s sexual right to avail contraceptives and if such needs are not made available at this moment it would lead to all forms of gender-based violence.
Pregnancy during lockdown could be due to consensual sex or forced one which would create undue burden on women and girls after this pandemic, an official from RENEW added. “It is a ‘shadow pandemic’, happening but not seen.”
On May 11, Her Majesty the Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck addressed the nation on the risk and additional burden on women and children during the Covid-19: “I urge the Ministry of Health to ensure Sexual and Reproductive Health services as well as maternal, newborn and child health, health sector response to gender-based violence services continue to receive priority throughout the crisis situation. They are essential life-saving services which need to be part of the critical response to the crisis”
All forms of contraceptive, including emergency contraceptives pills, are being delivered door-to-door by health facilities in Thimphu.
There are four centres from where health services can be availed—Community Health Unit, Hejo Satellite Clinic, Motithang Satellite Clinic, and Royal Bhutan Police Dispensary.
Kinga Gyaltshen, a thromde health officer, said that he procured 100 I-pills from a pharmacy and distributed them among the four centres.
Doctor Sonam Ugen said that on the second day of lockdown she received a call from a girl asking for I-pill. She said that the health team delivered it to her along with condoms, as prolonged use of emergency contraceptive was harmful. She was also given health advice.
Doctor Sonam Ugen said that although contraceptives such as I-pill and condoms would be delivered door-to-door, callers should also be mindful about the timing of order.
One of the Health centres received a call at mid-night asking for an I-pill. Doctor Sonam Ugen said that I-pill could be taken within 72 hours. “It is an emergency, yes, but there are priorities.”
Contraceptives would be delivered between 9:00am and 3:00pm.