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Updated: 1 hour 26 min ago

Shops in Thimphu thromde’s periphery run out of essentials

Wed, 12/30/2020 - 01:59

Choki Wangmo 

With shops in Thimphu thromde’s periphery running out of stocks, residents in the locality are facing difficulty.

A Babesa Lam Tag resident said he had been looking for dairy products for the last three days but identified shops in the zone did not have it.

Shopkeepers are waiting for the wholesalers to replenish items.

A shopkeeper at Chubogang said she sold out most of essential items, including vegetable. She is waiting for the wholesaler to deliver.

A woman residing near IT park said shops allowed to open were located towards Chubogang and she had to walk about 30 minutes. One shop was located in Serbithang. “It is difficult when we have to carry heavy items like rice.”

She said that since the shops did not have items required, she returned to the shops every day with the hope to buy new stocks. “This created more crowding although people are allocated different time zones.”

Some residents went to other zones like Babesa Lam Wog where they availed items of their choice. However, the frontline workers on duty did not allow them to get inside the shops.

Many residents living in the periphery are facing similar challenges.

A resident in Yangchenphug said that she could only buy a kilogram (kg) of potato since the shopkeeper did not sell more, stating that customers who visited in the afternoon and evening complained about the shortage.

“The shopkeeper said that he called the wholesaler thrice but did not get the items,” she said, adding that the shelves were empty.

A customer in Zilukha said shops in her zone only had snacks and she had been waiting for days for replenishment.

Those who are living further from town like Begana, Kabesa, and Changtagang are facing severe shortage of essential items.

Choney from Gaselbama said that she went looking for flour to use in a ritual but had to use soil to make effigies. “We no longer complain about shortage of vegetables,” she said.

Most of the shops did not have vegetables.

Chief Executive Officer of Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited, Naiten Wangchuk, in a virtual interview with BBS yesterday, said that the corporation had stocked items for six months but faced challenges in storing perishable goods.

He said 21 metric tonnes of rice, 500 kgs of cooking oil, and 400 kgs of dal were damaged.

Meanwhile, wholesale dealers Kuensel talked to shared that while they are trying to replenish goods in every nook and corner, it was challenging to supply with various protocols they had to follow after 72 hours of lockdown.

A wholesale dealer said that they had to first go for a test, which took more than two days to complete, as they had to wait for the Antigen test result.

“We couldn’t start the delivery right after test until we were declared negative,” he said. “By then I already had more than 50 shops placed their order with me.”

Another wholesaler, who did not want to be named, said that even after getting the result, they had to process for the movement card, which was again time consuming. “By then, three days had gone and I had more than 200 shops to deliver.”

A few shared that they are worried how would they meet the demand since the lockdown has extended, reasoning the protocol demands that the driver, who goes to Phuentsholing to fetch goods to restock, will have to be tested on RT-PCR compulsorily.

“We don’t have an issue in getting tested but it’s a long process since they will have to wait for their turn to get tested and then wait for the result,” a dealer said. “When we try to register for the test or call health officials, it takes time, as they are busy testing other areas.”

Nationwide lockdown extended another four days

Wed, 12/30/2020 - 01:59

Yangchen C Rinzin

Bhutanese will celebrate the New Year and Nyilo in the comforts of their homes this week. 

Residents cannot have outdoor celebrations because the National Covid-19 Taskforce has extended the nationwide lockdown until January 2. The smart unlocking process will begin the following day.  

A nationwide lockdown was enforced for seven days on December 23 after the first local transmission of Covid-19 emerged. Since then the country has seen 184 local cases including the 11 cases announced yesterday. 

The lockdown was extended to discourage people from gathering to avoid spreading of disease and break the chain of transmission. 

The extension of lockdown would also enable health workers to continue in containment and prevention of the disease, according to the Prime Minister Office’s (PMO) press release. The test results of mass screening of representative samples are being processed. 

Health ministry conducted 30,000 RT-PCR tests, 29,000 antigen tests, and 2,500 antibodies tests since the first day of lockdown. 

“Test results would be furthered analysed to determine the way forward,” press release stated. 

Smart unlocking process based on epidemiological indicators will begin after the analysis is complete. This means there will be no blanket nationwide lockdown across dzongkhags. 

The unlocking of lockdown will be implemented region, dzongkhag, and zone wise. The permissible activities would differ from one place to another. 

Smart unlocking process is designed in a way that ensures minimise in the risk of the disease and its implementation will differ from places to places. 

Sowai Lyonpo (health minister) Dechen Wangmo during a press brief yesterday said that lockdown is critical in breaking the chain of transmission and if not, the disease would spread like a wildfire. 

Sowai Lyonpo urged people to adhere to lockdown protocols strictly because lockdown will aid in containing the spread of virus. 

“The contact tracing and tests are done and in next 7-8 days, we would know the status of the country and how far the virus has spread. All contacts of positive cases quarantined at home must follow protocols strictly and should not come out,” Sowai Lyonpo said. 

Sowai Lyonpo said that unlike the first lockdown in August, this time it is a case of local transmission and the way the disease is spreading is complicated. 

This is why a lockdown is considered as the most extreme form of social distancing that has proven effective in slowing the spread of the pandemic globally. 

According to World Health Organisation, in absence of an effective vaccine, social distancing measures were needed to prevent the transmission of the virus.

Sowai Lyonpo said that while the government understood the inconvenience the lockdown has caused it was the only effective way, in absence of a vaccine, in containing the disease.

However, National Covid-19 Taskforce decided to consider the movement of people with death and illness related emergencies. 

In an earlier interview with Kuensel, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that a lot of inconveniences were caused during the lockdown but bearing with the troubles and inconveniences was the individual’s contribution to the fight against the pandemic. 

 “You can’t be proud of contributing to Covid-19 fight without sacrifices and enduring some inconveniences. It’s okay if your company is going into a serious crisis; we can always revive the business. But for now, let’s stay safe.”

Meanwhile, the PMO press release stated that upon His Majesty’s command, the government is also working closely with donor partners and production units to secure the Covid-19 vaccine as soon as possible. 

RMA records more digital transactions in second lockdown

Wed, 12/30/2020 - 01:58

MB Subba  

The Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) has recorded a significant increase in mobile payments during the second lockdown as compared to the records of the first lockdown, indicating an increasing preference for digital payments.

RMA officials said that figures are still being compiled. But during the first three days of lockdown (December 20 to 22), mobile payments saw a substantial surge with 783,617 transactions amounting to Nu 1.3715 billion (B), according to a report compiled by the central bank.

The number of transactions increased by 175,613 in the first three days of the ongoing lockdown in comparison with the first three days of the first lockdown. Correspondingly, the value of the transactions increased by Nu 910.55 million (M).

The use of mobile wallets also increased by of 13,775 transactions amounting to Nu 4.09M.

Director of the Department of Payment and Settlement Systems, Tshering Wangmo, said the latest figures were being compiled. She also said the cybersecurity is given importance and that no digital fraud was reported during the lockdown.

Similarly, Bhutan QR code and the payment gateway recorded 61,033 transactions amounting to Nu 73.29M and 3,340 transactions amounting to Nu 1.8M, respectively, in the first three days of the lockdown.

The growth in digital payments space is expected to further accelerate both in terms of transaction volume and value, the RMA report states. This, according to the central bank, suggests that more people can be brought into the online payment ecosystem with proper infrastructure and awareness.

Digital payments avoid physical cash and ATM withdrawals which has a higher risk of Covid-19 transmission. Since the first lockdown, the numbers of customers switching to mobile banking payments and mobile wallets have drastically increased, according to the RMA.

Overall, a total of 821,816 domestic transactions amounting to more than Nu 2.263B were recorded through various channels of digital payment, including mobile payments, during the first three days of the second lockdown. About 61 percent (Nu 1.3715B) of the overall total value of digital transactions accounted for mobile payments.

According to the RMA, a total of 62,600 new mobile banking subscribers, including 14,923 new e-wallet subscribers, have been registered by the banks and telecoms since the start of the first lockdown.

“The growth in the mobile and internet payments are expected to accelerate in the current situation, as consumers are expected to prefer to make payments of essential services through this medium to adhere to social distancing norms,” the RMA report states.

It adds that the current uncertainty may have triggered the need to hoard cash to manage unforeseen circumstances and hence, huge withdrawal from ATMs on the first day of lockdown. “However, going forward, the use of ATMs and PoS (point of sale) are expected to decline owing to the risks of transmission of the virus through the exchange of currency notes and also due to limited access to physical ATMs and PoS terminals.”

To ensure an uninterrupted flow of essential financial services during the second lockdown, the RMA has activated the 24/7 Command Call Centre (CMCC), for addressing public inquiries in terms of uninterrupted provision of financial services delivery to the general public. Accordingly, the Financial Service Providers (FSPs) were notified to activate their support centres and also to ensure that their digital financial services remain accessible and available round-the-clock during lockdown.

Covid-19 outbreak highly contagious this time: Health Experts

Wed, 12/30/2020 - 01:57

…could possibly be due to the new variant of SARS-CoV-2 virus  

Younten Tshedup

With the rate at which the pandemic is spreading in the country, health experts believe the new variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, could be behind the outbreak.

The new variant of Covid-19, which was first detected in the United Kingdom, is known to be more contagious, meaning it can spread more easily and rapidly compared to its other strains.

Sowai Lyonpo (health minister) Dechen Wangmo yesterday said, “Because of how the virus is spreading in the country, we are worried that it could be a more infectious strain.”

However, Lyonpo said that given the lack of capacity to conduct the gene sequencing of the virus in the country, the ministry was not able to establish whether the new variant of the virus was behind the local transmission of the virus in the country.

Speaking to Kuensel last night, clinical microbiologist and health ministry’s technical advisory group (TAG) member, Dr Tshokey, said that a large number of people testing positive this time could be because of the cold weather; as people remain indoors and contact between individuals was more this time around.

“However, the reason for the extensive spread this time cannot be explained by this reason alone,” he said. “It could possibly be a new variant of the virus, even if it’s not the UK variant. But we cannot confirm this for now as we don’t have the capacity to conduct molecular studies here in the country.”

Dr Tshokey said that the Royal Centre for Disease Control (RCDC) would be sending the samples to Bangkok for gene sequencing.

Lyonpo said that in the current scenario, when a family member tests positive for Covid-19, the rest of the members, almost all of them, also tested positive for the virus. “This was not the case before,” she said, adding that even close contacts of positive cases, for example, at the mini dry port in Phuentsholing, who were in the same containment area, did not test positive to the virus.

So far, of the 184 local cases detected since December 20, 92 individuals who tested positive were contacts of an earlier detected case, including the 11 new cases detected in the last 24 hours.

The minister added that except for Gasa, Trashiyangtse, and Samdrupjongkhar, contacts of positive cases have reached all across the country. As of last night, positive cases have been confirmed in Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, Dagana, Wangdue, Trongsa, Bumthang, and Haa after lockdown.

However, local transmission of the virus as of yesterday were reported only in Thimphu and Paro. Positive cases in the rest of the six dzongkhags were from contacts of those who tested positive either in Thimphu or Paro, the minister added.

In Thimphu, 11 super zones out of 13 have recorded positive cases except for Babesa and Changangkha zones. Positive cases were also recorded in three peripheral zones — Debsi, Kabesa, and Nyizergang.

Lamgong, Wangchang, Shaba, and Lungnyi gewogs in Paro also recorded positive cases as of yesterday.

Lyonpo highlighted that most of the cases in Thimphu and Paro were associated with archery games, where a large number of people had gathered. Considering this, the Covid-19 national taskforce yesterday announced the extension of the nationwide lockdown until the Nyilo holidays were over.