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Updated: 2 hours 36 min ago

Third mass screening in Phuentsholing begins today

Thu, 06/10/2021 - 11:34

The third round of mass screening in Phuentsholing  will begin today.

Unlike in the past two screenings where only one member of a household was tested in some areas, everyone above five years of age will be tested this time.

However, residents living in identified red buildings and children below five will not be tested.

Today, the screening will begin from Mega Zone 3, which includes Pasakha and Ahalay-Pekarzhing, and conclude tomorrow. Then, from June 12, screening for Mega Zone 1 will commence and complete by June 15. Amochhu-Chamkuna, Dhamdara-Kabreytar and Core 2 fall under this zone.

Mega Zone 2 will be screened from June 16 to June 18. This is the most affected zone and which includes Core 1, Core 3, Core 4, and Rinchending Zone.

The three mega zones will also have to bear with some new rules this time during the mass screening. The zones will remain under complete lockdown during their respective mass screening periods.

All imports and exports will be suspended. Transportation via Sorchen will also be suspended. Home deliveries will be suspended.

Specifically, the Ahalay Land Customs Station will remain shut during the Mega Zone 3 screening on June 10 and June 11. On June 16 and June 18, MDP and truck parking will also remain closed as they fall under Mega Zone 2.

The Southern Covid-19 Task Force has made it clear that the decision to relax the lockdown will be based on the results from this mass screening.

Meanwhile, people say testing all the residents was a better decision.

A resident, Phub Tshering, said mass screening all was the right decision.

Hope all will come forward, he said.

Another resident, Namgay, said this time all must come out for mass testing.

This is the only way our town will be cleaned, he said, adding the lockdown will prolong without accurate information.

He also said there could be symptomatic people, who are afraid to test and not coming out. Past test records must be thoroughly checked, he added.

Recently, de-suups were also sent out to individual buildings to collect information. However, several people in the town area said no one had come.

Phuentsholing has also not seen any community transmission since June 4.

It is the 56th day today since the bordering town went into lockdown beginning April 17. The third lockdown was initiated after a 10-year-old boy from a school tested positive.

By Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

Economic and finance committee points out issues of budget allocation

Thu, 06/10/2021 - 11:33

Members also made recommendations

The 13-member economic and finance committee of the National Assembly yesterday stated that the national budget for the fiscal year 2021-22 was well justified and that it would ensure macroeconomic stability and economic revival.

However, the committee submitted recommendations on five programmes including the National Credit Guarantee Scheme (NCGS), which the committee stated lacked regional balance in the distribution of loans.

The committee’s chairperson, Kinley Wangchuk, stated that while the objective of the scheme was noble, banks could only approve 81 projects, most of which fall in the western region of the country.

He said the project had failed to cater to far-flung dzongkhags and gewogs and that it would ultimately create regional imbalance and upsurge in rural-urban migration.

It recommended creating extensive awareness on NCGS and institute a mechanism of hassle-free loan accessibility amongst all the Bhutanese with a regionally balanced plan. “The government should put in place stringent measures for monitoring and loan recovery.”

The government initiated NCGS programme to enhance access to credit to promote cottage and small industries (CSI) and medium industries through banks for a period of three years with a fund of Nu 3 billion (B) to bolster the economy during the time of pandemic.

However, Opposition Leader Dorji Wangdi said that the NCGS was unconstitutional and not in compliance with the Public Finance Act.

He reasoned that the government should not provide guarantee on the loans availed by private individuals as per the Constitution and the Public Finance Act.

Finance Minister Namgay Tshering said that such a measure was important for revival of the economy, which has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said that access to finance had been an issue for aspiring entrepreneurs and youth. “Unemployment is one of the biggest issues and the scheme would help create jobs. It’s against neither the Constitution nor the Public Finance Act.”

The committee observed that farmers had responded to the calls of the nation on food production, both for local consumption and export.

However, it submitted that farmers were not able to sell their produce in the market conveniently.

The committee recommended the government to improve access to the market by improving supply chain management and logistics arrangements within the country.

Farmers have been unable to travel freely to high-risk areas in the south and have to totally resort to agents for exports during the pandemic. “When farmers’ fate entirely rests in agents with a little or no support from the government, agents have every chance of manipulating volumes, qualities and prices.”

The committee recommended the government appoint dedicated farmers’ representatives, preferably agriculture or BAFRA personnel, to mediate and assure transparency and accountability in the exports.

The economic contingency plan (ECP) has been implemented to address the challenges posed by the pandemic in key sectors such as tourism, construction, manufacturing and agriculture.

The emphasis in the agriculture sector is to boost the agriculture and livestock production to substitute import and promote export in the fiscal year 2021-22.

The budget is also allocated for constructions of warehouses, cold storage, pack houses and dry port.

The budget allocation for the financial year 2021-2022 under the road sector is Nu 5.836 billion (B) amounting to 7 percent of sector allocation. The allocation for granular sub base (GSB) and drainage is Nu 1.136B contributing 19.5 percent of the road sector.

However, the committee noted that in spite of the huge budget allocation for GSB, there were issues pertaining to the quality of works, choices of road, budget shortages and monitoring of development activities by the concerned agencies.

It recommended proper monitoring from dzongkhag tender committee by including gewogs in the committee to ensure their support.

“Due to varying lengths of farm roads in the country, it is literally impossible for the centrally allocated budget to meet the entire lengths of roads at a go,” Kinley Wangchuk said, adding that when such a situation arises, the fairly shorter roads should be completed by pooling budgets from the gewog and the dzongkhag.

The committee recommended that considering the geo-climatic condition of that specific area and experts’ recommendation, and most importantly based on resource availability, the gewogs should continue to decide whether or not to stick to GSB or choose black-topping or any other better options.

The government has taken extra efforts to allocate separate recurrent expenditure of Nu 336 million (M) for school stationeries for the students in the fiscal year 2021-22.

However, the committee observed that the ground issue was such that the allocated budget for the school stationeries remained insufficient due to re-appropriation. “Considering the fact that education needs utmost importance, the budget should be made dedicated under a capital head and be regulated strictly for the said purpose only.”

The government has presented a budget of Nu 80.483B with current budget of Nu 35.598B million and capital budget of Nu 44.884B.

The budget is predominantly formulated with an aim to ensure sustained economic stability for a resilient recovery underpinned by five objectives of maintaining public confidence, sustaining economic activities, transforming the health and education system, leveraging on ICT and innovation and enabling reform initiatives.

The House will continue deliberation on the Bill today.

By MB Subba 

Edited by Tashi Dema

His Majesty visits Jomotshangkha 

Wed, 06/09/2021 - 11:30

His Majesty The King is in the East on a Royal tour, to oversee measures against the spread of Covid-19, concerned by the large number of community infections in the area recently. 

His Majesty arrived in Trashigang late evening on June 7 and granted an audience to the members of the Trashigang Dzongkhag Covid-19 Task Force yesterday morning. In the afternoon, His Majesty travelled to Merak to begin a five-day trek along the eastern border towards Jomotshangkha, accompanied by His Royal Highness Gyaltshab Jigme Dorji Wangchuck and Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering.    

En route to Trashigang yesterday, His Majesty visited de-suups training in woodworking in Bumthang as part of a skilling programme. The de-suups who are participating in the programme receive high-level training in a diverse set of skills of their choice, and have the opportunity to participate in projects of national importance in the country during the pandemic. His Majesty visited another de-suung skilling programme group who are training in construction at the Ugyen Pelri Palace in Paro, on June 6.

National Assembly passes GST Bill 2021

Wed, 06/09/2021 - 11:29

The GST Act, which was passed in February last year, was supposed to come into effect on July 1 this year. But the government is not ready for its implementation as the GST software is being developed.

The National Assembly yesterday passed the GST (amendment) Bill 2021, which will be forwarded to the National Council (NC) for deliberation. The NC’s view on the Bill, however, will not be legally binding.

All 39 members present in the House voted for deferring implementation of the Bill from July 1, 2022. The GST Bill should be passed in the same session, as it is a money Bill.

The government last week had proposed deferment of the Bill.   According to Finance Minister Namgay Tshering, the GST software worth Nu 600 million was being developed and it is expected to take up to six months to complete.

“The Thimphu Techpark, which is developing the software with technical experts from Armenia, has said that it would be completed soon. But we don’t want to rush on implementation,” he said.

The government has also sought time for its implementation in view of the need to train local technicians and officials on how to use the GST system. The government also wants to conduct awareness programmes among the business community to make the implementation of the GST system successful.

However, the government will have to wait for the pandemic situation to subside for a full-fledged awareness programme.

The GST (Amendment) Bill was referred to the economic and finance committee of the National Assembly as a Money Bill for review. The House deliberated the Bill and agreed to the government’s proposal.

The government hopes to recoup an additional Nu 3B in revenue with the implementation of the Act.

GST is a consumption-based tax and it is supposed to eliminate the cascading taxation effect. Just like any other GST regime across the globe, business entities and individuals in the country would be levied GST on all goods and services either manufactured within or imported.

By MB Subba

Edited By Tshering Palden

Taking health services to grassroots more important: Sowai Lyonpo   

Wed, 06/09/2021 - 11:28

Efforts to make specialist services in the health sector available to every Bhutanese continue despite the multiple challenges the country faces today.

Sowai Lyonpo (health minister) Dechen Wangmo said that the government was now pushing for specialist-services besides developing health infrastructure across the country.

Responding to the question raised by Jomotshangkha-Martshala PM Norbu Wangzom on upgrading gewog and dzongkhag hospitals at the National Assembly yesterday, Lyonpo, who joined the session virtually from the quarantine centre, said that the focus was now on the reaching the specialised services to the grassroots.

To improve the referral system in the country, Lyonpo said that a multi-disciplinary super-speciality hospital (MDSSH) was being set up at the national referral hospital’s (JDWNRH) campus in Thimphu.

“One of the major challenges we face today is in the referral system. Once completed, the MDSS hospital will be able to handle cancer, kidney, heart, and other transplant cases within the country,” the minister said.

For this, she said that doctors were already being trained in places like Thailand and a budget of Nu 5,600 million (M) was secured for infrastructural developments.

An infectious disease centre, estimated to cost around Nu 1,700M, is being considered in the wake of public health emergencies such as the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Lyonpo added. “Location and budget of about Nu 681M has also been identified and secured for an ENT hospital. A project worth over Nu 8,700M has never happened so far in the health sector.”

Besides mega infrastructure developments, Lyonpo said that to equip every dzongkhag hospital in the country with a set of specialists, including gynaecology, paediatrics, medicine and surgery, the government had increased the seats at the Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan by 100 percent.

Responding to Nanong-Shumar MP, Lungten Namgyel’s request to send a gynaecologist to Pemagatshel hospital, Lyonpo said that the country today had only 13 gynaecologists and that going by the current health standards, the country requires 25 gynaecologists at least.

“Knowing the importance, we would like to provide every gewog with a gynaecologist each but this is just not doable in our current capacity,” she said, adding that the ministry had employed every individual with medical know-how available in the market. “We have also recruited those doctors and health workers who had retired on contract. For now, we just don’t have enough human resources in the health sector.”

On upgrading the existing grade II Yoeseltse BHU to a 10-bed hospital (initially BHU Grade I), raised by Ugyentse-Yoeseltse MP Dinesh Kumar, the minister said that instead of upgrading the BHU, there was a better opportunity to expand and upgrade Samtse and Tashichholing hospitals.

Lyonpo said that this was because the two hospitals were easily accessible for the people of Yoeseltse and expanding the Sipsoo (Tashichholing) hospital would be more beneficial for the public. “Samtse hospital already has adequate specialists; it just requires some upgradation.”

She added that while promoting and upgrading every BHU in the country was important, a more calculated move by improving the strategic hospitals with additional doctors and equipment would be more practical and advantageous for the public.

By Younten Tshedup  

Edited by Tshering Palden

Nazhoen Lamtoen reaches to 12-year-old in Samdrupjongkhar

Wed, 06/09/2021 - 11:27

A non-profit organisation dedicated to youth, Nazhoen Lamtoen, reached out to the 12-year-old girl, who gave birth in Samdrupjongkhar last month.

The organisation’s executive director, Thinley Tobgyel, said the moment they heard the news, they looked for the contact details of the girl and contacted her through her parents to assess her mental health and provide emotional support.

He said that during the counselling process, they found the girl and her parents need financial support and provided a minimal amount of Nu 10,000 to buy essential items. “The organization agreed to look after the child and also the girl’s educational needs.”

Thinley Tobgyel said they provide counselling to the girl every day through phone and video calls. “Visiting the place is not practical because of the pandemic.”

The minor in Samdrupjongkhar is not the only beneficiary of Nazhoen Lamtoen.

The organisation helped 590 children in difficult circumstances in Paro, Mongar, Zhemgang, Thimphu and Chukha so far.

According to the executive director, case managers in the five dzongkhags conduct survey and identify children in difficult circumstances every year.

He said the case managers also conduct a case study on each child in a difficult circumstance and provide long term support by helping the family members establish small businesses like restaurants and groceries.  “We ensure the family deposit Nu 2,000 from the business in the child’s account.”

Thinley Tobgyel said the support is rendered to prevent the children in difficult circumstances from coming into conflict with the law.

He said police records show that 99.9 percent of children convicted and serving a prison term in Youth Development and Rehabilitation Centre (YDRC) in Tsimasham comes from difficult circumstances.

The organisation also provides reintegration support for children, who complete their prison sentencing and start a new life. “If we fail to provide them the support, they commit another offence,” the executive director said.

He said that besides providing support to children in difficult circumstances and children in conflict with the law, they also conduct awareness, sensitisation workshop, and parenting programme with the community, dzongkhag and other stakeholders on a quarterly basis.

The organisation has a shelter for children who survived physical, sexual and emotional abuse and rescued by police and the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC).

Thinley Tobgyel said Save the Children funds 90 percent of the project activities and UNICEF and HELVETAS supports the remaining 10 percent . “People can contact us through our toll-free helpline number 1257 if they see needy children.”

Meanwhile, sources said the 12-year-old child in Samdrupjongkhar, who was mentally traumatised initially, is now in a stable condition.

“Her parents were supportive. The teachers of her school also provide counselling and assured support for her to continue her education,” a source said.

By Tashi Dema

Private schools may continue to get students next year

Wed, 06/09/2021 - 11:25

The pandemic has hampered the construction of additional structures and hostels, and the government is unsure if it would be able to absorb all Class XI students in public schools, according to Sherig Lyonpo Jai Bir Rai.

“If the construction of additional classes and hostels are continuously disturbed then it’s likely we can’t absorb all students in public schools next year,” Lyonpo said.

Lyonpo had told the media a month ago that the government won’t provide scholarships for Class XI students to study in private schools from next year. The ministry placed about 1,700 students in private schools on scholarship.

Khar-Yurung MP Tshering Chhoden asked the minister if the government has enough infrastructure and facilities to accommodate all students from next year since it planned to absorb all students.

MP Tshering Chhoden said that many schools were already facing a shortage of teachers and limited infrastructure.

Lyonpo did not answer the question of if there were enough facilities. He said that although the ministry had targeted to send 1,500 students on scholarship this year, the number had to increase because of an “increase in pass percentage” where public schools couldn’t accommodate all.

Kengkhar-Weringla MP Rinzin Jamtsho also quizzed lyonpo on how the government would help private schools when all students were absorbed in public schools.

Lyonpo said that the government will not stop students from opting for private schools. “All private schools should change their business modality to attract students. If they do then the government can look into policies to help private schools and can help them.”

About 4,000 students benefited from the change in cut-off point policy. Lyonpo claimed that they would not have studied if not for the change in policy since the majority of these students cannot afford to study in private schools.

Meanwhile, given the increasing number of reports on teacher and principal shortage, Maenbi-Tsaenkhar MP Choki Gyeltshen asked the minister what the government’s plan was to address the shortage.

Lyonpo said that about 33 principals would be recruited in seven months, which is expected to ease the shortage. The delay in civil service examination this year due to the pandemic also affected the recruitment of teachers, the minister said.

The ministry is also planning to train about 157 unemployed teachers and place them on contract to replace those on extraordinary and maternity leave.

Another 193 teachers will complete their post-graduate diploma in education next month.

By Yangchen C Rinzin

Edited by Tshering Palden

More likely to charge in Penjore case

Wed, 06/09/2021 - 11:24

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is expected to charge Penjore to court next week along with co-defendants who allegedly manage the seditious website and for allegedly maligning Royal Bhutan Police and the institution of OAG, Kuensel learned. 

Penjore was supposed to be charged this week in connection to online defamation, libel, and sedition. However, the prosecution was delayed because of forensic examination of Penjore’s phone records and social media forums. 

Sources say that there are more individuals involved in supporting alleged “contemptuous, unfounded and unlawful attacks against the national unity, security, and sovereignty of the country”. 

Kuensel learned that eight experienced prosecutors of OAG’s prosecution and litigation division had reviewed the police investigation report and found that several individuals used the social media platform, The Bhutanese News and Forum, to attack and malign institutions and individuals. 

The preliminary report revealed that the forum is operated and administered by a person in Thimphu. Sources also said that OAG prosecutors are yet to decide whom charged for probable sedition.

The controversy between Penjore and OAG surfaced after Penjore was arrested and detained for 16 days for alleged defamatory posts against public officials and institutions, including OAG.

Staff Reporter

Edited by Tshering Palden

DNT warned for breach of electoral regulations

Wed, 06/09/2021 - 11:23

The Office of Media Arbitrator (OMA) issued a warning letter to Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) on June 3 for not complying with the electoral laws during the election period.

The warning came following a written complaint from the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) against DNT for uploading election campaign advertising videos on social media platforms without obtaining prior approval from the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB).  

OMA’s warning letter stated that the complaint was reviewed and it found that DNT had violated Section 18.1.3 of election advertising regulations. 

ECB’s election advertising regulations state that no person shall publish in any newspaper, magazine, periodical or social media unless the person is authorised to do so and does so in accordance with the written directions of the Returning Officer.

“Failure to comply with the provisions of the Regulations henceforth shall oblige the OMA to take strict action against DNT,” stated the letter. 

There were four videos and DNT removed soon after the OMA’s warning letter. 

Staff Reporter

Edited by Tshering Palden

Protecting our children needs collective effort

Wed, 06/09/2021 - 11:22

While many people are still trying to comprehend how we failed to protect our children, which resulted in 330 reported teenage pregnancies last year, a non-profit organisation dedicated for youth reached out to the 12-year-old girl in Samdrupjongkhar.

As an immediate response, Nazhoen Lamtoen has provided cash support for the girl and her parents to buy the necessities. Counsellors from the organisation and teachers of the girl are also providing counselling, which is the need for the hour. Both the organisation and school authorities ensured support for her to continue education.

The minor had also gone through physical and mental trauma. She is not alone. A 13-year-old girl referred to another non-profit organisation, RENEW, is expecting.

But going by the comments online when the news of the 12-year-old girl giving birth circulated on social media last month, we have become tolerant of sexual abuses against children.

Many netizens, instead of condemning the act of an elderly man abusing a child, congratulated her for the successful delivery, revealing our apathy towards sexual abuse cases against children. What is even worrying is that the numbers are increasing.

What have we reduced ourselves to and where is the nation’s duty of ensuring a safe haven for our children? We already have two unresolved rape and murder of minors.

It is believed that even if one child in the community is abused, that is too many; but 330 is a huge number in a small nation of 700,000 people. 

The sad reality in our case is that most of the victims are children from vulnerable families and the perpetrators are from within the family or someone known to the child. Our laws have not deterred the perpetrators from committing the crime.  

It is time we translated what are there in laws, policies, rules and regulations to ensure our children are safe and protected. Officials who are not committed to safeguarding the children should be made accountable.

Prevention is also better than punishment. It has to be a collective effort and not left to few individuals, organisations and agencies.

Family members, neighbours, teachers, health officials and law enforcement agencies have equal responsibilities like service providers to identify children in difficult circumstances and extend support. Judges should come down hard on perpetrators. Everyone has a stake in raising a child in a safe environment.

It is said that it takes a village to raise a child. It now takes a nation to save a child. It has become the moral duty of every citizen to protect children and report suspicious behaviours to authorities. It’s time we showed the nation’s commitment to save our children.

Enduro, a budding sport in Bhutan

Wed, 06/09/2021 - 11:22

Surrounded by hemlock, rhododendron, and juniper forests, the 10km trail starts downward from Thimphu’s Lungchutse (3,566m above sea level) until Punakha’s Lumitsawa. This has become one of the favourite destinations for enduro (mountain biking) enthusiasts.  

Prominent athletes take less than an hour to reach Lumitsawa. On the way, they cross Dochula on a bumpy journey.    

Enduro is a long-distance off-road bike race, typically over rough terrain, designed to test endurance. It is a new sport in the country which is becoming rapidly popular. 

Many say that Bhutan could be a perfect destination for adventurous sports such as enduro due to its ideal location. 

Elsewhere, artificial trails are prepared to conduct competitions but Bhutan has numerous natural trails in the mountain areas that don’t require a lot of maintenance. 

Enduro started gaining momentum under the President of Bhutan Olympic Committee, His Royal Highness Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck. It was HRH who brought enduro in the country some six years ago. 

Thimphu has around 30 enduro enthusiasts, mostly students. The best spots in Thimphu are Phajoding, Sangaygang, Wangditse and Buddha Point, among others.  

Binesh Thapa, 22, from Thimphu, is one of the youngest and prominent enduro enthusiasts.  He has been into this sport since he was 15. He completed high school and works as a bike technician and trail builder.    

Enduro, he said, was his dream sport. He rides every day on local trails and goes for long adventure ride with friends during weekends. 

“Watching enduro on YouTube inspired me in the beginning. Later, I joined the Thimphu mountain biking club, which further boosted my interest,” Binesh Thapa said. His favourite trail is Lungchutse-Lumitsawa. 

The sport is all about thrill and adventure. “Learning new tricks and the speed makes me happy. I love the biking community helping each other as a family,” he said. 

Enduro is, however, an expensive sport for many Bhutanese.

For enduro, one needs a bike that can do heavy-duty trail riding, which could cost anywhere between Nu 200,000 and Nu 300,000. And, bike parts and maintenance do not come cheap. 

Despite challenges, Binesh Thapa is optimistic. In 2018, he participated in the Asian enduro race in Nepal. 

“It was to experience the race and learn from other people. In the future, I want to compete with more experienced riders and encourage Bhutanese youth to take up enduro. I could provide training for beginners,” Binesh Thapa said. 

Internationally, Asian Enduro Series and Enduro World Series are the two popular competitions. One has to qualify from the Asian Enduro Series to win a place in the Enduro World Series.  

 “I want to compete in the Asian region and qualify for world platform,” Binesh Thapa said. 

 As per international standard, a minimum of 18km trail is required for the race. Enduro race is usually held for maximun of two days except for some competitions such as Trans Provence (France), the Andes Pacifico (Chile), and the Pisgah Stage Race (United States), which take a week.  

There are various stages in the race—for instance, point A-B-C-D. Winners are declared based on the lowest total average time taken during different stages.   

Bhutan had planned to conduct the maiden enduro competition at Limukha, Punakha last year but it was deferred due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is expected to be held later this year providing the pandemic subsides.  

One of the beginners, Phuntsho Wangdi, says he was expecting at least one local competition this year. “I love enduro. We have natural trails which attract riders.” 

Today, New Zealand, Norway, Nepal, Scotland, and Slovenia are some of the top destinations for mountain biking.  

Jigme Lobzang, 21, from Punakha, rides four times a week. “Besides health benefits, enduro gives me a different level of satisfaction. I would love to participate in the world enduro series and make my country proud.” 

The first modern enduro race was held in August 2003 at Val D’Allos, France.   

By Thinley Namgay  

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

When will Doksum town relocate?

Wed, 06/09/2021 - 11:21

Fifth deadline extension request since the township development began in 2013

The residents of Doksum town in Trashiyangtse and the dzongkhag administration will once again meet to set another deadline to relocate the town to the new township at Khetshang.

This is because the Cabinet has directed the human settlement minister to consult the dzongkhag administration to decide on the relocation.

This is the fifth time the deadline will be extended. The residents were supposed to move to the new township by the end of June this year.

Kuensel learnt that the Cabinet discussed the matter during 93rd session of the Cabinet meeting after residents of Doksum wrote to Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering.

Signed by 41 shopkeepers, the letter requested for deadline extension for at least two years.

However, the dzongkhag administration was not aware of the request people made to the Prime Minister. The dzongkhag administration, following the Cabinet’s directive, will meet the residents for a consultation today.

The Cabinet’s letter to the ministry mentioned that after arriving on the mutually agreed date with the shopkeepers, all commercial activities, including retailers and eateries would be “stopped” in the old town.

Zhabtog Lyonpo (human settlement minister) Dorji Tshering said that after Lyonchhen received the request that residents cannot move to the new town by June because of various reasons, the concerns were found to be genuine given the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We should understand that construction was difficult when materials were not easily available and business was affected,” Zhabtog Lyonpo said. “People were also waiting for Kholongchu hydropower to formally start and now that it will, people are confident that they will benefit if they relocate to a new town.”

Lyonpo said that the relocation should not be rushed and the town.

“We can’t force them to leave when constructions are not ready. June is too short a deadline and impossible to ask residents to relocate,” Lyonpo said.

Doksum town tshogpa, Karma Lhamo, said that the extension had to be requested because some residents could not process loans with their income affected by the pandemic. Others, she added, are struggling to process materials for construction amid rapid cost escalation.

Karma Lhamo said that lockdown affected the construction work and that until the construction of houses is complete, people cannot relocate. “Residents do not have money to build houses. It’s not that residents are reluctant to relocate to the new town. We’ll when all the construction activities are completed.”

Construction of only about nine houses have been completed at Khetsang, six are under construction, and a majority of the residents have just started to lay the foundation.

There are about 40 shopkeepers and around 20 residents at Doksum.

Residents had last asked for a deadline extension until December 31, 2020 after requests. The human settlement ministry then had informed people that the ministry would not entertain further requests for deadline extension for relocation of the new township.

The dzongkhag administration had already extended the deadline thrice since the township development began in 2013.

In the past, construction was delayed due to the non-availability of timber and residents’ inability to avail of loans from the banks. Initially, when the township development started, it was water issues at the new location and other basic necessities that delayed the relocation of the town.

Doksum town was started as a trading centre for six gewogs of Trashiyangtse in late 1976.

By Yangchen C Rinzin

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

Stray animals damage rice fields

Wed, 06/09/2021 - 11:20

In Paro, changla—rice plantation—is almost done. But the farmers are faced with a new challenge. Stray cattle and ponies are destroying the paddy fields.

Geptay farmers’ WeChat group is filled with pictures of animals in the rice fields. A few days ago, Bidha’s entire plot of paddy seedlings was eaten, trampled, and destroyed.

Village messenger, Chencho, along with the affected individuals, captured the horses. The owners of stray horse from Tsento were asked to collect their animals and compensate for the damages.

Chencho said that horses and stray cattle had ravaged more than 20 households’ paddy fields.

He said that it was difficult to trace the owners. Owners of the animals, who cannot pay for crop damage, do not come to collect the animals.

Taking matters into their own hands, a group of farmers hired a DCM truck and transported three horses to Chelela recently.

Abandoned cattle roaming the streets and destroying fields in Paro is not new.

Without fencing, the fields near the roads and settlements are most affected.

Another rice grower, Gyalpo, said: “We should have strict rules and impose fines on those who fail to take care of their animals.”

In the past, Chencho said that there used to be thosup (farm attendant) who looked after the entire field. Plot owners paid him for guarding the fields.

Without tourism activities due to the Covid-19 pandemic, villagers of Tsento who rely on porter-pony business are struggling to manage their horses and ponies.

Chairman of Horse Contractors Association, Tshering Phuntsho, said it was becoming difficult to manage and feed the animals.

Tshering Phuntsho said horse owners had been paying crop compensation ranging from Nu 2,000 to Nu 10,000 as per the magnitude of the damage.

He said that horse and pony owners registered with the association had so far paid more than Nu 100,000 as crop compensation. “It is becoming difficult with no business and having to pay significantly.”

Most of the porter-pony service providers are recipients of the Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu.

By Phub Dem | Paro

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

At least one child tests positive for Covid-19 everyday this year 

Wed, 06/09/2021 - 11:19

125 of total cases are children below 13 years so far 

At least one child is testing positive in the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak that has now infected 499 people in the country. The country so far has recorded 1,724 confirmed cases out of which 125 are children below the age of 13 years.

As reflected in the health ministry’s Covid-19 dashboard, everyday a child is testing positive for the virus. As per records with the ministry, 87 children equal to or below 13 years old have tested positive this year as of June 2.

This means, close to 9 percent of the total cases detected this year (1,054 since January 1, 2021) are children below the age of 13 years. The youngest so far is a month-year-old infant, detected with the virus on June 4.

In comparison, 35 children in the same age group tested positive for Covid-19 last year.

If the current outbreak is affecting more children is not yet confirmed.  Experts, however, said that because the total number of cases had increased in the current outbreak, children contracting the disease had also subsequently increased.

Member of technical advisory group (TAG) Dr Tshokey said that in the ongoing outbreak, entire families were testing positive. “So, when both parents or other members of the family are testing positive, the probability of the child in the house testing positive is also very high.”

Some paediatricians Kuensel spoke to said that although the numbers of child cases had increased this year, considering the total number of confirmed cases (1,724) in the country, the number of paediatric cases (125) were minimum.

Also, doctors said that the majority of the cases detected during the current outbreak including children are reported to be asymptomatic. “However, this doesn’t mean that we can all relax.   

As numbers increase, there is pressure to treat and monitor the cases and when numbers increase exponentially, the health system could collapse,” said a doctor.

He said that if the outbreak is not contained soon, there would be more cases and many would develop severe symptoms and might also require intensive care. “This would also include paediatric cases. Like all severe Covid-19 cases, it would be really difficult, if not more, to deal with such cases.”

Doctors also cautioned that children remained more vulnerable to contracting the disease and developing more severe symptoms in absence of a vaccine.

In the meantime, all children testing positive have been isolated along with their parents at the hospitals or isolation facilities. This was because even the parents had tested positive for the virus.

Meanwhile, observers say that children are becoming vulnerable because of parent’s behaviour. “Children are innocent. It is parents who are putting children at risk because of their behaviour,” said one. “Many could have believed the first dose of the vaccine made them immune to the virus going by their behaviour.”

 

8.5% of reported cases globally are in children

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), data so far suggest that children under the age of 18 years represent about 8.5 percent of reported cases globally, with relatively few deaths compared to other age groups and usually mild symptoms.

However, cases of critical illness have also been reported. In rare cases, children have also been reported to have become very sick with Covid-19 including some deaths.

As neighbouring India continues to battle a contagious second wave of the pandemic, several experts have already warned about a third wave, which is likely to affect more children, as Singapore has already been reporting.

Although there are no confirmations yet, the new mutations, particularly the Delta variant (B.1.617.2) of SARS-CoV-2 virus have been reported to be affecting younger children in countries like Singapore.

Bhutanese experts also believe that the ongoing outbreak in the country is caused by the same Delta variant of the virus, which could mean that increasing infant and child’s cases in the country could be linked to this factor.

By Younten Tshedup 

Edited by Tshering Palden

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