The world has been waiting “to go back to normal”, meaning to the life and routines we were living before the Coronavirus crisis was formally recognized as a pandemic in January, 2020. Then came the realisation that we will not “go back” to normal but that we have to anticipate a “new normal”. It is time to understand that “normal” if we want to keep using the term, is what happened in the past, what is happening now, and what will happen in the future.
By normal, we must mean the reality that we are experiencing and living in today. As Buddhists, we learn that this reality changes every moment.
In the context of the Covid-19 crisis, it is a virus that is threatening human life and the race for a cure. It is the disruption of education for youth and professional life for adults. It is having to be away from family and friends. It is the loss of income and, therefore, the source of sustenance.
It is being in quarantine and lockdown and staying home.
For Bhutan, the entire situation has been much more comfortable than most countries around the world. More than half a year into the crisis, the scale of transmission is limited, the spread controlled, and fatalities prevented. And this is a reality that has been achieved through astute foresight, realistic strategy, and supreme effort.
But we also know that we are as vulnerable as ever. We are about 700,000 people in a region that is home to nearly half of mankind, in fact, the undisciplined half of mankind. Looking around the world, we do not pat ourselves in the back but appreciate a leadership that is ready to make hard decisions and stand by them.
We are currently surviving on emergency measures and on kidu. A large section of the workforce is fully occupied battling crises like border patrolling and control, delivering food, monitoring pedestrians and traffic, making health care accessible, many just staying put, exercising self-control.
At some stage, a government on Covid duty must return to governing, De-Suups will go back to their professions, the shops will open, traffic will start moving, and children have to go to school. But we hope that this will mean a kind of normalcy with a difference – a return to daily living with the resounding awareness that our reality can be unpredictable.
The Covid-19 experience has been a lesson on the functioning of society – governance in a real sense. We have been able to put into place structures and functions that we have only talked about in the past. The zones could be the mechanism for urban governance, from house addresses to social cohesion among urban Bhutanese. Agriculture, including urban gardening, could go a long way to achieve food sufficiency. A pedestrianized culture could make us healthier and happier. Most important, we have learnt to be conscious of fellow citizens and of social values and behaviour.
So let us not allow a good crisis to go to waste.
The Office of the Consumer Protection (OCP) must initiate a price catalogue to prevent reckless and predatory price of goods in the country. The experience and reports on an unreasonable hike in price during the last six months of the pandemic is evident that business entities took advantage of the situation.
During the 21-day national lockdown, consumers were restricted only to over 21 essential goods and vegetables. Due to the dire need of essentials, consumers not only sacrificed the right to inspect the quality and quantity of goods but were also forced to pay the price at the behest of the state corporations, the state selected suppliers and retailers. Social media was flooded with suspicions of suppliers charging the prices at their whims and fancies. The intervention of OCP have served only a few consumers and most suppliers remain indifferent to the consumer’s right to a fair price.
Right to a fair price, correct quantity and non-defective goods are fundamental rights of consumers, well enshrined under the Consumer Protection Act of Bhutan, 2012 (CPA). Section 9 and its regulations protect the right to price by requiring the mandatory display of goods. In the absence of a price catalogue, price of goods remains uncertain. Even if the prices are displayed, fairness is questionable.
A BBS report on FCB charging a higher price for rice to Silambi in Mongar is just a tip of the iceberg. FCB’s justification for the price hike is appalling. It was deliberate, may constitute fraud or deception. It shows how suppliers can easily get away with deceptive practices. The requirement of the display of prices is based on the principle of fair and reasonable price. Section 9 of CPA prohibits business entities from charging any arbitrary or unreasonable or deceptive prices for the goods as in the Silambi incident.
It is fortunate that most business entities in Bhutan fix prices of goods relying on the Maximum Retail Price (MRP). However, the application of MRP on goods in Bhutan lacks legal basis because, MRP is fixed based on the Consumer Goods Act, 2006 and Weights and Measures Act of India for consumers in India. OCP has no legal authority to enforce existing MRP in Bhutan.
Section 90 of CPA and Rule no. 81 of Consumer Rules and Regulations 2015 mandates OCP to publish “standard catalogue containing prices.” OCP is almost a decade old and it has been six months since the pandemic hit us, yet there is no price catalogue on even the essential items. Prices were fixed on few commodities but those remained confined only to selected markets. OCP and other authorities have failed thus far, leaving the price of goods completely uncertain undermining the objectives of CPA.
OCP must take cognizance of the current scenario and fulfil their duty of initiating a price catalogue at the earliest. It is a herculean task but not impossible. Since almost all our goods are imported, the initiation of a price catalogue is a lot easier as import price is already known. OCP must first start with the essential items. Non-regulation of prices may lead to more economic inequality and affect poverty alleviation efforts. Contrarily, the determination of prices will encourage more business to declare goods and help reduce tax evasion. Till such time, consumers will continue to suffer at the reckless and predatory pricing by the business entities at their whims and fancies.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.
Having plotted the red and the yellow zones in Phuentsholing, 16 teams of health officials from Thimphu are deployed for the second round of the active community surveillance beginning today. About 4,600 residents of the yellow zones will be tested.
Pemaling, Toorsa kidu housing colony and National Housing Development Corporation’s (NHDC) housing colony B in Toorsa fall in the yellow zones based on the contact with the red zone residents. There were also a few positive cases in these areas.
The team is expected to complete testing on September 6.
Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that the test results would determine whether the yellow zones would turn red or green (normal). For example, there are 100 people living in NHDC housing colony. Many testing positive among them would declare the area as a red zone. Likewise, in Pemaling, none testing positive would make it a green zone.
Lyonpo said that the entire Phuentsholing was a risky zone. Having the most number of Covid-19 positive cases, Project DANTAK camp is identified as the red zone. With one each positive cases, livestock store and the flu clinic near Project DANTAK camp are also being identified as a cordoned or containment area.
Phuentsholing Covid-19 taskforce has separate protocols for the red and yellow zones. It prohibits people from entering the red zone and the people inside the zone from coming out. This is because of the risk of more positive cases in the red zone.
“We also have guards for the zones,” Lyonpo said.
Lyonpo said the people in the red zone would be tested only after 21 days. However, those symptomatic ones will be tested at any time.
For Phuentsholing as a whole, there may be some relaxations on lockdown outside the red and yellow zones.
Lyonpo said for the red zone, the 21-day lockdown period started on September 3 and since then the national Covid-19 task force endorsed the risk assessment of the areas and the demarcation proposal by the health ministry.
“Led by Phuentsholing Covid-19 task force, zone demarcation is underway,” the minister said.
Lyonpo said people might see repeated testing as a hassle but they must continue cooperating since early detection was key to containment. “Detecting a case earlier by a day could make a big difference,” she said, adding that people must be cautious about the virus, as it could be anywhere.
Over seven hundred kilometres of porous border stretch pose risks and all the bordering areas in the country are equally risky, the minister said.
Apart from Phuentsholing, the southern Covid-19 task force is looking into other southern areas for which a different protocol will be set.
“All the protocols will adapt to the evolution of the epidemic,” she said.
35th FAO regional conference calls for leveraging technology
Digitalisation of the agriculture system could be the way forward to address challenges faced by the global food system to provide enough and adequate quality of food to feed an ever-growing population.
This is the key takeaway message from the last day of the 35th FAO regional conference for Asia-Pacific (APRC) yesterday.
Digital technologies, agriculture experts said, offer unique opportunities for improving food production and trade, particularly to smallholder farmers, and in helping to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
Technologies such as sensors, drones, and satellites are expected to transform how people, businesses and governments work by reducing the costs of information, transactions, and supervision while having optimum benefit.
For example, sensors and satellites provide information on soil moisture, temperature, crop growth and livestock feed levels, enabling farmers to achieve better yields by optimising crop management and reducing the use of fertilisers, pesticides, feed and water.
Member countries discussed the potential of digital technology applications for promoting sustainable agricultural productivity and approaches to develop national digital agriculture strategies and socio-economic and ethical challenges of digitalisation among others.
The FAO Director-General urged member countries for sustained and stronger collaboration, including leveraging agricultural technologies and innovations, to end hunger and tackle Covid-19’s impacts.
“We need to take full advantage of the digital age through innovative partnerships with national governments, farmers, the private sector, academia, NGOs and many others,” he said.
Digital applications could transform and promote climate smart agriculture technologies which are information- and knowledge-intensive, stated a FAO document.
FAO reported that many countries were in the process of developing digital agricultural strategies to design, develop and apply innovative ways to use digital technologies. “Such strategies promote digital infrastructure improvements and the development and application of digital tools in agriculture and rural areas, and attempt to bridge the gap of digital divide.”
With creation of more jobs in rural areas, digitalisation could improve incomes and rural economic growth to contribute to poverty eradication. Last year, there were more than 820 million chronically undernourished people in the world, an increase of 10 million in the previous year.
In showing the way forward for member countries, FAO and the International Telecommunication Union have developed the E-agriculture strategy guide to assist countries in designing and implementing digital agriculture strategies. “The strategy will help rationalise resources, address digital technology opportunities and challenges for the agricultural sector in a more efficient manner.”
At the conference, delegates from member countries acknowledged the important role innovation and technologies could play in improving food production and security.
The APRC is being held once in two years on a rotational and voluntary basis amongst the member states.
The four-day conference which ended yesterday was hosted by Bhutan with support from FAO regional office in Bangkok, FAO-Bhutan office and FAO Secretariat in Rome.
The 36th APRC will be held in Bangladesh in 2022.
The recent death of four villagers of Salamji in Tsangkha gewog, Dagana, was due to bongkrekic acid poisoning, an investigation by the Royal Centre for Disease Control (RCDC) in Thimphu has concluded.
The bongkrekic acid (a kind of toxin), according to the RCDC, can be found in locally brewed alcohol that are not fermented properly or completely.
The RCDC, which released its investigation report yesterday, stated that other people from the same village had also consumed locally brewed alcohol like changkey during the same time. But the report adds that only those who consumed the bangchang that was fermented from corn fell sick.
An official from the RCDC clarified that the cause of the deaths were not the bangchang itself.
The patients exhibited similar signs and symptoms of acute gastrointestinal symptoms. The first case was reported to Tsirang hospital on August 26.
The deceased succumbed to illness with multiple organ dysfunction, according to the report. In total, six people who were related to each other had fallen sick recently.
The deceased were aged between 40 and 54 years. The patients died in Damphu and Gelephu hospitals. Two of the six patients are being treated in JDWNRH and reportedly recovering.
The RCDC states that it discourages people from consuming locally brewed bangchang from corn ferment. The centre has also urged people to incinerate and discard all the current corn fermented produce to avoid such fatal public health incidents.
The report stated that the centre performed epidemiological, microbiological, serological and toxicological analysis on the samples of the affected individuals and the bangchang. There were no pathogenic micro-organisms isolated from millet and corn fermented samples.
The investigation was carried out by a team consisting of toxicologist Adeep Monger, food microbiologist Vishal Chhetri from RCDC, and forensic technologist Dhan Raj Giri from JDWNRH.
The centre also tested blood serum samples for seven different communicable disease and current pandemic (Covid-19). One of the patients tested positive for hepatitis A, according to the report.
The RCDC reported that the toxicological investigation found no trace of pesticides, aconite derivatives and toxic alcohols of concern in either clinical samples or fermented corn samples. “However, a presumption of bongkrekic acid poisoning is highly suspected.”
The RCDC on August 28 had received a notification on National Early Warning and Response System (NEWARS) from Tsirang hospital regarding the deaths of three individuals that occurred at Salamji village.
A team comprising local leaders, health personals and de-suups conducted an investigation to find out the possible cause of deaths upon the recommendations from RCDC.
The report stated that there was no history of consumption of wild mushroom or any other suspected toxicants.
Supporting its conclusion, the RCDC report states that epidemiological investigation revealed that those that did not consume bangchang (made from corn) were not affected.
The report states that the raw materials used for brewing corn alcohol can be contaminated with many micro-organisms which can produce secondary metabolites that is toxic and lethal.
The RCDC also held verbal conversations with survivors and treating physicians to determine the possible cause of poisoning. The report adds that more confirmatory tests of this toxicant, however, are necessary using higher techniques.
The RCDC stated that food poisoning is a global public health concern and that consumption of corn fermentation product has been reported from Indonesia, China and recently from Mozambique leading to a case fatality rate of 40 percent.
The Bhutan Olympic Committee (BOC) has not yet finalised which sports to be played in the unlocking phase.
BOC’s head of sports research and development division, Namgay Wangchuk said that the committee had formed a team to work on the unlocking phase sports in line with the Prime Minister’s address to the nation on easing the lockdown.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that BOC would determine what sports are permissible during the phases. “Only non-contact sports such as badminton and tennis are allowed. However, some sports like swimming, archery and snooker that involve exposure and close contact are disallowed during the unlocking phase.”
The team is still working on it by categorising the sports into non-contact, partial contact and full contact. The team had submitted the draft proposal yesterday to all the sports federations and associations to seek advice.
As per the draft proposal, non-contact sports such as Olympic archery, shooting, athletics and golf will be played in the first phase mainly to train the national team.
“We have stressed on the strict precautionary measures besides sanitisers, facemasks and hand-washing stations,” said Namgay Wangchuk. For example, if there are 10 national players for Olympic archery with five targets on the pitch, only five players are allowed to play at a time by maintaining physical distance.
Before submitting the final proposal to the government, the proposal will be further discussed by the BOC management to make necessary changes.
“Our team is expecting to complete the work on September 7 or 8. If this plan becomes successful here, the same rule could apply to the dzongkhags.”
“Regarding other sports, it will depend on the updates from the government and the World Health Organisation,” said Namgay Wangchuk.
BOC is also coming up with a standard operating procedure for all the 15 sports federations, four sports associations and 15 dzongkhag sports associations to follow in such unprecedented times.
“Tournament of any kind is disallowed during the unlocking phase,” Prime Minister said.
This would further delay the ongoing BOB Bhutan Premier League which has played only six matches as of August 10. Ugyen Academy FC was leading the table with four points.
Moreover, Bhutan Indigenous Games and Sports Association’s final match of the Mewang Gyalsey Traditional Archery Tournament between team Duktip from Trashiyangtse and Team Orong gewog from Samdrupjongkhar is still deferred. It was slated for March 7 and 8.
Bank of Bhutan will open six agents in Chamkhar town, Bumthang today. The bank has 18 exiting agents in the four gewogs and the dzongkhag.
The new agents will provide banking services such as cash withdrawal, cash deposit, mobile voucher top-up, loan repayment, and utility bill payment, among other services in the town’s six zones.
The shops identified as the agents are among those in the various zones within the dzongkhag.
This is initiated to provide continuous banking service and minimise door-to-door services in case if the country has to initiate lockdown in the future.
The new agents will operate starting today until the pandemic recedes. Every individual can withdraw the maximum amount of Nu 10000 per transition.
Meanwhile, BoB officials in Bumthang opened over 30 saving accounts for Druk Gyalpos Relief Kidu funds to facilitate online banking services.
Similarly, Bhutan Development Bank officials initiated to provide services to 300 clients including door-to-door cash delivery and new account opening, among others since the second week of the nationwide lockdown.
Recently, the Ministry of Education (MoE) proposed to re-open schools for grades IX and XI along with grades X and XII after the lockdown. Thenceforth, it has been one of the most debated and important issues regarding the reopening of schools during the Covid-19 pandemic on social media.
Despite the increasing number of Covid -19 positive cases, if MoE decides to go ahead with the reopening of the classes IX and XI, it will significantly reduce the damage to education, social development, and physical and mental health of children and adolescents as a result of social isolation, reduced social support and increased exposure to domestic violence. Undoubtedly, these harms will inevitably be greater in poorer families.
However, it is a widely held view that the health, safety, and well-being of students, teachers, staff, and their families are critical considerations in determining whether schools should re-open for face-to-face learning.
More recently, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that children and young people may be asymptomatic carriers of the virus or develop Covid -19. Although Covid -19 tends to be less serious in children and adolescents; however, relatively few students are reported to have died from the Covid -19. Several studies have shown that children are not super-spreaders of the virus and, in fact, may not contribute significantly to the spread of the virus.
For example, a recent study found that children and youth under the age of 20 are 56% less likely to contact Covid -19 from infected people than adults. The findings of this study suggest that children and young people may play an insignificant role in transmitting the virus in the community. In addition, one study examined nearly 200 children who visited emergency care clinics or hospitals with suspected Covid -19, of whom nearly 50 tested positive. Most of the children were not particularly ill, and only half of the children who tested positive had a fever.
However, there are few incidences, where some schools that have already re-opened had to close within a week due to exposure to confirmed Covid -19 cases, therefore indicating that detailed guidelines are required on when to re-open and how to re-open. This is evident in the case of Israel, where schools fully reopened on May 17, 2020, but 10 days later, a severe coronavirus outbreak occurred at the school.
Considering all this evidence and valuable insights from other countries, there are two basic strategies currently being adopted in the reopening of the school during the Covid-19 pandemic. One is the rota system, the other is the cohort.
The first strategy is to allow schools to operate in a rota system, in which students spend two weeks at school, followed by two weeks at home. This strategy will allow symptoms to appear more than enough and students will be able to isolate themselves and prevent transmission of the virus to others. Likewise, schools may choose to operate a one-week rotation (for example, 5 days in school, followed by 9 days at home) if this is necessary for the actual delivery of the curriculum. However, experts suggest that the rota system lengths should not be less than a week, as this does not provide enough time for symptoms to present. Furthermore, schools should plan to utilize time over the weekend effectively to prepare for a different rota group at the start of the week.
The second important strategy is the cohort (or the formation of “pods”). The cohort consists of forming groups of students, teachers, or staff who stay together throughout the school day so that only those within a cohort have close contact with each other and no one else. This reduces exposure and helps prevent the spread of Covid -19 in the school environment. It also helps in the traceability of contact if someone within the cohort is positive and allows for targeted testing, quarantine, and isolation of a single cohort instead of the entire school.
This strategy can prevent the spread of Covid -19 by limiting the crossing of students, teachers, and staff as much as possible; consequently, it helps decrease Covid -19 exposure or chances for transmission. It also facilitates more efficient contact tracing in the case of a Covid -19 positive case and allows for targeted testing, quarantine, and isolation of a single cohort rather than school-level measurements in the case of a Covid -19 positive case or group of cases.
The goal of creating more than one cohort is to reduce the density of students in the classroom, thus helping to analyze how reopening at full capacity compares to reopening at half-capacity with the remaining students continuing distance learning or rotating cohorts between alternating weeks or three weeks.
Recent research has suggested that reduced class density by rotating cohorts between face-to-face and online classes likely have the greatest impact on reducing the spread of Covid -19 caused by resuming in-person classroom instruction. It has been reported that a combination of different strategies will substantially reduce the prevalence of Covid -19. Moreover, these results would seem to suggest that reducing class density and implementing rapid viral tests, even with imperfect detection, have a greater impact than moderate measures to mitigate transmission.
Taken together, a reasonable approach to reopening of the school during the COVID-19 pandemic could be to use a rota system or cohort. Therefore, the MoE could incorporate any abovementioned strategies along with proper social and physical distancing, and importantly; support for students, teachers, staff, and venerable students should be a priority for MoE and schools.
Anti-Corruption Commission of Bhutan
For the first time in the history of the Bhutanese education system, we witnessed a paradigm shift in teaching. The education system changed its landscape when the coronavirus pandemic hit us. We have started to resort to technology like never before to mitigate lost instructional hours and leverage distance learning.
UNESCO (2020) warns that if lessons learnt from Ebola are not applied to COVID-19, then the similar fate awaits our children jeopardizing their future. According to UNICEF (2020) in South Asia, 430 million children are affected by school closures due to Covid-19. Save the Children (2020) reveals that the devastating consequences of Covid-19 outbreak are set to have on learning. Several other studies have suggested that the risks of learning from home due to closure of schools outweigh the advantages. Hence, among numerous challenges, there are certain pressing issues, we have to be wary of and be strategic when children are out of school for a longer period of time. In fact, we have begun to witness the by-products of new normal of the education system.
World Bank (2020) at the beginning of the year cautioned that as seen from previous health emergencies, most recently the Ebola outbreaks, one of the impacts on education is high dropout rates. A number of students of class X and XII have not returned to school after schools reopened as reported in Kuensel. The dropout was anticipated when schools closed in the spring. And with a large portion of students still at home, we cannot be so optimistic for 100 percent turn up for the remaining classes. Moreover, the Ministry of Education (MoE) has proposed that along with primary class students, pupils of class VII and VIII are to complete their 2020 academic session through distance learning, so, children losing their interest to study abound in high gravity. Now, it is extremely important for schools to devise realistic strategies to keep their interests alive to study.
Our children are also trapped in the vicious cycle of risk amid the current situation. Girls are especially at risk of gender-based violence, teenage pregnancy and early marriage. A case in point, the closure of schools increased girls’ vulnerability to physical and sexual abuse both by their peers and by older men, as girls are often home and unsupervised according to Plan International (2020) during the Ebola crisis. Gender-based violence cases have increased during this pandemic period as claimed by RENEW. The vulnerability of our girls falling prey to sexual predators who are lurking in the society’s shadows is relatively high the longer they stay out of school. For most of our girls, education is a lifeline, shielding from exploitation and violence and equipping them with skills and hope for a better future. Thus, evidence-based and context-specific actions must be in place to favour our girls in preventing or overcoming ordeals of this pandemic.
The quality of learning is going to be seriously compromised at the time of this crisis on two grounds: parents with limited education to guide at home and a minimal amount of guidance received from teachers. Teaching either through online or with Self Instruction Materials (SIM), there are several challenges our children face at home. The quality of learning is directly proportional to the quality of digital access. Even if our children could access content, are they fluent in the language of instruction? So, teachers in some part of the country have initiated mobile teaching. Given the time constraint at hand, teachers cannot provide detailed guidance to students as supposed in the school with this initiative as well.
On the other hand, assessing the delivered lessons with fact-checking is a component not to be taken lightly. The assessment part must be little beyond than just correcting their completed works. A class VI child promoted to class VII will face serious consequences in that grade as teachers will hardly check previous knowledge given the situation the child is at the moment. Or will the teachers of grade VII teach the concepts of a former grade for a few months before rushing to the new syllabus, for instance?
The World Economic Forum (2020) argues that the digital divide would widen further if opening of schools is prolonged because as per the Global Digital Overview (2020) only around 60 percent of the globe’s population is online. So, to have equal access to learning, the MoE has launched SIMs for children lacking any form of digital learning platforms. Now, we have one group of students using SIMs and the other with access to digital tools. As long as the education disruption is continued by this pandemic, the disparities in learning opportunities would be exacerbated to a much higher level. Children from the affluent family would be at more advantage with digital knowledge and skills compared to those from the lower socio-economic background.
Reducing the gap of the digital divide should be a priority in post Covid-19 world as envisioned in the isherig-2: Education ICT Master Plan 2019-2023, to produce globally competent citizens through the equitable and pervasive use of emerging and relevant technology.
The Covid-19 pandemic has given us a glimpse of how education could change for times to come and stimulated innovative solutions in a relatively short period of time (United Nations, 2020). This is also an opportunity for teachers to deeply introspect within and self-assess on one’s skills required for 21st-century classroom. The moment schools were closed; teachers were tasked with implementing distance learning modalities, often without sufficient professional guidance. The sudden transition to new teaching strategies by the crisis posed challenges for teachers as well who lacked basic digital skills despite in contexts with adequate resources and connectivity, let alone facilitating quality distance learning. Perhaps it is vital to realize how crucial it is to equip oneself first than to attempt to teach younger generations. ‘You cannot give what you do not have’ as said the His Majesty The King.
The effect of Covid-19 crisis on education has been unprecedented, yet, we have found a way to manoeuvre through these dark times and still sailing overcoming hurdles on the way. Teachers go beyond the call of the duty to keep learning on track. The education community will prove to rebound with greater resilience under the guidance of the education ministry, the government and the King.
Mamita Bhandari (Offtg.Principal)
Pangserpo PS, Dagana
M.Ed II (2020) SCoE
Nima | Gelephu
On Monday, August 10, Tandin Wangmo got a call from Gelephu Central Regional Referral Hospital to confirm that she had tested positive for Covid-19.
She did not know how to react.
Tandin was told to share the unexpected news that night. “I did not know what to say. When I was tested positive before, I thought the result was a mistake,” she said.
The 27-year-old had visited the flu-clinic for the follow up on August 10. She was the first in the country to test positive for Covid-19 outside a quarantine facility.
Her family came to know that she tested positive for the first time. Earlier, when her quarantine period was extended after testing positive on the rapid test, she told her parents that her body was weak.
The next day, she was taken to an isolation ward in Gelephu CRRH (old block). Her parents and family members, including the neighbours who came in close contact with her, were placed under facility quarantine.
On August 11, the Prime Minister of Bhutan declared a nationwide lockdown.
“I thought I disturbed everything. This peaceful country had to face an abrupt situation. I was worried that I could have infected my family and friends,” said Tandin.
From the isolation ward window, Tandin saw Desuups and frontline officials working in the rain and sun.
“Everyone, led by His Majesty The King worked tirelessly to keep us safe. I wondered if I had undone all the efforts. The feeling hurt,” said Tandin Wangmo.
Her biggest worry was about what could happen to the country. She regretted coming home to be safe. “I thought all these sudden changes won’t have occurred if I didn’t return home,” she said.
Inside the ward
Inside the isolation ward, Tandin could read the frustrations of people online. She got many phone calls; many she’d to ignore. “Positive comments helped me stay strong,” she said. “Covid-19 could cause disharmony in the community. Instead of stigmatising the infected, we need to get together and support them.”
One day, after she was taken to the isolation ward, another positive case was reported from a mini dry port in Phuentsholing, which was confirmed as a local transmission later.
Prime minister Dr Lotay Tshering, in a national address to the nation right after, said that the positive case from Gelephu that resulted in nationwide lockdown was a blessing in disguise.
“I watched the speech inside the ward. It helped me stay strong, which was very important,” said Tandin Wangmo. “It was important to be mentally strong.”
A big relief
Tandin Wangmo said she was most relieved when she heard that all her family and friends tested negative.
“I am happy and my mind much at ease. I came to know that it was only me who is infected and that I have not exposed anyone to the disease,” she said.
Tandin Wangmo was shifted to the de-isolation facility after undergoing two weeks of treatment in the isolation ward on August 25. A repeat test would be conducted in the upcoming week.
“These are all because of the blessing from Kenchosum, His Majesty the King, the government, and the people. The officials in the ward gave me the best support. The check-ups were done on time. I can never thank them enough,” she said.
Journey back home
In Kuwait around June, the Covid-19 outbreak was surging. The virus was claiming lives almost daily. The safest place, Tandin Wangmo remembers, was home.
The company she was working with had her working every day. But, somehow, she managed a break and headed home to Bhutan. She landed in Paro on June 26.
“I thought everything would be better here. The risk of getting the infection was increasing daily in Kuwait,” said Tandin Wangmo.
Like any other returnees, she was placed under mandatory facility quarantine in Paro. However, her quarantine period got extended after testing positive on the IgG antibody test.
She tested five times negative on the RT-PCR test and tested positive for the IgG antibody on three occasions. Her quarantine was extended to one month and was finally sent home on July 26.
It’s 8pm at Twins Dragon Hotel in Gelephu, Tandin Wangmo settles for her third prayer of the day, wishing for the quick recovery of those infected with Covid-19.
Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue
The Wangdue medical surveillance team collected samples from 150 Indian workers of the Punatsangchhu-II hydroelectric project (PII) for the Covid-19 RT-PCR test yesterday.
The samples were sent to Thimphu and results are expected in two days.
According to PHPA II management, the test was to produce the Covid-19 certificate to process the leave of the Indian workers.
PII Managing Director Amresh Kumar said that in the first phase of the process, around 150 Indian workers would leave for home.
He added that the workers could leave on September 5. “Embassy is working hard. Both the Bhutan government and Embassy of India in Thimphu is facilitating the process.”
Today, almost 680 workers have signed to leave for India.
The list was collected after around 500 workers gathered in front of the Jaiprakash Associates Limited (Jaypee Group) on August 27. Project chairman and Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma also visited the site and promised the workers to send them home early.
MD Amresh Kumar said that workers who had earlier said to leave in November have also registered this time fearing their leave wouldn’t be processed next time.
“There are cases, where just out of fear and apprehensions, workers have started putting in an application.
Because of unlock 4 things have been substantially eased out (in India). They have in mind that in India things are free and they are put in unnecessary hardships here.”
Some workers of PII after their names weren’t called for the RT-PCR further expressed concerns to the management yesterday. However, things have settled today.
Similarly, applications of 135 Indian workers of the Nikachu Hydroelectric project have been sent to the Indian Embassy. The documents were sent around five days ago, the project management said.
The project management will facilitate the Indian workers’ leave according to the India Embassy’s approval.
A worker of the Nikachu HEP said that with family emergencies, he wished to leave for home as soon as possible.
He further added that in India, he had chances of finding work. “My grandmother and mother aren’t well,” the 28-year-old man said.
Today, the management is accepting applications as per workers’ request to leave for home. The Nikachu HEP has 992 Indian workers.
Dagana received 180 packets of cigarettes, 120 packets of chewing tobacco (Baba) and 200 packets of bidis. There are about 4,000 tobacco consumers in the dzongkhag.
However, the seven gups of Khebisa, Tsangkha, Karna, Tsendagang, Drujeygang, Dorona and Tseza gewogs in Dagana refused to distribute the tobacco products.
The gups said that the tobacco consumers outnumbered the stock they received. They also wanted to help people quit the habit of consuming tobacco. Some gups consulted their tshogpas and elderly people before making the decision.
Dorona gup, Suk Raj Rai said, “Distribution of limited numbers of tobacco would create disharmony among the consumers and the gewog administration.”
The gups said the consumers have substituted tobacco consumption by chewing betel nuts and other products.
Some gups didn’t deliver the tobacco as it’s considered a sinful act. Drueygang gup, Tawla said tobacco was not an essential food item. “No people would die if they stop consuming tobacco. People should adapt to critical situations,” he said.
Tseza Gup, Phurba, said he didn’t distribute tobacco because there weren’t enough for all the consumers in his gewog.
According to Karna gup, Lhawang Dorji, number of tobacco consumers have reduced in the rural areas due to inaccessibility amid the Covid-19 pandemic. He said, “People in my gewog don’t need tobacco. I have asked the chiwog tshogpas to submit the list of consumers but I haven’t got any.”
The gups are looking forward to educating and spreading awareness on the harmful impact of tobacco consumption rather than supplying it.
Some consumers from other gewogs called the Goshi gup pleading to share the tobacco products. Goshi Gup, Tandin, said. “Those chronic tobacco users are suffering but I couldn’t help them because the stock was too less even for people in my village.” Goshi gewog received 198 packets of baba, 30 packets of cigarettes and 35 packets of bidi.
The gup said that many consumers were unhappy with their decision.
“It is more important for the local leaders to curb illegal smuggling or selling of tobacco rather than refraining from distributing what has legally been sanctioned for habitual tobacco consumers,” said gup Tandin.
A consumer from Tsendagang was disappointed when her expectations were turned down. She said, “Our gup acted on his own, he didn’t even care to consult before taking the decision.” She said she had a hard time without tobacco during the lockdown.
Tobacco users somehow managed to get some supplies. Some consumers walked for hours in search of tobacco right after the lockdown was lifted.
One paid Nu 500 to get a packet of a cigarette from her friend. She said, “I’m a chain-smoker. I feel restless and there’s no substitution for the cravings. She wished that the government would distribute tobacco to people living in rural areas as they do in the capital city.
Some farmers who are habitual tobacco chewers said they couldn’t focus on their daily chores.
While most of the tobacco consumers are hopeful that they would get their quota of tobacco, the planning officer of Dagana, Sonam Jamtsho, said that this could be the first and last consignment of tobacco for the dzongkhag.
“People must be suffering but even if their gup decides to distribute the tobacco products, there is not enough for everyone.”
Tobacco products were divided among the four gewogs of Goshi, Gesarling, Lajab Tashiding and Dagana Thromde. However, it couldn’t reach most consumers.
The highlanders of Lingzhi, Soe and Naro in Thimphu are battling the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic and the recent nationwide lockdown.
Restriction on selling their dairy products, inter-gewog movement, lack of adequate essentials and porter pony business are among the major challenges facing the people.
Karma from Naro said: “With the nationwide lockdown, selling dairy products is not possible. We are drying the cheese but are worried about the stored butter. I have stored more than 20kg surplus butter.”
The people of Lingzhi and Soe usually trade their dairy products in Paro from where they buy essentials enough for a month.
Without electricity, refrigerating the dairy products is not an option.
Some households own more than 150 cattle and horses. Karma had to take care of 30 horses of the neighbours’ who are stranded in Paro. “Recently, I lost one horse to tiger.”
Movements between these communities are strictly monitored by the local leaders to prevent the Covid-19.
“I have friends and relatives in other gewogs but I cannot visit them. Weather in Lingzhi is foggy and there is always rain at this time. It makes us feel lonely,” said Sonam Pem from Lingzhi.
She said that her family lost cattle two months ago due to harsh weather. “Such incidences hurt our income.”
Usually, the people of these communities are busy with porter-pony business at this time of the year. The pandemic has killed the business altogether.
Karma said that people with more horses make a good income in the peak season. “Although I have only seven, I made more than Nu 100,000 last year.”
The government has opened FCB shop in Lingzhi and Soe. However, stocks have been dwindling, worrying the people.
Kelzang Dolkar from Soe said that the FCB shop has limited stock of rice, salt, cooking oil and dhal, among others.
What worries the people most is shortage of salt.
Neten Dorji | Trashigang
The major roadblock at Thomchi Barongjuk, which cut off Kangpara for more than a month, is expected to be cleared by evening today, according to officials of Kangpara gewog in Trashigang.
Massive landslides buried over 140 meters of the road blocking the road about 12km towards Kangpara gewog from the Thrimshing drungkhag.
Kanpara gup, Sangay Wangdi said that continuous sliding of soil and the lockdown hampered excavation work to clear the road.
“It took us almost a month to clear the block,” he said. “Apart from the major block at Thomchi, multiple minor blocks along the road would be cleared by today,” he said.
However, he said that if it rains again, it is likely that roadblocks would occur. “We remind commuters to be cautious while travelling through the slide area.”
Gewog officials said if the rain stops, they could clear all the blocks within a couple of weeks for all traffic. “We could clear the major blocks around 2pm today. Currently only boleros can pass,” said an official.
As we enter the second of the three-phase lockdown relaxation, we have much to look back and take stock of the shortfalls and opportunities in our long-drawn-out battle against the unrelenting virus.
From 5 a.m. today—September 4—buses and taxis will be allowed on the roads again. This means business for those who depend on the transport sector for income and convenience for the general public. Considering we do not have new cases and dangers, the movement of all vehicles will soon be permitted.
What we must not forget is that we are still vulnerable. Easing lockdown doesn’t mean the Covid-19 pandemic is dead and gone. Far from it. In fact, we could be in for a longer, harsher lockdown as was and is seen in some countries and cities if, in the euphoria of new-found leeway, we fail to abide by the standing health protocols.
The 21-day lockdown was necessary to allow the frontliners contain the virus from spreading further which could have had us in a very difficult, perhaps even ungovernable, situation. To put in a serviceable communication and service delivery system overnight was challenging but we had to ensure that the lockdown did not become too cumbersome to the people. With all their imperfections, the systems—brought to life as the situation demanded—succeeded in delivering essential items and services to the households.
The question that lingers is whether things would ever return to “normal”. But that’s not important. What is important is that the country and the people should build resilience. In other words, we must be able to cope with the changing dynamics of the pandemic and the threats, which is, of course, easier said than done.
The days when we did not have to wear face masks and avoid crowd and crowding, alas, may be gone for ever. The “new normal” could be a society of people that is conscious and always on-guard. In these unprecedented times, we have also exhibited sheer courage to adapt to the new ways of organising life and transactions, which could be our very tools to combat the current and future adversities.
As we prepare to ease the lockdown further—from September 7, the final phase of lockdown, all offices will open and operate full-time—we will require more head and eyes to ensure that the standing health protocols are observed by all at all times. It will be challenging but we cannot fail. Or else, we will have thrown a spanner in all that we have so far achieved.
Community transmission of Covid-19 is our biggest threat which calls for more stringent measures to ensure that people follow health advisories ant the standing protocols.
Let there not be another lockdown.
While presenting the country statement on prioritisation of country and regional needs at the 35th FAO regional conference for Asia-Pacific yesterday (virtual), agriculture secretary, Rinzin Dorji assured Bhutan’s commitment to what is called the seven umbrella programmes proposed by FAO.
The umbrella programme seeks to support responsible investments in agriculture and food systems by involving policy makers, parliamentarians, small-scale producers and the private sector. It expects to enhance quality and quantity investments in member countries, thereby contributing to food security, nutrition, and sustainable development.
Currently, lack of awareness, governance challenges, capacity and information gaps were found to impede responsible agricultural investment, the FAO stated. “The agricultural sector suffers from serious underinvestment.”
Rinzin Dorji said that the agriculture development in Bhutan sought to secure a safe and healthy environment, ecologically balanced sustainable development, economic self-reliance, private sector engagement, and adequate livelihood. Bhutan’s efforts have been strongly grounded on the principle of “ensuring sustainable social and economic well-being of the Bhutanese people,” he said.
In his opening address at the ministerial meeting, Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji called upon member countries to stabilise food systems against current and future threats and frame immediate, mid-term, and long-term plans to respond through cooperation and support of relevant stakeholders.
Lyonpo said that it was essential to bring together experts in the field of food and agriculture to reduce global problems of hunger, poverty, malnutrition, and stunting while ensuring sustainable, resilient, and inclusive food systems.
“We need to further advance our agriculture production system by coming together with better ideas and skills and with effective collaborations that will have a positive national, regional and global impact.”
Recognising the negative impact of the current pandemic on vulnerable groups in the society, Lyonpo said that Bhutan was working to further improve agriculture productivity for food security.
The chair of the ministerial meeting, Lyonpo Yeshey Penjor said that the conference attended by a pool of about 500 participants across the world was a platform to support framing and developing various strategies, plans, and programmes for successful implementation of activities in the region.
“During such pandemics, food supply systems in the region have continued to function, but we must prepare for higher risks and make sure that there is sustainability in the food supply chain,” Lyonpo said.
Securing food resources through local productions, however, was challenging in Bhutan due to the mountainous terrain. “Technological advancement in food production, post-harvest management, and marketing is inevitable to progress and sustain our food security,” he added.
The ministerial meeting discussed FAO’s new Hand-in-Hand Initiative, an evidence-based, country-led and-owned initiative aiming to achieve Sustainable Development Goals 1 and 2—eradicate poverty and end hunger and malnutrition in all its forms.
As of today, FAO invited 44 countries with limited capacities for achieving sustainable development or in protracted crisis due to natural disaster or conflict to join the initiative as beneficiaries. FAO has also invited more than 80 countries to become contributor countries.
The Director General of FAO, Dongyu QU, said: “The programme is aimed at preventing a global food emergency during and after the Covid-19 pandemic, while working on medium- to long-term development responses for food security and nutrition.”
The conference hosted and chaired by Bhutan was attended by government ministers, secretaries and senior officials, private sector and civil society representatives, academia, technical experts, observer nations, and FAO officials from around 46 countries.
A temporary shelter, managed by His Majesty’s Kidu Office, is home to 23 drifters
It is 12:45pm at the Rinchen Kuenphen Primary School (RKPS), temporary home to 23 people who were found in different parts of Thimphu, with apparently nowhere to go during the lockdown. It is lunchtime and the motley group, neatly dressed and wearing face masks, are lined up for lunch at the assembly ground which serves as their dining space and entertainment centre while the rest of Thimphu is under lockdown.
A lively Aum Karma barges into the line, gets her food, and calls out “laso! kadrinchey.” Someone exclaims that the soup is tasty. Aum Karma replies, “Why wouldn’t it be tasty? It’s bamboo shoot!”
Most of them go for a second helping. One man gets his food after everyone else and eats quietly in a corner. He has not spoken a word since he came here.
After lunch, the group sits in the sun chatting. Someone turns on the television and they all watch a Bhutanese film.
At a glance, this group of people with nowhere to call home, have bonded in their temporary shelter. They watch Bhutanese films, sit in groups to chat or walk around the campus. There is a general, if unusual, sense of camaraderie among a group of completely disconnected people.
This “home” is under the care of His Majesty The King’s kidu programme, organised by the Office of the Gyalpoi Zimpon. Patrolling teams of the police and De-Suup picked them up as they wandered around, unaware of the lockdown or the Covid-19 situation.
De-Suup Ugyen Pem with His Majesty Secretariat (HMS) said the temporary shelter was started upon the Royal Command after the first few people were found outside in Thimphu after the lockdown was announced. The first batch of seven moved to the shelter on August 14. Before the shelter was ready, they stayed at the police station ground for a few days.
The Officer in Command of Thimphu Police Station, Major Gembo Penjor, said that the patrolling team happened to come across these people during odd hours and when asked about their relatives or homes, they had no answer.
“That’s how we came to know they had nowhere to go,” he said.
The group is a mix of daily wage workers, doma sellers, construction workers, some doing odd jobs, people seeking alms, or working for other families. Their stories are as varied as the range of disabilities many suffer from. Most are chronic alcoholics and have experienced different stages of detox treatment. They were brought to the shelter in a much worse condition than they are now. They were washed, some reluctantly, and given clothes and kept clean by two De-Suups who are caring for them at the shelter.
Karma Dorji, 28, has an intellectual disability. The bus stop was his home before the lockdown. He was picked up on the first day of the lockdown by the police patrolling team when he was visiting a public toilet near where he lived. He said that he woke up to the most pleasant morning and wondered why the premise was surprisingly quiet and empty. He wanted to take this opportunity to take a bath. “I requested the police to let me at least take a shower or they bear the dirty smell,” said Karma, who is a daily wage worker.
Devi Maya Sunar, her husband, and two children were asked to leave a makeshift home where they lived by the proprietor’s brother during the lockdown. They met the police patrolling team in Hejo.
Khotsa is deaf. He ran away from an apple orchard where he was a gardener. He was found walking near Zilukha during lockdown, and refused to go back to his employer.
There is an elderly man who is deaf. The De-Suups refer to him as Patient One, because he couldn’t tell them his name when he was taken for Covid-19 test to hospital. All of them were first tested for Covid-19 before being brought to RKPS. Patient One was initially extremely unresponsive. He did not allow anyone to come near him or touch him. The De-Suups had a difficult time giving him a bath and helping him dress. Patient One normally walks around Thimphu barefoot, carrying a backpack and stick, and sleeps on the Thimphu streets. He depended on hotels and shops for food. His bag still had a few fizzy drinks and mouldy bread when he was brought to the shelter. He did not have any clothes. Now, he has around five sets.
Aum Karma lives in a makeshift home in the city, and sells doma. She keeps saying, “keep distance or else you will get cooperation (coronavirus)”. She has heard De-Suups and volunteers saying this around town.
Namgay, 43, is an alcoholic and also has an intellectual disability. He is a daily wage earner at a construction site, and was sleeping on the streets. Namgay has an uncle in Thimphu who, he says, does not take care of him.
Khando, 53 used to be a messenger at one of the corporate offices in Thimphu. He is a religious man and goes to religious ceremonies where he gets some money. He has some relatives with whom he stays occasionally, but that is not always easy as he is an alcoholic. He is mostly not welcomed. He usually sleeps at the bus station.
Chimi Dorji, 28, started living in a temporary shelter behind one of the 5-star hotels in Thimphu after his landlord locked him out when he could not pay rent. During the lockdown, without a movement card, he sneaked out to buy essentials. “I don’t have enough money and I used to go to sleep hungry most nights,” he said.
Life at RKPS
The De-Suups on duty get along well with the large family. Aum Karma and Karma Dorji are the entertainers. They all crack up when Aum Karma speaks. Karma Dorji on the other hand is a very jolly person. He moves around, jokes with every person, especially with the two De-Suups on duty, but he gets agitated whenever someone asks him about his family.
Aum Karma and Patient One do not get along. Patient One is sensitive to Aum Karma’s teasing and they are seen chasing each other around the school buildings. Aum Karma, folding Patient One’s clothes, says that she feels sorry for him. Karma Dorji says he is exercising to become a police officer. He runs around the football ground every day. He seems to annoy all the others but they don’t seem to mind.
The two children of Devi Maya Sunar play goti (a stone game). Sometimes their mother joins them.
Dorji and Namgay met at the police station. The police requested Dorji to be Namgay’s attendant when Namgay was taken for detox. Dorji has accompanied Namgay to RKPS. His job is to make sure Namgay does not stray away from the campus.
The group is totally impervious to the lockdown. What will happen after the lockdown? They survived in Thimphu, unnoticed by the city’s residents who are busy with their daily lives, and came into focus only because the city shut down. Most of them are not worried what happens next because they do not think about it.
Patient One could not even walk properly when he first came to the shelter. Now he can run. The person who wouldn’t let anyone come near him is now an entertainer of the group. He communicates enthusiastically with hand gestures and broad grin on his face. He signs to the De-Suups to take him for a ride because he enjoyed the car ride to the hospital when he was taken for the Covid-19 test.
Aum Karma is stable now, but she still feels like she is in a prison. She does not understand the lockdown, no matter how much the De-Suups try to explain it to her. She does not crave for alcohol, and says that she will quit and use her savings to find a proper home. What she misses the most, she says, is her doma business.
Khotsa was lost after running away from his employer. At RKPS, he has found people he can trust. He wants them to help him find a new life.
Phurpa Lhamo | Gasa
As winter nears, men from Lunana left for Sephu gewog in Wangdue and Goenshari gewog in Punakha with 900 horses to bring home essential items.
Of 900, 500 are headed to Sephu.
According to Lunana Gup Kaka the first group reached Goenshari and Sephu yesterday. “One person left from one household in Lunana.”
Two more groups will reach Sephu and Lunana today and tomorrow.
Lunana has around 185 households.
Every year, starting late June, Lunaps come to Punakha bringing cordyceps for sale. They spend about five months stocking and transporting essential food items to Lunana.
Routes to Lunana close due to snow by November. The snow doesn’t melt until late June.
Since the lockdown, Lunaps have been worried about exhausting food stock.
Kaka raised this concern to Gasa dzongkhag administration a week ago. The officials discussed the concern with Punakha and Wangdue dzongkhag administrations.
Supplies are made available at Lubzur in Sephu and Goentshephu in Goenshari gewogs. Journey from Lunana to Sephu and Goenshari gewogs takes around seven days and six nights.
Yesterday, Punakha dzongkhag officials took four truck and two bolero filled with essential times and vegetables to Goenstephu in Goenshari gewog. The goods were worth Nu 3 million (M).
De-Suup, police, gewog officials, shopkeepers and individuals from the Bhutan Development Bank (BoB) are at Goenstephu today. The officials will be at the site until all the goods are loaded and taken to Lunana.
According to Punakha Dzongkhag Planning Officer, Phub Tshering, the goods were brought from Gelephu two days ago.
A list of the essential items needed in Lunana gewog was also shared.
Phub Tshering added that this was a dzongkhag to dzongkhag support initiative.
Apart from essential items, 200kg vegetables (potatoes and chilies) were also taken to Goenstephu.
In Sephu, around three shop owners are identified to supply to the demands from Lunana.
Sephu Gup Rinchen Penjor said that the shopkeepers volunteered to supply goods and had been dealing with the Lunaps in the past.
The essentials will supply to 12 of 13 chiwogs in Lunana.
“Ramina chiwog is near Punakha and has easy access to essential items,” Kaka said.
It will take the Lunaps around a week or more to reach Lunana with the essential items.
Of the 3,823 persons tested in Project DANTAK and Indian Military Training Team (IMTRAT) camps between August 20 and 30, close to 50 people tested positive.
However, the positive cases in the two organisations are only those that the health ministry has revealed to the public so far.
A 10-year-old girl who is a primary contact of the Project DANTAK cases tested positive on September 1. Her parents also tested positive to the virus recently.
According to officials from the health ministry, although the numbers from within the two organisations were ‘overwhelming’ the ministry’s response was no different from how they would have handled it even otherwise.
Officials said that the ministry was reinforcing the three Ts – tracing, testing and treatment – strategy, which the ministry initiated since May.
With the cases detected from the Project DANTAK and IMTRAT limited to Phuentsholing and Haa for now, officials said that the mass active surveillance in different clusters has been initiated, including the villages where the primary contacts are.
Further, the ministry together with Project DANTAK and IMTRAT officials is reinforcing the guidelines and protocol, which are already in place.
Following the detection of three positive cases from the IMTRAT campus in Haa last week, the Royal Centre for Disease Control collected and tested 2,402 samples on September 1. All results were negative.
Samples were collected from various locations in the dzongkhag including from the Sunday market, RBA, Bjee, Pudangna, Chungdu and Ugyen Dorji Central Schools, Eusu gewog, Lhakhang Karpo, Wangsa and neighbouring areas on August 31 and September 1.
Meanwhile, of the total positive cases, 18 of them have migrated to India with five cases admitted to the RIGSS Covid-19 centre in Phuentsholing. Another 28 are currently isolated at Project DANTAK campus in Phuentsholing and three at IMTRAT campus in Haa. One is at the IMTRAT hospital in Thimphu.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering during his address to the nation on August 31 said that all residents of the armed forces camps, including Project DANTAK and IMTRAT, couldn’t move out of their camps for the next 10 days.
Yangchen C Rinzin
Should the schools reopen after 10 days, the education ministry has proposed to postpone the board and home exams to March.
The trial exam for Classes X and XII will be also postponed.
The government is also looking into re-opening Classes IX and XI if the situation favours. Classes X and XII reopened in July.
Health experts will assess the situation after 10 days.
Education Minister Jai Bir Rai said that given the disruption of an academic session due to Covid-19 and lockdown, time would not be enough for the completion of the syllabus in two months. “We’ve lost teaching-learning time. We’ve to give students enough time to complete the curriculum to attend the exam.”
If the proposal is approved, Lyonpo said that trial exams could take place whenever possible but a board examination would take place in March. “Maybe, for the home exam, we can conduct at least a week ahead of the board exam.”
Lyonpo said that after the approval of the proposal ministry would inform Bhutan Council for Examinations and Assessment to prepare questions and conduct exams.
Prioritised curriculum was applied since re-opening of Classes X and XII. The adapted curriculum was applied for Classes PP-VIII and IX and XI. Classes PP-VIII will remain closed for 2020 academic session and continue to learn through the adapted curriculum.
The adapted curriculum is a thematic curriculum or different stages based on the Education in Emergency (EIE) I that engaged students through television, radio and Self-Instructional Materials as schools remained closed.
A prioritised curriculum, based on EIE II, is a distilled curriculum that comprises procedural knowledge, skills, values, strategies and processes.
According to the prioritised curriculum, exams were supposed to start with practical from mid-November and theory from the end of November.
BCSEA will prepare questions based on the prioritised curriculum. The respective subject teacher will have to conduct viva voce and project work validation to avoid movement of teachers. SUPW grading will be based on the class IX and XI SUPW respectively for Classes X and XII.
An official from BCSEA said that as of now BCSEA was preparing to conduct exam as planned earlier—November. “However, we’ll gear up as per the directives from the ministry and plan accordingly if the government approves the proposal.”
The official said that it would be a challenge for the BCSEA, especially in terms of evaluation, as a strategic place and time is required.
“It’ll be difficult to get teachers to mark the papers and to find a conducive venue for the evaluation,” an official said. “We also need to plan the result declaration. We may not get alternative ways of correcting papers.”
There are 123 public schools. Eighty have boarding schools with about 20,000 students. There are 22 private schools (17 boardings) with 6,058 students in Classes X and XII.