BoB Bhutan Premier League (BPL) match between High Quality United FC and Paro United FC, supposed to be played on August 11 at the Changlimithang Stadium, has been postponed until further notice due to the nationwide lockdown amid Covid-19 pandemic.
BPL could play only six matches as of August 10.
Ugyen Academy FC, Thimphu City FC, Transport United FC, and Paro FC played two matches each and Tensung FC, Paro United FC and High Quality United FC, and Druk Stars FC with one match each.
Ugyen Academy FC was leading the table with four points.
The defending champions Paro FC had obtained three points. However, the club is ahead of others with maximum goal difference of seven. The club scored nine goals in total and conceived only two.
Paro FC lost the match to Transport United on August 8 at the Woochu Sports Arena.
On August 2, Tensung had a tie against Transport United at Changlimithang.
Yangchen C Rinzin
Following the nationwide lockdown on August 11, many people are stranded in various parts of the country because of restrictions on vehicle movement.
Many had come for a day or two for their personal work, to attend a cremation, sports matches, and job interviews, among other reasons.
Some have no place to stay while others are stuck in hotels and many are staying with relatives.
Many people complained that while they tried to get help, they either could not reach the right people or were asked to call various numbers without any solution. Some even complained of concerned authorities allowing travel to a few selected people.
One of the stranded persons in Thimphu said that expecting lockdown would lift in two days, he put up with his relatives but now with more positive cases, he was worried.
“I can’t return home to Paro and its burden on relatives. If I call for help I’m asked to call another person then the person directs me to another person. I am confused.”
Many shared that they are confused as to who they should ask for help.
While different dzongkhag administrations are trying to resolve the issue, it has been challenging with no proper direction and due to movement restrictions.
Thimphu Dzongkhag alone recorded more than 3,000 people stranded yesterday. In one of the incidents, a father stuck in one of the hotels with his 3-year-old daughter requested the dzongkhag for food since the hotel’s kitchen was closed.
Thimphu dzongkhag started compiling the details from yesterday and the administration would seek advice from the government on how to assist.
A few were accommodated in the dzongkhag guest house on the first day of lockdown. Many enquired when they would be allowed to leave and if they would be quarantined once they are home.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering during the press briefing yesterday said that while the government understood the situation, it was not possible to let everyone travel at once.
“The government is looking into the issue,” he said.
Lyonchhen said that wherever possible, the government has instructed them to travel. On August 12, all those stranded in between were released.
“But many who had come for their personal works, we couldn’t release all as requested,” Lyonchhen said. “We cannot let everyone travel due to protocols and people should bear the inconveniences.”
Similarly, in another incident, about seven trucks that were stopped at Babesa in Thimphu were let go.
There are 74 vehicles stranded at Rinchending in Phuentsholing to go to different dzongkhags. Lyonchhen said that until they manage to arrange testing kits, conduct the Covid-19 tests and declare them as negative, they would not be allowed to move.
“Such restrictions are only for the community’s purpose. We’re allowing movement only to genuine and emergency cases.”
Lyonchhen added all the stranded cases would be dealt on a case by case basis and critical cases are always given permission to travel.
“We understand that they are in the problem but please consider this as a service to the country,” Lyonchhen said. “If we allow the movement, it’ll increase the risk of spreading the virus, so we’re compelled to control the movement.”
Prime minister urged people to understand the present situation the country is going through. Each dzongkhag administration is expected to help people if possible.
In Wangdue 20 civil servants stranded due to the lockdown were sent to their dzongkhags with exception of Phuentsholing with permission from the National Covid-19 taskforce.
As per government’s directive, the Paro Dzongkhag taskforce members facilitated movement for stranded people. Movement for more than 100 stranded people was facilitated yesterday.
Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue
Ten individuals from Lunana, Gasa are today stranded in Punakha. They came to buy their supplies and participate in the coming cordyceps auction, which was to be held next week in Goenshari gewog, Punakha.
According to Daw Gyeltshen, 45, he reached Punakha on Sunday and had plans to leave on Tuesday with supplies.
He added that he bought rice and other essential items, which were to be taken home for the coming winter. People in Lunana stock essential items for winter, when the roads are closed due to heavy snowfall.
“We buy goods for the winter and don’t travel down between November and June every year,” Daw Gyeltshen said.
The stranded individuals also raised concerns over their horses, which are today left in Goenshari and Jazeyphu in Lunana gewog.
Daw Gyeltshen said that people were worried that the horses would be lost if kept in the wild for long. “The people from Esuna village in Lunana were informed that around 16 horses are missing from Shari village in Goenshari, Punakha.” Many had plans to return to the horses within two days. Although a majority of the stranded individuals are with their relatives, others have rented rooms.
Lunana Gup Kaka is also among those stranded in Punakha.
Gup Kaka said that a majority of people returned to Lunana who were mid-way to Punakha when they heard of the cancellation of the auction. “I came here to organise the cordyceps auction. I am also planning to return home.”
While the gup can leave for Gasa with the National Covid-19 Task Force’s instructions to allow officials to travel to their resident dzongkhags, the movement of other stranded residents from Lunana isn’t ensured.
Punakha dzongkhag officials are today collecting information on stranded individuals to render help.
On August 12, the dzongkhag helped send over 30 individuals to their resident dzongkhags.
“While it is easy to send home individuals with vehicles, it was difficult for those without transport. Although we want to help, we are not sure if other dzongkhags would be willing to accept them,” a Punakha dzongkhag official said.
As of 8pm yesterday, Punakha dzongkhag recorded 33 stranded individuals including those nine from Lunana.
Staying safe with digital payment
The nationwide lockdown, which came into effect on August 11, has not affected most customers as they have switched to digital payment methods.
The economy recorded a total of 426,448 digital domestic payment transactions worth Nu 377.91 million (M) during the first two days of the lockdown.
On the first day of the lockdown, the central bank recorded 245,990 digital payments worth Nu 236.75M. The value of transactions on the second day amounted to Nu 141.16M from 180,458 digital payments.
According to the RMA’s Department of Payment and Settlement Systems, in continuation to the public notification issued by the RMA on availability of essential financial services online, there was a significant rise in usage of digital financial services in the first two days of the lockdown.
“We continue to encourage the public to switch to internet or mobile banking like MBoB, Mpay, Tpay etc. provided by the five commercial banks in the country, instead of relying on ATMs, POS, and cash. Banks will guide and support their clients in the digital drive,” director of the Department of Payment and Settlement Systems, Tshering Wangmo, said.
The central bank, in collaboration with the Financial Service Providers (FSPs), has also set up a 24×7 Crisis Management Command Centre (CMCC) with a toll-free number of 1255 at the RMA as part of the national Covid-19 lockdown response measures.
The CMCC received a total of 115 enquiries from across the country during the first two days of lockdown and all of them were resolved.
The CMCC works in close coordination with the entire network of Bhutan’s financial service providers to ensure uninterrupted delivery of essential digital financial services across the country, according to RMA.
The use of mobile wallets has also seen an increase in the volume of transactions processed, especially with effect from March 2020, with the launch of eTeeru of Tashi InfoComm.
The RMA stated that it was not only the Covid-19 pandemic that encouraged more people to switch to the digital payment system. The increase in digital payments is also attributed to the RMA and banks’ rigorous digital initiatives.
Financial service providers also received a total of 860 enquiry calls, of which 724 were resolved.
The calls were related to interbank fund transfer and internet banking issues, Mobile app, remittance outside Bhutan and failed transactions issues, loan inquiries, loan deferment queries, payment (RTGS) issues and inquiries on salary among others.
Other calls were related to insurance, loan deferment queries and loan applications.
The RMA has also requested customers to call helpline numbers of respective financial service providers.
“Women and children are disproportionately affected by health emergencies such as Covid-19 or any other crisis and humanitarian situation due to their differential needs, power and capabilities.”
This is according to The National Commission for women and Children’s (NCWC) Gender-based Violence (GBV) and Child Protection Emergency Preparedness and Response during Covid-19 pandemic plan.
NCWC recorded 47 domestic violence cases between January and April; total cases for 2019 was 77. The latest record with Respect, Educate, Nurture, and Empower Women (RENEW) shows that between January and July this year, it received 407 domestic violence cases. It recorded only 118 cases in entire 2019.
The plan states that the measures used to prevent and control the spread of Covid-19 such as home-based, facility-based quarantine and isolation measures could expose children to protection risks if proper measures are not put in place.
Need to strengthen family and caregiving environments
Children whose caregivers fall ill or is quarantined, hospitalised or pass away are at higher risk of being left without protection and care. Children are left unattended and unsupervised at home and children under quarantine and treatment may be deprived of parental care.
The plan suggests collaboration among relevant stakeholders such as Ministry of Heath (MoH) to strengthen identification and referral of child protection cases to safe alternative care and should be prepared to deal with emergencies such as quarantine and hospitalisation. Stakeholders should ensure efficient family tracing mechanism in case of family separation or loss of primary givers.
This will, among others, entail reviewing standard operating procedures on quarantine to include referral of children who have been separated from their parents and caregivers, creating opportunities to support routine contacts between children and family members who are physically separated. The plan recommends training frontliners to be child-sensitive and responsive in cases where a child is separated from parents and caregivers.
Protection from violence, abuse and exploitation
According to the plan document, children whose family members fall ill are likely to be stigmatised and socially excluded. As household tension increases, domestic violence, corporal punishment, and other forms of abuse against children could happen during restriction of movement and Covid-19 situation. Sexual harassment, exploitation and neglect could lead to children dropping out of school.
Training frontliners and social workers is seen as an effective way to achieve early identification and safe referral through phone calls or home visits. The plan suggests developing and implementing guidelines for the provision of remote child protection management, provision of remote psychological support for parents and caregivers by counsellors, among others.
Mental health and psychological support (MHPSS) for children, adolescents and caregivers
Taking into account the impact of Covid-19 on children, they could feel scared, isolated and experience discomfort, the plan recommends collaboration among the relevant agencies to provide online or remote support, map MHPSS actors and establish a referral mechanism for children and families. Disseminating key messages, including positive coping mechanism on MHPSS through social media, is seen as critically important intervention.
The plan states that isolation is difficult and affects the individuals physically and mentally. Hence, of all forms of gender-based violence could increase. Victims usually sought help when the abusers were away from home. With people being mostly at home, it provides less chance for victims to run away or seek help.
To prevent gender-based violence, the plan recommends the relevant stakeholders to create awareness on GBV through mainstream and social media platforms; training frontliners on sexual violence, GBV response, and safe referral psychosocial first aid; and increasing support to the shelters.
It is so incumbent on the stakeholders, according to the plan, to ensure that sexual and reproductive health needs for women and girls in quarantine be provided, create awareness on menstrual hygiene, and strengthen advocacy to continue provision of services to women and girls requiring services.
The plan’s focus, among others, is on to developing advocacy materials on the importance of sharing household chores and care responsibilities through various means.
After 12 new positive cases in Phuentsholing, the border town has now been declared a red zone. What does that mean?
An area is declared a red zone when it becomes the hotspot or has the highest caseload. We have 13 in Phuentsholing, the highest, excluding those detected from the quarantine centres. In some countries, a zone is declared red when, for instance, there are more than 100 cases per 100,000 population or more than 10 percent of diagnostic test results come back positive.
This is not the case in Phuentsholing.
The 12 new cases are asymptomatic and detected from a contained cohort. The red zone, in our case, means we initiate more stringent protective measures to prevent more people getting exposed to the risk.
The Prime Minister and the health minister overseeing the fight against Covid-19 still insist that the rising cases in the last few days should not be considered as a community transmission. Health officials are investigating the index cases.
The country is already in a lockdown. So, measures initiated during red zone status in some countries like limiting social gatherings, asking people to wear masks when going out or close businesses are out of the question. With the nationwide lockdown, we are already one step ahead in controlling a community transmission.
By yesterday, it was confirmed that those who worked at the Mini Dry Port in Phuentsholing where the 13 cases were reported, had travelled to other dzongkhags. But they are being traced and quarantined. As of last night, five were traced and quarantined in Punakha. More are being traced, including those who had been to the port recently. Truckers in Wangdue, Trongsa and Bumthang were also identified and isolated in quarantine facilities. There is no reason to panic.
However, there are risks and people should be concerned. Given that the incubation period for the novel coronavirus can be up to 14 days after exposure, it is wiser to be safe than sorry. This gives us more reasons to be concerned.
The lockdown has caused inconveniences. People are stranded, are running out of essentials or getting bored at homes. Pandemic disrupts life, creates chaos and brings disasters. We are only talking about inconveniences. People are using every means to pressure the government to let them move despite appeals to stay wherever they are, as movement could expose more people to the virus.
Despite the inconveniences, the safest and the surest way to get out of the situation is to follow the protocols set by the government.
Some problems have solutions. The many Covid-19 task forces are exploring them. We may have been caught off guard, but with better coordination, communication and cooperation, most of the inconveniences can be addressed.
Sooner we find solutions to the problems created by the lockdown, better will be the cooperation from the public.
On the eve of the 74th Independence Day of India, Ambassador of India to Bhutan, Ruchira Kamboj speaks to Kuensel on bilateral relations between the two countries
The 74th Independence Day of the Republic of India on August 15 coincides with the peaking of Covid-19 cases. What would be the special focus of this year’s celebrations?
This year’s Independence Day is somewhat unusual. Covid-19 is yet rampant, and Bhutan is in the midst of a nationwide lockdown. But what stands out in the midst of all this, is the exemplary solidarity between longstanding friends, Bhutan and India in combating the crisis together. Going forward, India will stand alongside Bhutan to get past Covid-19, and to ensure a sustainable recovery.
Importantly and coinciding with Independence Day 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has launched key initiatives, Atmanirbhar Bharat or the Self Reliant India Campaign, a new National Education Policy and the One Nation, One Ration Card scheme, all of which are aimed at the socio-economic development of the people of India.
Aatmanirbhar Bharat is chosen as the theme of the 74th Independence Day. What is the significance?
Without exception, the Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated the importance of self-sufficiency. Addressing the nation on 12 May 2020, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi recognized this imperative and, accordingly, launched the Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan or Self-Reliant India Campaign. To deal with the economic challenges posed by the pandemic and bring our economy back on track, the Prime Minister announced a stimulus package of nearly US$ 270 billion (Rs. 20,000 billion).
When India speaks of self-reliance, we are not advocating a self-centered system. Rather, we believe that a self-sufficient India, a country that is an emerging global leader, will inevitably lead to a more prosperous world. Our aim is to ensure India’s position as a key participant in global supply chains. Through building capacities at home, we also intend to contribute to mitigating disruptions in global markets. We see no contradiction between wanting to build our economic capacities and looking to play a bigger role in the global economy.
The Self-Reliant India Campaign is structured around five key pillars of strengthening our economy, infrastructure, a system driven by modern technology, our vibrant and young demography, and meeting our growing demands by playing a bigger role in the global supply chain. Achieving rapid growth and development will depend substantially on successful integration and assimilation of all of these factors.
For instance, at the start of the pandemic, India did not produce sufficient medical equipment such as ventilators and personal protection equipment kits. Today, after having built up our capacities over a period of a few months, we are now producing these items on a massive scale and are even supplying them to other countries, as well as to our neighbours in the region, including Bhutan. This was possible only because India set out on a path to achieve self-sufficiency.
Furthermore, Prime Minister Modi launched an Agriculture Infrastructure Fund of Rs. 1000 billion on 9 August 2020, which will benefit farmers and help agri-entrepreneurs in building farming assets and post-harvest infrastructure, thereby promoting self-sufficiency in the agriculture sector. Similarly, the Government of India has decided to manufacture 101 defence items indigenously, reflecting another step towards self-reliance.
Bhutan was one of the first countries to recognise India’s independence in 1947 laying the foundations of close relations. How have the relations changed?
Bhutan-India relations are indeed privileged, serving as an epitome of immaculate neighbourly relations for the rest of the world.
This multifaceted relationship covers myriad areas: development cooperation; hydro power; trade and commerce; education and, of course, our shared historical, cultural and people-to-people linkages. Importantly, and in this technology-driven era, we are also cooperating in new areas: space science and technology, financial technology cooperation and digital connectivity.
Currently, we are working towards multiple goals which were agreed during the visit of Prime Minister Modi in August 2019. Taking forward His Majesty’s vision in harnessing space resources for the benefit of the country and its people, both sides are collaborating on the joint development of a small satellite for Bhutan. Other activities include, the development of a geo-portal system for Bhutan towards the mapping of natural resources as well as for disaster management, using remote sensing and geo-spatial data. India’s National Knowledge Network is now connected to Bhutan’s DrukREN, creating thereby an information highway, encouraging greater interaction between our Universities, as well as our research and student communities.
We have also launched STEM-based cooperation initiatives that are aligned with the priorities of the Royal Government of Bhutan. Subsequent to the signing of MoUs between RUB and IITs Delhi, Bombay and Kanpur during the visit of Prime Minister Modi to Bhutan last year, Bhutanese engineering students are heading to our prestigious IITs on full ride scholarships, most notably IIT Kanpur, IIT Bombay as well as IIT Delhi. Furthermore, an annual Youth Exchange Programme has been developed by the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, with the active collaboration of the RUB and the Royal Government of Bhutan, which is poised to take off, once the pandemic situation is behind us.
By October 2020 we should see enhanced financial technology cooperation between our two countries through a full inter-operability of the RuPay card launched jointly by the Bhutanese and Indian Prime Ministers last year, boosting e-payments, both ways. We are also working on the use of the Bharat Interface for Money (BHIM) App in Bhutan to promote the culture of cashless payment on both our sides.
On Hydropower we have recently inked the Kholongchhu Concession Agreement, the first joint venture project between our two countries which should open up a whole new chapter of beneficial cooperation in Bhutan’s East.
We are also working towards enhanced connectivities between our two countries, we have recently opened an additional trade route through the Pasakha Industrial Area, and we are exploring rail connectivities as well.
We are also honoured to work with Bhutan as you set up a Multi-Disciplinary Super Speciality Hospital in Thimphu, which will backstop the existing health infrastructure in the country.
Against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, India has extended the fullest cooperation and support to Bhutan in terms of ensuring uninterrupted movement of commodities, facilitating the return of over 1,350 Bhutanese nationals, handing over essential medicines and medical supplies to Bhutan, as well as the virtual training of Bhutanese health professionals. We are honoured that India’s gesture has been publicly appreciated by the Bhutanese leadership and we view this as a reflection of the special bonds of trust and understanding between India and Bhutan that have existed over decades.
It is said that hydropower has been the backbone of Bhutan-India relations. As both countries look forward to chart a 21st centaury economic roadmap, what new areas could be of interest in new relations between Bhutan and India?
Hydropower cooperation has indeed been an important pillar of India-Bhutan relations, and we remain committed to partner with Bhutan in this vital sector, for the mutual benefit of our two countries and people. However, even as Bhutan prepares its 21st Century Economic Road Map, we have begun exploring cooperation in new areas, in sync with the priorities espoused by His Majesty the King of Bhutan, including education, technology, and innovation with a focus on empowering the youth.
During Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Bhutan in August 2019, we have jointly launched a number of new initiatives. In the space sector, Thimphu is now connected to ISRO’s South Asia Satellite and our two teams are also working to develop a small satellite for Bhutan. In the education sector, the focus is on STEM, through an institutional tie-up between premier Indian Institutes and their counterparts in Bhutan. We have established an information highway interconnection to enhance knowledge-sharing between Universities of both our sides, through a tie up between India’s National Knowledge Network and Druk REN. In the financial sector, we have made great strides in integrating our economies and promoting cashless payments through the introduction of the RuPay cards in Bhutan and the subsequent launch of Bhutan’s Quick Response code, which will enable the use of the BHIM app, an Indian digital payment interface, in Bhutan.
A recent important visit was that of the Indian Minister of Railways and Commerce & Industry, Shri Piyush Goyal, to Bhutan for the first-ever ‘Bhutan-India Start-Up Summit’. One of the key outcomes of the visit was a tie-up between Bhutanese agri-producers and major Indian supermarkets for retail marketing of Bhutanese organic food products in India. Another outcome was that the Confederation of Indian Industry, one of India’s leading industry associations, announced that they would open their first South Asia office in Bhutan, which will facilitate enhanced Indian investment in Bhutan, providing as well real time assistance & support to the Bhutanese private sector.
On the connectivity front, we have recently opened a new land customs station at Ahllay in Bhutan’s southern industrial area of Pasakha. This has not only facilitated bilateral trade but has also led to decongestion of vehicular traffic along the busy Jaigaon-Phuentsholing route. Our two sides are also exploring rail connectivities for further bolstering trade and commerce for the benefit of our two countries and people. We are also committed to providing technical support towards a Multidisciplinary Super-Specialty Hospital in Thimphu, to backstop the existing health infrastructure in the country.
The Government of India recently launched a New Education Policy that in PM Modi’s words is the foundation of “new India.” Education is one area Bhutan had been gaining from India’s progress. How can Bhutan benefit from the NEP?
The recently launched National Education Policy 2020 is poised to bring about transformational reforms in the school and higher education system in India. The principal objective is Universalization of Education with 100% Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in school education by 2030 and increase of 50% GER in higher education by 2035. Key aspects of NEP2020 that should find resonance with Bhutanese policy makers are: the emphasis on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy with no rigid separation between academic streams as well as extracurricular and vocational streams in school; vocational education to start from Class 6 with internships so that on completing school, every student is proficient in at least one vocational skill; the higher education curriculum to have flexibility of subjects; multiple entry/exit and transfer of credit through an Academic Bank of Credits; the setting up of a Gender Inclusion Fund; Special Education Zones for disadvantaged regions and groups; the use of technology in digitally equipping schools, teachers and students and the introduction of ‘coding’ from Class 6 onwards to equip students with computational skills, mathematical thinking and a scientific temper from an early age.
These key policy elements draw immediate parallels in Bhutan with vocational education & skilling finding focus through the Build Bhutan Project. The difficulties being faced by students in some Dzongkhags could be overcome through improvement of digital facilities through a planning of Special Education Zones. Stranded students ordinarily enrolled in Universities abroad could earn credits while studying in Bhutanese Higher Educational Institutions, and complete their degrees/ diplomas etc. without loss of an academic year through the concept of the Academic Credit Bank.
It was learnt that some Bhutanese students were selected on a special basis to study in top Indian engineering universities with GOI scholarship. Please elaborate.
We are deeply mindful of the emphasis on STEM placed by His Majesty the King of Bhutan. In this vein, we have since last year fostered an institutional build-up between our top-most technical institutions and their counterparts in Bhutan.
I am pleased to share that pursuant to the announcement of the India Bhutan Friendship Scholarship in 2020, two students from Bhutan will be heading to IIT, Kanpur this year, which is a first time achievement for Bhutanese engineering students. Similarly and marking another first, two Bhutanese students will soon be joining IIT Bombay and another student has been provisionally admitted to IIT Delhi, all three being recipients of the Government of India’s Nehru Wangchuck Scholarship. The latest ‘success’ is that one more student has been accepted by IIT Tirupati, another first for the Bhutan-India friendship.
We are, indeed, delighted that these talented youngsters from Bhutan will be studying at our best institutions.
One of the many reforms in the Indian NEP is on the use of technology. Bhutan’s similar vision is challenged by connectivity. The government of Bhutan is trying for a third internet gateway from Bangladesh. Your Excellency said the issue is under consideration of both sides and a mutually acceptable decision is expected within the earliest time frame. Any developments in this area?
The significance of connectivity in this digital era cannot be overemphasized. The matter of a third internet gateway is under consideration of our two sides, every effort is being made to work towards a mutually acceptable resolution of the matter.
In the wake of the pandemic, some interest groups had been threatening to stop vehicles carrying essentials to Bhutan from Jaigaon if the border is not opened for trade. Did the Embassy intervene?
In full solidarity with the Royal Government of Bhutan, the Government of India has ensured the uninterrupted movement of essential as well as non-essential commodities to Bhutan, through the Covid-19 crisis. This will continue, going forward. India will always stand alongside Bhutan.
India recently started human trials of Covid-19 vaccines. The Bhutanese government have expressed its interest to be a part of the trials. Would the GoI facilitate any tests in the country any soon?
The Government of India has received information related to Bhutan’s interest in being a part of the Covid-19 trials. We understand that private companies who have developed the vaccines will be conducting trials in keeping with the established protocols for such procedures.
The government is trying to revive the economy by initiating some economic activities and by reprioritising the 12th Plan even as it is challenged with budgetary problems. How is the GoI helping in terms of the 12th Plan budget assistance?
Against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, Bhutan has re-prioritized its 12th Plan activities. The Government of India is pleased to reinforce Bhutan’s efforts in minimizing the negative impact of the pandemic on the economy of Bhutan. The fundamental principle of India’s development cooperation is respect for our partners, the priorities, wishes and aspirations of the Bhutanese people being the uppermost. In line with this principle, we have agreed to the addition of 10 new priority Projects in the Plan, as identified by Bhutan. This includes assistance to the ‘Build Bhutan Project’ as part of the Economic Contingency Plan for the skilling and re-employment of Bhutanese in domestic sectors, similar to the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ scheme of India. As well, a focus on connectivity through the construction of key roads across Bhutan, and hospital infrastructure in Eastern Bhutan.
We are optimistic that these Projects will backstop the new priorities of the Royal Government of Bhutan, with a focus on youth unemployment.
Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue
Wangdue officials delivered essential items to around 60 households on the first day of lockdown.
Around 9pm on the first day of the lockdown, the Wangdue dzongkhag officials were delivering the last order of the day—around five packets of Nan Pro-milk powder for infants, to a young mother.
Wangdue’s Agriculture Officer Dhodo said that the baby was around three months old. “It was late but we made sure to deliver it. We tried not to miss a single order.”
When the first day of the lockdown ended, Wangdue dzongkhag had delivered about 889kg of rice. Another 0.089 metric tonne (MT) of refine oil, 78kg of sugar and 60kg of salt to the households in Wangdue.
A majority of these orders came from people residing in Bajo, Wangdue. Of Wangdue’s over 45,100 people, nearly 9,000 reside in Bajo.
Apart from Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited offices identified to supply essential items in Wangdue, the dzongkhag also identified two wholesalers, three vegetable vendors and three meat shops on August 12 to supply the demands.
The vegetable vendors, meat shops and wholesaler shops would change every day, with each one receiving their turns to sell their goods. Including two pharmacies, there are 14 wholesalers, 37 vegetable vendors and 13 meat shops identified in Wangdue. This excludes farm shops and grocery shops identified in its various gewogs.
“We are also collecting the price of the products for every shop that is identified, so that they don’t raise the price,” Dhodo said.
The dzongkhag on August 11 also collected nearly 40 quintals of chilies from Kazhi gewog and around six quintals of beans from Nyisho gewog. These products were already harvested by the farmers.
The dzongkhag officials have today asked the farmers to not harvest vegetables from their farms without an ensured market or without further directives.
Wangdue Dzongdag Sonam Jamtsho said that during the first day, apart from minor organisation issues, work went according to the contingency plan.
He added that the first step taken when the lockdown was announced was to seal the borders. Fourteen foot-tracks linking Wangdue to various other dzongkhags were sealed in the morning.
“Every individual official has been given a responsibility and things have been going well.”
The dzongkhag on August 11 also helped stranded individuals leave for home on the first day of the lockdown.
Around 20 officials mostly teachers also left for their resident dzongkhag upon instruction from the National Covid-19 Task Force late yesterday.
Earlier, the officials also received requests from the stranded individuals who were mostly residing in hotels for a discount in room charges and for meals.
Today, Yours and Phuensum Hotels in Wangdue have promised free room and meals for the three guests residing in the hotels. Dekiling Hotel, housing another two guests, has offered free meals and cheaper room charge.
Phub Dem | Paro
Lockdown is weather in itself. Paro has been wearing a deserted look for the last two days.
Roads are studded with police and de-suups, everywhere. Some kind of life has returned. Farmers are back in the fields. This bucolic view seems to come again after almost a century.
Some are picking mushrooms, even.
For many in Paro, it is not the essential items that they are worried about. Lack of poultry feed is.
There is a severe shortage of poultry feed in Paro, the dzongkhag that has about 50 poultry farms.
Paro’s livestock officer, Loden Jimba, said that of the six agents that supply feed, only two had some stock up.
With the lockdown on, transporting the feeds from Phuentsholing is practically impossible.
Unlike cattle and pigs, chickens cannot survive on alternative grains and goods. “Our main concern is regarding bird’s feed. They will develop cannabis behaviour and peek each other,” Loden Jimba said.
Vehicles that transport feeds reportedly are stranded in Phuentsholing.
Loden Jimba said: “There are no alternatives.”
Poultry production from the dzongkhag is high but there is no market.
The supplier of essential goods collect the eggs from the farmers and supply them in the dzongkhag markets.
However, can they supply it beyond Paro?
Demand-supply chain is hard to link, especially when the lockdown is on.
Pema from Tsendona recently bought 200 chickens, as the demand for eggs was increasing by the day. There is no market. The farmer is confused and distressed.
Another poultry farmer from Tsento, who usually sell eggs in the vegetable market, has six cartons of eggs stored in her farmyard. She has not been able to sell the eggs because of lockdown. “I can’t sell the eggs and that means I can’t buy feed for the chickens.”
In the nearby dzongkhag, Haa, essential item providers are supplying feeds to the gewog centre and the local leaders are distributing them to the farmers.
The agriculture ministry is awaiting approval from the national taskforce for Covid-19 to allow farmers to move in and around their farms across the country to harvest vegetables delayed in the backdrop of the lockdown since Tuesday.
Worried farmers had reached out to various officials to save their yield which might rot any time soon if the lockdown continues.
Laid off tour guides working in the urban agriculture initiative in Thimphu said that they were trying to contact agriculture officials to pick chillies but did not receive any positive response yet. Considering market viability, most growers cultivated chillies which have shorter shelf life if not harvested on time.
Recognising farmers’ concern, Thimphu dzongkhag, starting yesterday, deployed pickup trucks to collect vegetables from farmers across the gewogs. Within two days of nationwide lockdown, the dzongkhag has received queries from worried farmers about their products which were either harvested or in the fields ready for harvest.
The dzongkhag agriculture officer, Sonam Zangpo, said that the vegetables would be bought at a buy-back price or negotiated price from farmers and then supplied within the dzongkhag. The surplus would be sold to the Food Corporation of Bhutan Ltd (FCBL) depots.
The procurement would be carried out with the help of gewog agriculture officials. The farmers would be encouraged to harvest the mature ones or to sell the already harvested produce.
Although the demand for fruits and vegetables was low on the first day of lockdown, it has increased since the second day. The dzongkhag is expecting increasing demand in the coming days. According to demand from FCBL and the Department of Agricultural and Marketing Cooperatives, the dzongkhag would start bulk marketing from farmers, said Sonam Zangpo.
Thimphu has two taskforces—dzongkhag and thromde—to supply and deliver essential food items and vegetables.
Agriculture Minister Yeshey Penjore said farmers in urban areas like Thimphu and Phuentsholing faced the challenges to market their farm produce due to lockdown. He said that the farmers should contact dzongkhag agriculture officials if they want to sell their produce, who will then arrange collection points.
The thromdes and the agriculture department has an agreement whereby the agriculture officials will collect from the source and bring till the distribution point from which the thromde would be responsible for door-to-door service.
In his Facebook page, the lyonpo announced: “Essential food items are stocked by FCBL and private wholesale dealers. Dzongkhag agriculture officers and gewog extension officers will do the stock taking of available vegetables and report to Covid-19 logistics taskforce. Distributions will be undertaken by those at the frontline under the guidance of respective regional Covid-19 taskforce.”
Meanwhile, a DCM truckload of vegetables and fruits worth Nu 430,000 had been stranded in Olakha since the morning of the lockdown. The owner of the produce imported from India said that few De-Suups came to examine but left after finding that the produce was from India.
The owner said that she requested the agencies to allow her to deliver to households but did not receive any directives.
“It is a huge loss. I wish we were allowed to deliver so that we earn income to survive,” she said adding that she even requested the officials that she would quarantine herself once they complete delivery.
At the press conference on August 12, the Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, said that villagers could work in their own fields or herd their livestock. However, they cannot organise work with hired labour.
Bhutan’s Ambassador to Bangladesh, Rinchen Kuentsyl presented his Letter of Credence to the President of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, Md. Abdul Hamid at the Bangabhaban, the official residence of the President, on August 12.
The credentials ceremony was attended by Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen, Chief of Protocol Md. Amanul Haq, Maj. General SM Shamim-Uz-Zaman, Military Secretary to the President, and senior officials from the President’s Office and the Government of Bangladesh.
Following the ceremony at the Presidential Residence, Ambassador Rinchen Kuentsyl paid a courtesy call on the President and conveyed the warmest greetings and best wishes of Their Majesties, Prime Minister and the people of Bhutan to the President and the friendly people of Bangladesh.
Bhutan and Bangladesh established diplomatic relations in 1973 and resident Embassies were set up in 1980. Ambassador Rinchen Kuentsyl is the 13th Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of Bhutan to the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. He is also concurrently accredited to Maldives, Pakistan, South Korea and Sri Lanka, with residence in Bangladesh.
Following 12 new positive cases detected yesterday
With growing concerns that there could be a possible community infection in Phuentsholing, the government has declared the drungkhag as a red zone.
While the government maintained that technically there was no local transmission of the virus since the enforcement of lockdown on August 11, the decision was taken following the detection of 12 new Covid-19 positive cases yesterday.
The new cases are the primary contacts of the 25-year-old man who tested positive from the RRCO’s mini dry port (MDP) in Phuentsholing on August 11.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that although the individuals were placed in a quarantine-like facility before they tested positive, there was no guarantee that they would not have breached the guidelines.
Given the risk the individuals (about 140) working at the MDP as loaders had, the task force in Phuentsholing had restricted their movement by placing all the workers together in a hostel without any outside contact.
Lyonchhen said that despite the quarantine measures put in place, some of them could have sneaked out into the community. Considering the possibilities, he said that comprehensive investigation for a community outbreak of the virus in Phuentsholing was required.
For this, the prime minister said that Phuentsholing would be considered a red zone until all the contacts of positive cases are thoroughly tested.
While the entire nation remains under a lockdown, starting yesterday additional restrictions and surveillance has been enforced in the drungkhag.
All essential movements to and from Phuentsholing will have to undergo stringent Covid-19 screening at the Rinchending checkpoint.
More than 420 primary contacts were traced for the 25-year-old as of late evening yesterday.
Officials from the health ministry said that it was very likely that the primary contacts of the 12 new positive cases would also be the same as all of them had reportedly not moved out of the quarantine facility at the MDP.
There were no secondary contacts as of yesterday.
Risk assessment was carried out but those falling under high risk were moved to primary contacts and those under minimal risks screened out.
With all essential imports currently entering the country through Phuentsholing, Lyonchhen said local transmission in Phuentsholing would pose a serious challenge to the country.
The lockdown duration could be extended if the situation there deteriorates.
Meanwhile, the health ministry has completed mapping around 390 people in Shershong, Sarpang where the index case in Gelephu (27-year-old woman) tested positive.
Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that the ministry would start testing the representative of the population (50 percent) that would include elderlies, young and people with comorbidities, among others.
The test will start today.
The ministry has traced a total of 339 primary and secondary contacts of the 27-year-old woman. None of the contacts have tested positive to the virus so far.
Lyonpo said that the chances of spreading the virus were high if an infected person is symptomatic. “This is because the viral load of the individual is high which is why they become infectious.”
All the 12 new cases in Phuentsholing are asymptomatic for now.
Yangchen C Rinzin
Following national lockdown on Tuesday, Thimphu Thromde immediately circulated the details of eight stock centres in different locations to supply essential food items during the lockdown.
Each centre had contact person’s number to order for the items. The goods are delivered door-to-door.
But, by afternoon, people complained of poor coordination and unsystematic supply of essential items.
People complained of centres not receiving the calls and essential items not being delivered on time. Some were confused where to contact for vegetables and many were frustrated to find phones either busy for hours or switched off.
A couple from Babesa did not receive vegetables even after 24 hours after placing order. In another incident, a man complained after the contact person he called was in Haa and some even reported of people from centre being rude.
More than 350 people called eight different centres on Tuesday and thromde was able to deliver only 40 percent of the order or 138 people. Thromde completed the rest of the delivery yesterday.
At the centres and thromde office, officials are busy trying to respond to each call and cater for the services.
Thimphu Thrompon Kinlay Dorjee said while they accept there was a glitch, it was difficult to manage and implement systematically, as it was the first day of lockdown. “We didn’t expect overwhelming calls and order on the first day. The lockdown happened on Tuesday, which means people would have shopped during weekends to last a week but looks like they didn’t.”
Thrompon also said there could be a possibility that some people are trying to hoard.
Thromde has deployed five officials, 10 teachers on volunteer and about 50 De-Suups in each centre to take orders, pack, and deliver. Five vehicles are deployed to deliver the goods.
“It’s difficult to deliver on time when there are fewer people but needs to attend to many calls and take orders,” thrompon said. “Realising the complained, we’ve now deployed additional people to cater more.”
Yesterday, one centre alone got almost 300 calls. The centre is challenged with delivering items right away or deliver on the same day because of the huge order they receive.
Thrompon said that due to miscommunication with the department of agriculture, which is supposed to supply vegetable, it could not supply vegetables. After resolving the issue, thromde will also deliver the vegetable along with the essential items.
“We’ve now decided that if it’s not possible to take orders through phone, we ask people to text their order with their location details to reduce time consumption,” Thrompon said. “We’ll be soon be coming up with the toll-free number in each centre.”
Thromde has also added additional wholesalers to supply essential foods along with the other four existing wholesalers, including Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited. It decided to take orders and deliver from 9am to 5pm only.
People can order from 9am till 11am, thromde will deliver from 11am till 1pm and take another order from 1pm till 3pm and deliver from 3pm till 5pm.
“We’re hoping to improve and work systematically like those who take order will only take order, then those who’re supposed to pack will only pack and rest will deliver,” Thrompon said. “We’re trying to deliver as fast as possible and people should bear with us.”
Thromde caters for almost 100,000 people. Thromde has also decided to let the grocery shops with online services to cater to people privately and order items online.
One of the officials said that the biggest issue was people calling at the same time and the network getting jammed. “Sometimes, our phones run out of battery. One call takes almost five minutes so this is why people find the numbers busy. Some people even call asking us to deliver the beer and tobacco while a few even call them to deliver fast food.”
More than 100 households in Samdrupjongkhar availed the door-to-door services from the shops identified by the dzongkhag administration’s Covid-19 task force.
The shops deliver essential commodities as and when they get orders. The shops had made it easier for people to order essential items by creating a WeChat group. Each group has a minimum of 500 members.
The Covid-19 task force has also identified the shops in all the dzongkhag’s 11 gewogs and two drungkhags.
Bhutan Red Cross Society is involved in helping and evacuating the patients who require health services.
De-Suups, police, forest, customs and immigration officials, among others, monitor and help deliver the essential items.
A resident, Tshering Dendup, who came to collect rice, cooking oil and vegetables, said that the people did not have to worry about the essential commodities. “But it is challenging for me to stay the whole day at home.”
A resident said that although the shops delivered the essential items they did not do so on time. “Some shops take orders and do not deliver while some refuse to accept the orders.”
Trashigang and Trashiyangtse
De-Suups coordinates the home delivery of essential food items and vegetables in the town.
A group led by a dzongkhag agriculture officer ensures that people get what they need.
After a customer places the order, escorted by De-Suup, the group delivers goods and vegetables.
The services have been managed well in Trashigang. More than 100 households got vegetables and 65 households got food items.
A resident in Trashigang, Sangay Zangmo, panicked when the prime minister announced lockdown for the country. She wasn’t prepared and she has a large family to look after.
The residents of Trashigang town will get fresh vegetables delivered to their doorstep as a farmers’ group plans to make vegetable delivery soon.
“We have decided to collect vegetables from Udzorong, Bartsham, Samkhar, Bidung, and Shoungphu and deliver them to those who need them,” said an assistant dzongkhag agriculture officer, Suraj Gurung.
The Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCBL) in Trongsa has been delivering the essentials food items since yesterday.
On the first day food items were delivered to 118 households nearby town and Drakteng.
The office lists the orders in the morning and delivers after lunch.
The dzongkhag has identified six grocery shops, four vegetable vendors, two meat shops, a dairy product and egg dealer each to deliver as per the orders.
In the gewogs, the Gewog Sanam Tshongkhang (GST) is providing the service.
Bumthang dzongkhag had deployed four vehicles to deliver essentials food items and 13 shops are identified to deliver along with the FCBL.
The goods that are not available in GST are delivered from the town.
Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCBL) in Gelephu started to home deliver essential items yesterday after the agency received a continuous call for essential items after the lockdown.
However, the officials involved in delivering the essential items are finding it difficult to reach the orders to the right locations.
Sonam Dema, an FCBL official, said that delivering essential items was time-consuming. “The field staff have to call several times trying to reach the essential items to the said location.”
FCBL distributed over 20 metric tonnes of essential items such as rice, sugar, oil, flour, salt, and pulses among others in the past two days.
The dzongkhag has identified 11 wholesalers from where the public can purchase essential items in the thromde area following the safety protocols during the lockdown.
Sarpang Dzongdag Karma Galay said that the plan could not come into effect as the lockdown happened suddenly.
He added that the service providers were overwhelmed with calls.
As the residence of Gelephu entered into the second day of the lockdown, people took on social media complaining about three vendors that had agreed to deliver vegetables not picking up calls.
Over eight vendors have come forward to provide home delivery services during the lockdown.
Members of dzongkhag Covid-19 task force in Mongar and identified shopkeepers have been busy attending to calls and delivering essential items door-to-door since the first day of the national lockdown.
The task force has delivered essentials like rice, oil, sugar, milk, tea and spices, soap and detergents, tissue papers, noodles and mineral water to 29 residents on the first day of lockdown.
The task force provided vehicle and salesman’s movement card yesterday to the four wholesalers and retailers based on the availability of stocks and willingness and ability to deliver the items themselves.
Pema Zangmo, an owner of Tashi Wangyel Tshongkhang, said delivering the items was challenging. “Some order just one cup of noodles.”
Dzongkhag task force team has also identified three retailers in Gyalpoizhing, one in Lingmethang, four in Yadi and Ngatshang, and four in Drametse town.
The dzongkhag Covid-19 transportation unit will facilitate vehicle for BOD to deliver LPG cylinders. As of last night, 19 households had ordered LPG refill.
Meanwhile, around 40 people are stranded in Mongar.
Tsirang and Dagana
The distribution of essential items for residents in and around Damphu town in Tsirang began yesterday evening.
The dzongkhag logistic team delivered essentials to more than 30 families in the town from Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCBL) depot.
Although the dzongkhag has designated service providers and stock centres with enough food resources, authorities faced difficulties in transporting goods due to restricted movement of vehicles until temporary permit cards were made available.
The local leaders are also involved in distributing essentials items in the gewogs levels.
The dzongkhag administration has also made arrangements to supply local vegetables.
The local leaders said that the villagers have been coping with the lockdown so far. There has not been a report of a supply shortage.
Meanwhile, in Dagana, all the gewogs have been permitted to authorise seven vehicles and 14 persons to distribute essentials services to residents.
Dagana Dzongdag Phintsho Choeden has also interacted with local leaders and regional heads to sort out challenges associated with the lockdown in the gewogs.
The supply of essential items in Paro during lockdown had been seamless.
Four identified grocery stores along with Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited are supplying the essential items in town areas.
Local leaders headed by the gups are delivering the goods in the gewogs.
Three fair price vegetable vendors are collecting and supplying vegetables.
However, there are complaints. Dzongkhag agriculture officer, Tandin, has been receiving numerous calls, even from outside the dzongkhag.
Additional reporting by bureau reporters
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Although people were able to buy groceries yesterday, many in Phuentsholing were left frustrated, as they ran out of vegetables and didn’t know where to buy from.
The hotline, 5555, supposed to help people during emergencies, didn’t help, as many couldn’t connect to the line. Many took to social media to share their frustrations.
A resident of Kabreytar, Chencho Dema said she got a number of a vegetable shop, Green Hands, which also delivered vegetables on orders placed online.
“I called Green Hands several times,” she said. “But they did not have permission from the authorities.” She said she was worried that the vegetables she had would exhaust soon.
Sangay Choden, another Phuentsholing resident said she had no idea how to get vegetables. “The ones I have at home will not last more than two to three days,” she said.
“Authorities should allow shops like Green Hands, which had online delivery experience and knew the locations already. I was told the agriculture ministry will arrange vegetables,” she said.
An official from Green Hands, Kinzang said he received more than 100 calls yesterday enquiring about vegetables. However, Green Hands is yet to get the go-ahead from relevant authorities to start selling or delivering vegetables.
“I have been following with the trade office. They said they will notify me,” he said.
While Green Hands has not received any formal permission to open shop, which is located at Kabreytar, his numbers are being shared as a vegetable supplier on Facebook. Many people Kuensel talked to said DeSuups gave them the Green Hands’ numbers.
Kinzang said that those attending to the hotline provided people his number. “I redirected them to call the hotline,” he said.
Another resident, Namgay Wangchuk said he called the hotline on the first day of the lockdown on August 11. “They said they will talk to higher authorities and get back, which they never did,” he said. “Yesterday I called again but was unable to connect.”
Namgay Wangchuk, however, was able to manage a few kgs of vegetables yesterday from his regular supplier, which he said was not sufficient. DeSuups had given him another contact number but his calls and messages went unanswered.
“Our concerned authorities here seem to be unprepared,” he said, adding that they were also allowing one person from the family to do shopping.
“It doesn’t look like a lockdown. There were many people in the town.”
Residents said that authorities in Phuentsholing should have been better prepared and coordinated. Talks of a possible lockdown were there for a longtime, said one. “Arrangements for essentials should have been readied in advance,” he said adding that people will stay home if they have essentials.
Meanwhile, despite the news of the positive case of a 25-year-old man, many people were seen in the town yesterday, who had come to buy rations.
As per the modalities for purchase of essential items, people have to register over the phone with the hotline (5555) from 9am to 5pm. A regulated access to designated retail outlets based on zones was to facilitate one registered member of a household twice a week (Wednesday and Saturday) to go out.
Designated retail outlets in all zones were supposed to open from 10am to 5pm. Individuals visiting retail outlets must complete shopping within 30 minutes and can buy only “reasonable quantities.” The number of individuals permitted to visit a designated retail outlet at the same time shall be strictly regulated to ensure compliance with Covid-19 health advisories and protocols.
The Food Corporation of Bhutan was supposed to open outlets for residents of the temporary settlement at Toorsa and Toorsa Tar twice a week (Wednesday and Saturday) from 10am to 5pm.
The modality specified the agriculture ministry to supply vegetables. Authorised dealers will also home-deliver refilled LPG on Wednesday and Saturday. However, many residents are not able to buy vegetables. Kuensel couldn’t verify with authorities if all these plans are in place.
Meanwhile, about 33 retail shops have been identified to cater essential and grocery items to people of 12 places under the Local Area Plan (LAP) in Phuentsholing.
The core town (and nearby areas) has the highest population of 1,7465 people and 15 shops have been identified to cater to these people. The core town has 1,937 households.
Some of the stores in the core town include Tashi Commercial departmental store, Zimdra Impex, Tamshing Enterprise, and JPLP among others
If the first two days of the nationwide lockdown were a test of our preparedness and response in an emergency, the results would say we need a lot of improvements.
From the empty streets to small towns and even villagers not venturing out, the lockdown is implemented successfully. People are cooperating, even if they have no choice but to follow the rules. However, if it is responding to the needs of the people, the problem, it seems, is the lack of coordination.
Soon after the lockdown that caught many people off guard, governments – central and local and other authorities were quick to share information on how to ease the inconveniences caused by the lockdown. Telephone numbers, toll free numbers, name of officials responsible and locations of centres were shared to calm the panic of those running out of stock at home. The implementation, many say failed miserably.
The thromde has been overwhelmed with telephone calls and the thrompon with complaints ranging from officials not delivering goods, not answering calls or switching off their mobile phones. The biggest complaint in the last two days was on supplying essentials.
Perhaps those responsible coordinating delivery of essentials thought a lockdown, two days after the weekend, would not send people rushing for essentials. Most do their shopping during the weekends to last for a week. But the people surprised them.
Authorities and officials could be more coordinated as they have learnt from the overwhelming experience in the past two days. In Phuentsholing, people breached the lockdown rule when they had to come out for essentials.
Without answer to how long the lockdown would last, the concern is also about hoarding. We cannot run out of rice completely overnight. Some may be genuine, but some may be acting smarter. With better coordination, we can sail through the lockdown easily.
Some are suggesting that delivery of essentials should be left to the private sector. From the experience in some of the dzongkhags where distribution has been successful, it makes sense. The thromde has already found some solutions. The use of information and communication technology, which is already being explored, would solve a lot of problems.
Outside Thimphu, there are instances where villagers were even restricted to go out and feed their cattle or tend to their fields. Some are complaining of crops being attacked by the wild. As fruits and other crops start becoming ready for harvest, without people to guard fields, farmers will lose their fruit of their hard work.
The Prime Minister has provided some clarity. Farmers could now go out and tend to their fields, obviously not in groups, or take their cattle to graze. A lockdown is to prevent the spread of the disease. A remote village with a few households and no case of Covid-19 or outsiders visiting the village need not be locked down completely.
These are the experiences we learnt from the first two days. As days pass and more issues arise, we will also come out with solutions. What we need is better coordination. Those on the grounds will be confused when there are different commands from different authorities.
The other major complaint was from people who got stranded in between their homes and destinations. This was because when they left homes, there were no warnings of a lockdown.
A nationwide lockdown was not expected. Proper coordination can, without jeopardising our Covid-19 protocols, help stranded people.
All 161 secondary contacts from Sershong tested negative for antibody test done as of 11pm yesterday
Three out of 81 primary contacts of the 27-year-old woman, who tested positive in Gelephu on August 10, from Gelephu and Sarpang could not be traced so far.
With the help of the health ministry’s surveillance team and the relevant stakeholders, over 81 primary contacts of the index case were listed until yesterday.
The primary contacts included her family members, neighbours, friends, and the ones who travelled with the woman in the same vehicle, among others.
The contact tracing team found all the listed primary contacts except for three because their mobile number turned out to be false, according to the medical superintendent of Gelephu CRRH, Dr Dorji Tshering.
“We are in the process of getting to them with the help of police,” he said.
The contact tracing team is also seeking support from the health ministry’s information technology (IT) division to trace the three contacts.
“Their number turned out to be false while trying to contact them,” said Dr Dorji Tshering.
The secondary contact of the Covid-19 positive patient includes the whole Sershong village that has over 250 people and 61 households.
“It appears as though she had moved freely in the village during her stay until she got tested and confirmed on August 10,” said the official.
Health officials from CRRH moved to the village yesterday afternoon to test all secondary contacts of the index case.
Tests for all secondary contacts from Sershong village were almost complete. The samples for the RT-PCR test were also collected.
All 161 rapid antibody tests conducted until 11pm yesterday for the secondary contacts from Sershong came out negative.
Meanwhile, all 35 primary contacts from Sershong village are under facility quarantine in Gelephu.
Of that, 29 tested negative and the results for the remaining contacts are expected today.
Gewog officials said that the awareness and the need to home quarantine after completion of the facility quarantine were conducted for all returning to the gewog.
Govt. asks people to bear with inconveniences caused by the lockdown
No construction works will be allowed in any part of the country during the lockdown, which began on August 11.
“There are some people who say that workers of a construction site are like a family and they stay as a cohort and that construction owners are said to be bearing the loss for keeping the workers idle,” Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said at a press conference yesterday.
However, he added that there were practical inconveniences, saying that not all workers and contractors lived at the construction site and that some had to travel between their homes and the workplace on a daily basis.
Lyonchhen said that it was an extraordinary time and that such restrictions were inherent characteristics of a lockdown. “It is not good to have a noisy construction site while the households in the surrounding are observing a silent lockdown at home,” he said.
Allowing construction works, he said, would give rise to new problems, as the contractors would ask for movement of vehicles for transportation of construction materials.
Dr Lotay Tshering said that His Majesty was satisfied with the lockdown. He also said that His Majesty was aware of the inconveniences faced by some people, especially those living in urban areas.
“The benefit of the measures will be for us although there will be some inconveniences,” he said, adding that some of the issues that arose with the lockdown were being looked into. “This is the first time we are enforcing such a measure and those issues are expected.”
Agencies enforcing the lockdown are reported to have received several requests for movement of vehicles and people. But the prime minister said that people should cope with the inconveniences in the interest of public health.
The prime minister said that works in the rural areas that would not require gathering of people from different households were allowed. “You can graze your cows and work in your own farm,” he said, adding that members of a family could collect mushrooms in the villages.
On emergencies, Lyonchhen said that people could explain the reasons to the police and De-Suups and need not wait for permits or authorized vehicles to come to their rescue.
“If you have a pregnant wife about to deliver, your wife is in labour pain, then you should not wait for a permit,” he said, adding that it was unlawful for people on duty to stop someone rushing for emergency services.
Health Minister Dechen Wangmo, who also attended the press conference, also expressed satisfaction about the smooth implementation of the lockdown.
The health minister said that issues such as regular check up for diabetes were being looked into. She said that government vehicles were being used for ferrying patients wherever ambulances were not enough.
“So far things have been good. Even if we get local transmission, we are hoping that it will be the least harmful given the efforts the nation has put in,” she said.
What a surprise, yesterday, when we entered lockdown. But how will we spend this time? Will we be resentful, stressed, or bored – or might we see this time as a gift?
So often we do not have time to do things that could enrich our lives, bringing health, skill and meaning. Now we have some time. How will we use it? If there were a drone circling above Bhutan this week, what might it glimpse?
Which of us will come out of this week in better health – learning to cook new delicious foods, or doing a special diet, or taking up some exercise?
Which of us will simply catch up on sleep? Or reflect on what was imbalanced in our schedule before lockdown and plan a new routine that is more mature and humane?
Which of us will enjoy our home relationships creatively – young people videoing a grandparent’s story of a favourite cow, couples enjoying each other, or parents having quality time with children. And where there are difficulties, taking time to talk gently through misunderstandings and points of tension until we come to a new normal?
Which of us will use the time to pray more, or to take up a spiritual practice we’ve been meaning to try? Or to journal, or listen to talks on healing? A retreat – when people close the door and focus on spiritual practice – is sometimes called a honeymoon with god, the gods, or any greater than human source of meaning and value. For whom will this lockdown become a spiritual honeymoon?
Which of us will learn something new – read something we keep meaning to, or interview a family member, or memorize a song, or watch informative programmes carefully, even taking notes?
Which of us will take time for cultural activities – painting, weaving, dancing, singing, wood carving, explaining to our younger family members the meaning of the altar or of our rituals? Or simply sorting the snaps on our phone?
Which of us will take this time to watch the news and think deeply about how this or another situation can best be handled, or engage our local political actors? Maybe we will write something, or even decide to stand for election!
For many, of course, the lockdown is no vacation. For De-Suups and volunteers, police and army members, it is a time of huge responsibility and work. Can such offer this duty with love? Can they be the eyes of care and concern for people who are worried or in difficult situations? Can they solve problems no one else knows about?
During lockdown, the livestock still needs to be fed and cows milked; but maybe now we enjoy this freedom more knowing that so many are confided. And those at staying home may have time to enjoy the horizon, to watch a sunrise, to give a thought for the birds and dogs and butterflies who know nothing of coronavirus.
And then there is house! We can see to the little repairs we never have time to make to the house, or to our clothes or to our tools; dive into deep cleaning; open the books to see how we spent our money last year; plan our finances; organise our home space so it feels radiant and beautiful.
In this way, whether the lockdown becomes a spiritual honeymoon or a time of growth and healing or a creative week when we rebalance our home, activities, and new hobbies in creative ways, we can unwrap the surprise of lockdown and find that it is indeed a gift.
May we use this lockdown to increase happiness and flourishing and GNH.
Contributed by Sabina Alkire
Director, Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative, University of Oxford.
The author is affiliated with the Centre for Bhutan studies and GNH, which supports the advancement of GNH.
The man tested positive from within a contained cohort
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering maintained that technically Bhutan still does not have local transmission of Covid-19 as of yesterday.
Speculations of local transmission grew following the confirmation of a positive case outside the quarantine facility in Phuentsholing on August 11.
A 25-year-old Bhutanese man working at the mini dry port (MDP) in Phuentsholing tested positive to the virus after he visited the hospital with symptoms. The man works as a loader with the Regional Revenue and Customs Office (RRCO).
With no further information as of late evening yesterday, the man was assumed to be working in the community openly, raising questions of local transmission of the virus.
However, Lyonchhen during a press brief yesterday evening clarified that the man including about 140 workers of the MDP and RRCO were lodged in a quarantine-like hostel in one of the schools to ensure that any potential spread of infection was prevented.
Considering the risks of infection to the workers at the MDP and RRCO and the possibility of them spreading the infection in the community, the task force in Phuentsholing had placed the workers in hostels since the beginning.
Lyonchhen said that as per the guidelines of the World Health Organisation (WHO), the case could not be considered as a local transmission. “Understanding the risk those people had, we had contained their movement and limited their interaction. Because they were treated as a contained cohort, we still consider this as an imported case.”
The workers at the MDP and RRCO mainly engaged in loading and unloading of goods for export or import at the border. Prior to the pandemic, the work was done by foreign labourers.
Lyonchhen said that Bhutanese youth took up the responsibility after the pandemic and closure of the border gate. Their movement was strictly restricted between the dry port and their hostel. They were picked and dropped off by a dedicated vehicle at work.
When the 25-year-old man visited the hospital with symptoms on August 11, he was watchfully taken in a vehicle without any interaction with other people.
The man did not test positive during the recent mass serosurveillance that screened more than 16,000 people in high-risk areas.
Lyonchhen said that although the source of infection is unknown for now, he could have been infected while coming in contact with a foreign driver. However, he added that the guideline doesn’t allow any such provisions for contact.
Another probability of the infection could have been through contact with contaminated goods and the man had overlooked handwashing precaution and touched his face unknowingly.
The prime minister added that it was saddening to see one of these men getting infected while in the service of the nation during an emergency situation.
“People should know that not many were willing to do this work given the risks involved. But these youths came forward and rendered their service when the nation needed them the most,” he said.
“What we are eating today and the raw materials we use for our construction are because of their labour. We all have to be thankful to these men.”
A total of 221 primary contacts of the man were traced as of late evening yesterday. Tracing was still underway.
Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that people were sceptical with the varying numbers of the contacts the surveillance team have traced. “The numbers here do not work as it would have been in a normal calculation,” she said. “The numbers will depend on the situation and the situation, for now, is fast changing.”
Lyonpo added that at the end of the second day of lockdown, there were no major issues. She said the ministry plans to provide regular healthcare services like institutional delivery, vaccination and treatment to cancer and diabetes, among others even during the lockdown.
Meanwhile, Lyonchhen said that the lockdown, for now, has no specific duration and would depend on the situation. He said that if all the contacts test negative and the contacts are traced in time, there would be no reason to extend the lockdown.
Also, along with the 25-year-old man, a man aged 59 and a 47-year-old woman tested positive to the virus while in the quarantine in Phuentsholing yesterday.
As of yesterday, there were 116 confirmed cases in the country of which 97 had recovered. A total of 19 active cases are in isolation.
The 27-year-old woman who tested positive to the virus outside the quarantine in Gelephu is asymptomatic and in stable condition. The 25-year-old man in Phuentsholing has fever but is also in a stable condition.