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དུས་མཐུན་བཟོ་ཡོད: 2 hours 18 min གི་ཧེ་མ།

Imported eggs to reach markets within this week

12 hours 32 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

Chhimi Dema  

The Bhutan Livestock Development Corporation Limited (BLDCL) is expecting to supply brown eggs imported from India by the end of the week.

The company will import 3,000 cartons of eggs, each box containing 210 eggs. Eggs currently cost from Nu 450 to Nu 550 in the market.

The BLDCL will make the eggs available for Nu 285 to Nu 305 per tray, depending on the location of the dzongkhags.

An official from the company said that advance payments were made to a dealer in Kolkata. “We are pressuring them to deliver at the earliest.”

The egg import is an interim measure to address the shortage in the market after contamination of feed affected 485,245 layer birds, causing daily egg production to drop from 382,490 eggs to 120,723 eggs.

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Import clearance from the Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority and the “blackout” delaying the advance payment has slowed down the import facilitation, the official said.

Another reason for the delay in receiving the eggs was a festival in Tamil Nadu.

The company initially talked with a dealer from Tamil Nadu, but the festival has delayed the import and the company wasn’t informed about the festival, the official said.

The company talked with the Department of Livestock and it was informed that the layer birds have started producing eggs again.

“Egg import will depend on the market situation and production from the poultry farms in the country,” the official said.

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Records from the Department of Agricultural and Marketing Cooperatives (DAMC) show that from January 20 until yesterday, 236 metric tonnes of vegetables and fruit were imported into the country and distributed in the zone markets and shops.

The produce was imported from India by the wholesalers at the Centenary Farmers’ Market, facilitated by DAMC.

Vegetables such as onions, tomatoes, and cabbages were imported.

A total of 114.66 metric tonnes (MT) of chilies were imported by the Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited from January 7 to January 22.

The import was to “ensure availability, stabilise prices, and curb illegal import”, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests.

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The record posted on the ministry’s Facebook page shows that from the Phuentsholing distribution hub, 77.71MT was distributed to Thimphu, Chukha, and Samtse.

From Thimphu, a secondary distribution hub, 33.42MT, 4.28 MT, 0.88MT, 1.60MT, and 2.64MT were distributed to Thimphu, Paro, Haa, Wangdue, and Punakha respectively.

Gelephu’s distribution hub catered to Bumthang, Trongsa, Zhemgang, Tsirang, Sarpang, and Dagana. The Samdrupjongkha hub distributed to Lhuentse, Mongar, Trashiyangtse, Pemagatsel, and Trashigang.

Sarpang reports more positive cases

12 hours 33 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

Staff Reporter  

Sarpang reported 88 new positive cases, the highest one-day case record from the community, yesterday. The close contacts of these cases are in the quarantine facility.

A total of 39 cases were from Sarpang Central School, 49 cases were from the red clusters in Gelephu, and one imported case is an expatriate worker.

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While only two boys tested positive from Sarpang CS, almost all girls staying in the hostel tested positive. There are 85 girls staying in the hostel, and 64 of them have tested positive since the school reported the first case on January 20.  

There are 11 new community cases from the same red clusters that reported community cases since January 16 in Gelephu.

Sarpang reported close to 240 positive cases from the community, close contacts, and imported cases, including the 45 foreign workers this month.

11 primary contacts traced in Dagapela 

12 hours 34 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

Choki Wangmo | Tsirang

The Covid-19 test results of 11 primary contacts of the 38-year-old man who tested positive while in facility quarantine in Dagana will determine the 48-hour-lockdown status of Dagapela Throm zone today.

After four family members of the man, who tested positive for Covid-19 on January 22, tested positive for RT-PCR, the dzongkhag Covid-19 task force enforced a 48-hour-blackout in Dagapela Throm zone starting on January 23.

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The family were moved to facility quarantine on January 22 after two days of home quarantine.

The dzongkhag health officer Dorji Wangchuk said that the patients have not shown any severe symptoms and are doing well. The Covid-19 test results of the seven remaining primary contacts will be out this evening, which will also determine the lockdown status in the throm.

The first case in the dzongkhag was reported on January 22 after the 38-year-old man attended a baby shower in Wangdue and tested positive for Covid-19. He was a primary contact of the positive case in Lobesa.

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The dzongkhag Covid-19 taskforce earlier enforced 72-hour lockdown in Dagapela Throm zone, Dagapela Throm buffer zone, Tsendagang, Gozhi, and Tashiding gewogs, part of Gesarling and Kana gewogs, and Daga Throm zone.

Will Omicron increase herd immunity?

12 hours 34 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

Dechen Dolkar 

Even with a vaccination coverage of 80 percent and about 93 percent of booster dose coverage in high-risk areas and among health workers, the elderly, and people with co-morbidity, the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is exploding with daily cases from the community in double digits since January 16.

The daily cases peaked to 141 as of yesterday, including those testing positive in quarantine facilities and imported cases.

As of yesterday, 143 community cases were detected, with 306 positive cases from contact tracing, according to the Ministry of Health (MoH).

When the country rolled out the vaccination, it was hoped that an 80 percent coverage would achieve herd immunity. The highly infectious Omicron variant that has affected us since January 16 has raised many questions about the desired herd immunity.

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Herd immunity is a scientific term describing the point at which a population is protected from a disease, either by enough people being vaccinated or by people having developed antibodies by having the disease.

Asked if the rapid spread of Omicron would help achieve herd immunity in the country, a member of the Technical Advisory Group, Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that it was likely but there is no evidence what proportion of population infections is adequate to provide herd immunity.

However, a health official explained that transmission rate differs with different variants of coronavirus and it will be difficult to estimate the threshold of herd immunity for Omicron. “Vaccine coverage for any vaccine above 80 percent will provide protection to the population; therefore, we believe that the current vaccine coverage will have an impact on interruption of transmission,” the official said. “While Covid-19 vaccines are highly effective at delivering immunity, no vaccine is 100% effective.”

International research also shows that Covid-19 vaccines and prior infection don’t provide lasting protection against infection and transmission, especially with the Omicron variant. That makes it impossible for enough of the population to become immune to stop the virus from spreading.

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Health experts said that one of the main objectives of vaccination is to reduce the severity of illness and hospitalization.

“We would like to clarify that vaccination does not completely prevent contracting Covid-19. However, with high vaccination coverage, the number of cases with severe illness or requiring hospitalization will be greatly reduced.”

Since the Omicron variant is more transmissible, the ministry is also expediting the vaccination of children aged 5-11 years old. “At the current stage, we cannot determine the breakthrough rate in Omicron,” a health expert said.

The booster dose round is scheduled to be rolled out starting January 24.

No serious patients of Covid-19

While the number of positive cases have reached 801 as of last night, health officials said that there are no patients requiring oxygen or hospitalization, meaning there are no patients with severe cases of Covid-19.

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All the positive patients are in isolation facilities.

Omicron is driving a record number of cases in countries around the world, but the resulting illness is generally less severe compared to previous variants. There is a general consensus among virologists around the world that the Omicron variant of coronavirus could help build herd immunity in societies due to its high transmissibility.

The international research also states that Omicron will give much of the population what some scientists call “super immunity”: stronger protection against new variants and even future coronaviruses.

Long-awaited CAS to be implemented in March

12 hours 35 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

Yangyel Lhaden 

Thimphu residents can expect to get to locations around Thimphu with ease soon, with Thimphu thromde planning to implement the city addressing system (CAS) in March.

The CAS database will be uploaded to Google Maps. The thromde office is currently finalising the digital components and developing guidelines for the system.

Thimphu thromde Geographic Information Officer (GIS), Sonam Zangmo said that with Internet connectivity, they can upload the CAS database onto several platforms based on the preference and convenience of users. They want the platform to be suitable not only for local residents but also for international tourists.  “In March, we will upload it to Google Maps, as it is a widely used platform.”

The CAS database was developed by the National Land Commission with GIS officers from relevant stakeholders during 2020, and was submitted to Thimphu thromde for implementation. Thimphu thromde has reviewed the CAS and is ready for implementation.

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Sonam Zangmo said that the budget for CAS infrastructure development will be finalised closer to the time of its implementation. “Type, design, and installation of street signage will be carried out after determining the budget.”

She said that the format and placement for these street signages needed to be strategic and based on certain international standards. “There are many things to consider when installing signs, such as their visibility, and the average speed of cars in the area.”

Building owners are required to get their building and flat number from application, or from the thromde office after the CAS information has been disseminated to the public from the thromde and the data is uploaded to Google Maps.

Sonam Zangmo said that building owners will be responsible for numbering and installing number signboards, and the thromde will provide a standard for the signage.

She said that the numbering of units will have to be updated yearly with the issuance of occupancy certificates. “Since the residents and use of units are constantly changing, we will work with the Development Regulatory Division of Thimphu thromde to update flat and unit numbers. We have also developed guidelines.”

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Beginning in March, residents will have to update their addresses for services provided by Thimphu thromde, such as water and sewage bills, in accordance with the CAS.

Sonam Zangmo said that the thromde office will reach out to financial institutions and Royal Civil Service Commission to request that the public update their addresses within their system. “This is being done mainly to familarise the public with the CAS.”

She said the efficiency of the CAS will depend on public use, as no matter how much a system is improved, it won’t have value if people don’t use it. “We have to encourage people to use the CAS and update their addresses, because there are many benefits in terms of providing door-to-door services, emergencies, and for service providers to address complaints.”

Sonam Zangmo said that the GIS team have reviewed all the different types of streets and existing street names, with provisions for future developments such as construction. “We also kept provisions for other dzongkhags, as what is done in Thimphu is usually replicated in other dzongkhags as well.”

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She said that there are provisions for other dzongkhags for areas that might not be fully developed or areas that don’t have plans or roads as of yet, which is the case for most rural parts of the country, in the event that they are developed eventually.

The GIS team identified physical features or references to be used as reference points in the future. Sonam Zangmo said that reference points are essential because they are used to number the entire city. “We are using a baseline to identify and classify streets.”

She said that with the current CAS system, they have tried to ensure continuity and longevity of the CAS, as it has to remain relevant irrespective of eventual handover.

The GIS team is also working on a road database to study traffic flow for emergency services and general traffic circulation, which will be incorporated in the CAS.

Time for accountability

12 hours 37 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

As we enter the second week of the lockdown and with increasing Covid-19 community cases in the country, particularly from Wangduephodrang, people want to know how and why the outbreak happened. Many are questioning the government, and demanding accountability.

The concerns and queries are valid. We have touted our successful response against the pandemic and putting public safety first until now. With the Omicron variant now getting out of hand, especially with increasing cases in the community, all eyes are on how the foreign workers were brought in without antigen testing at the border gate and transported to Rurichhu in Wangduephodrang in a ‘bubble arrangement’ mode.

While members of Covid-19 Technical Advisory Group (TAG) claim that due protocols and procedures were followed while bringing the foreign workers in, it is becoming evident that not all protocols and procedures were followed.

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If antigen tests were not conducted at entry points because of the inaccuracy of the tests during the early stages of infection, the workers should have been mandated to produce Covid-19 negative test results from no earlier than 72 hours prior to entry.

Justifying that the workers come from humble backgrounds and not implementing prescribed rules will not help anyone. If the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources decided to do away with the antigen test and Covid-19 negative test results, officials who made the decision should take accountability for the current outbreak. If the government officials or ministers advised it, they should be answerable.

The taskforce is investigating the outbreak, but will the people ever know the outcome of the investigation? The lockdown has made life difficult for many, especially daily wage earners. People have complied with the lockdown mandates, mostly without complaint. Patience will run out if it prolongs. The Bhutanese people deserve to know.

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We need foreign workers to work on the various projects missing deadlines. They were given preference when the situation improved. The priority was not questioned, but with all fingers pointing to the lapses at the quarantine centre at Punatsangchhu, people are asking if proper procedures were followed or not.

More than the international health regulations, presumably, compassionate Buddhist values would stop us from asking agencies to send any person with the virus back. They are treated like any Bhutanese testing positive for the virus and given due care. We have done that before and we will continue to do it. But the government and those making decisions cannot use that as an excuse for not following due procedures.

The Prime Minister recently pledged accountability. It is time to live by the words for “the habitual conduct of justifying and defending ourselves in everything we do must stop.”

P/ling business community fears prolonged lockdown

12 hours 37 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

As Phuentsholing slips further into lockdown with cases emerging from the community every day, small businesses in the town are worried about the impending losses they will incur.

Phuentsholing was placed under lockdown with partial movements on January 14. In just about 10 days since then, 97 Covid-19 positive cases have been reported from the community as of yesterday. Out of the 41 new cases detected yesterday, seven were reported from the community.

Many said that it will be difficult to recuperate from the losses this time if the lockdown is prolonged like it was last year.

A grocery retailer, Dorji Wangchuk, said that he is still recovering from the losses he incurred during the four months of lockdown last year.

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“When I opened my shop last year, there was nothing left to sell,” he said. “It was infested with rats and all the goods were past their expiry date.”

Dorji Wangchuk said that he managed somehow with the help of his family and friends.

“Everything was going well. But there is a lockdown, again,” he said. “We are back to square one. People are worried. Small businesses will face the toughest challenge.”

Another businessman and electronics shop owner, Pema Khandu, said people like him have spent most of their earnings on rent for houses and shop spaces.

“I think 70 to 80 percent of the shopkeepers in Phuentsholing are going through the same problem. Bigger businesses may survive, and I am sure they have their own problems,” he said. “But it is the small businesses that are affected the most.”

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Pema Khandu said that some grocery and vegetable shops may still be operating and may not have problems. But he said shops dealing in garments, shoes, and electronics, including paan shops, will face problems.

Pema Khandu also said that the government must look into lending interest-free loans to the affected business community in Phuentsholing.

“Phuentsholing and other high-risk places must be considered as different,” he said.

He also said many shops that are closed today have employees who need their monthly salaries for survival.

De-suups patrol the streets of Phuentsholing

A complete lockdown?

With community cases still emerging despite the lockdown, some said that only a complete lockdown can break the community transmission chain.

A businessman, Namgay, said that the town must be either put into complete lockdown or let people live with the virus.

“Keeping the town like this will not help,” he said, adding the rules applicable at present allow some to carry on with their businesses, while some are not allowed.

Should people be allowed to operate their businesses, he said, they will also be responsible and accountable for what they do.

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Another shopkeeper said while shopkeepers are asked to stay in containment mode and operate, people are allowed to move with movement cards.

“It makes no sense,” he said. “It is better to let shopkeepers also return home but ask them to do regular Covid-19 tests and be held accountable for protocol breaches.”

The shopkeeper said that a complete lockdown may help contain the community transmission. After that, a smart lockdown system could be applied, he added.

Tshering Dema, 66, who runs a small shop at the multi-storied vegetable complex, said she is worried if the lockdown continues. “It is going to be difficult for us all.”


Severity and the way forward 

Despite the increasing number of community cases, Southern Covid-19 Task Force (SC-19TF) member Rixin Jamtsho said that it was not as alarming.

“Going by the number of community cases, our situation is manageable at the moment,” he said.

“We have enough space in quarantine facilities and we are also comfortable with the isolation facilities. But if the cases increase drastically, we may face problems,” he said.

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Rixin Jamtsho said that most of the community cases have been detected among the frontline workers, which according to him is expected, given the nature of the Omicron variant, which is three to four times more transmissible than the Delta variant.

“Frontline workers always deal with the people coming from the outside and drivers transporting the essential goods.”

About the way forward for Phuentsholing, Rixin Jamtsho said the National Immunisation Technical Advisory Group (NI-TAG) with the Ministry of Health is coming up with a strategy for the whole country. “So we are waiting for them to finalise and disseminate the plan to us for implementation.”


12 hours 38 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

More than 90 officials, working in shifts round the clock, at the Public Service Call Centre (PSCC) in Thimphu TechPark attended to almost 120,000 calls between January 16 and yesterday. Of that, 70 percent of the issues were resolved and the rest were either missed calls or those who withdrew their requests. 

As a standard protocol, the officials at the centre called back to the respective individuals to check if their problems were resolved. They also get hundreds of calls on their personal cell phones. “After registering the problems, they call back and follow up to ensure the issues are addressed,” an official from the centre said. 

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) announced yesterday that all stranded individuals in Thimphu to register with 1010 HelpDesk and visit testing centres in the respective mega zones starting today. Individuals are required to undergo an RT-PCR test, following which the HelpDesk, in coordination with RCDC will verify the results and facilitate movement passes. 

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For individuals without private cars, the 1010 HelpDesk will link them with the RSTA to arrange buses phase-wise to various destinations. The centre has registered about 1,000 people stranded in Thimphu alone in this category. They will test today. 

From the  23,000 movement or epass requests, 11,000 were approved facilitating movement of around 33,000 within Thimphu. Around 4,000 were not issued following Covid-19 protocols. A little over 7,000 requests are in the process of verification. 

Those stranded in other dzongkhags, the respective task forces will facilitate, the PMO notification stated.

In the past three days, the centre made more than 100 deliveries of essential items to individual homes of those in need within Thimphu. 

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In addition, more than 500 stranded people without cars in Thimphu were picked up and dropped off at their homes. 

The centre also forwarded calls related to domestic violence to concerned agencies. 

Positive cases in Jigmecholing only within a family

མིག, 01/24/2022 - 10:52

… health officials say the lockdown helped prevent the virus from spreading

Nima | Gelephu

With 28 positive cases reported in the past three days, Sarpang Central School is identified as one of the red clusters in Sarpang.

A student from the school was the first community case outside Gelephu thromde in Sarpang dzongkhag. She showed flu-like symptoms and then later tested positive for Covid-19 on January 20.

There are 28 active cases in the school today and 10 of them were moved to an isolation facility in Gelephu. The dzongkhag task force is planning to convert the old hostel of the school into an isolation facility.

Close to 270 samples were tested from the school campus on January 20.

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Ten out of 140 day-scholar students were tested for Covid-19 but all of them tested negative so far. The dzongkhag plans to accommodate day-scholars students within the school premises.

While health officials are yet to ascertain the source of infection in Gelephu thromde, a recent meeting held to manage the outbreak in Sarpang CS on Friday highlighted that the disease could have reached the school from Gelephu.

One of the students returned to the school from the Rabdeyling area in Gelephu, according to the task force officials. Rabdeyling is identified as a red zone and reported four community cases last week.

Health officials said the situation in the school was not that difficult, as the active cases were from the containment area. “There could be more cases from within the primary contacts,” said the official.

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The students were segregated into different groups based on the risk profiles. There were no major symptoms reported from the students to date.  

Two days after the community case from Sarpang CS, another four community cases were reported from Jigmecholing gewog; the second gewog in Sarpang to report community case on January 22.

All cases were from the same family.

The index case of the family was the father who works as a driver and had travelled from Gelephu on January 15. Health officials said family members could be exposed from the father.

Primary contacts of the index case tested negative. Contact tracing was completed in the gewog.

Health officials said that they were more worried after a community case emerged from Jigmecholing but came to know that the spread was limited to the family. “The lockdown was effective in containing the spread. All close contacts tested negative,” said officials.

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The task force has identified Gelephu thromde, Sarpang Tar, and Jigmecholing gewog as red zones.

Sarpang reported 151 active cases from the community, close contacts in quarantine facilities, and foreign workers and Bhutanese returnees since January 3.

The highest active cases of 44 were from foreign workers followed by 40 students.

Meanwhile, Gelephu regional hospital received three health staff from nearby districts with some health staff exposed to the virus as primary contacts. The hospital also requested PPE support from Sarpang hospital.

Lockdown in Gomtu and Pugli to end today

མིག, 01/24/2022 - 10:51

Rajesh Ra | Phuentsholing

The 48-hour lockdown in Gomtu and Pugli in Samtse will end today and test results of samples collected yesterday will decide the way forward for these two towns.

The results will be out today.

After two Covid-19 positive cases were reported on January 22, the secluded towns were put under lockdown to minimise transmission and conduct contact tracing.

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“Everything is closed. Not a single shop is open,” a resident said.

Along with the complete closure of shops and all other businesses, imports and exports were also stopped. Factories and industries were also closed.

No movement of people and vehicles were allowed. However, emergency health-related travels were permitted.

A total of 122 samples were collected from Samtse on January 22 and all came out negative.

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Meanwhile, Phuentsholing reported 21 new positive cases yesterday, out of which 10 are from the community. Phuentsholing has now recorded a total of 90 community cases and 133 cases from quarantine facilities.

Phuentsholing will enter its 10th day of lockdown today after being put under lockdown on January 14.

The town is currently under lockdown with intra-zone movements.

Vaccine breakthrough infection is 25 percent after booster dose: TAG

མིག, 01/24/2022 - 10:50

Thukten Zangpo

The vaccine breakthrough infection is 75 percent with two doses of vaccine and 25 percent with a third or booster dose, according to the Covid-19 Technical Advisory Group (TAG).

A vaccine breakthrough infection happens when a fully vaccinated person gets infected with Covid-19.

TAG member Dr Sithar Dorjee said that two doses of vaccine provide only about 25 percent protection against the Omicron variant, according to studies.

He added that 75 percent of the people who have received the second dose still suffer from infection even if it has been 14 days since vaccination, when they are considered to be fully vaccinated.

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Dr Sithar Dorjee said that the vaccine effectiveness rate increases to 75 percent with the third dose, which means only 25 percent will suffer from an infection.

“Despite Omicron being highly transmissible, we are not getting as many cases as expected in Phuentsholing. We could have seen a huge surge in cases if we had not received the booster dose, and if people were not compliant with public health measures,” he said.

Dr Sithar Dorjee said that 99 percent of the local cases detected in the country are fully vaccinated, excluding the children.

Fully vaccinated people with a vaccine breakthrough infection are less likely to develop serious illness than those who are unvaccinated.

“Vaccination reduced the hospitalisation rate by 75 percent,” Dr Sithar Dorjee said.

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Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that vaccination would not be able to prevent outbreaks because there will still be breakthrough infections. “However, vaccines give good protection from having a severe case of the disease.”

He also said that the principle of herd immunity could not be followed, given the viral infection and reinfection.

As of yesterday, the vaccine coverage stands at 99.60 percent for the priority groups. 

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The priority groups include 18 years and above residing in high-risk areas, people 65 years of age and above, people over 18 years old who are living with chronic medical conditions, health workers, front liners, and outbound travellers.

Meanwhile, 97.5 percent of the eligible population above 12 years of age are vaccinated with the first dose, and 93.4 percent received the second dose. 

526 drayang employees register for reintegration programmes

མིག, 01/24/2022 - 10:49

111 of 157 Mountain Hazelnut employees also register with the ministry

Yangyel Lhaden 

Within two days after the labour ministry announced reintegration programmes for drayang employees, 526 people registered with the ministry.

The ministry announced it would provide skilling, upskilling, self-employment, and engagement opportunities to laid-off drayang employees after the closure of drayangs on January 7.

The Prime Minister, through an executive order, directed the ministries of finance, labour and economic affairs to collaborate and render necessary support to drayang operators and workers as they explore new avenues.

The finance and economic affairs ministry issued a notification on compensation and support measures to drayang employers on January 13.

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Labour ministry’s programme officer of employment service division, Chimi Rinzin, said that the programme implementation would depend on their assessment of the employees’ requirements and interests. “Applicants will be screened as per their qualification and interest for self-employment and engagement opportunities, but if they are interested in skilling, they will be provided with skills training.”

He said that participants opting for self-employment would be provided with entrepreneurship training to develop entrepreneurship skills. “The ministry will also provide handholding support to avail loans from National Credit Guarantee Scheme and Cottage and Small Industry Bank in consultation with the finance ministry.”

Chimi Rinzin said the executive order mandated the ministry to work closely with the finance ministry to facilitate loans for the laid-off drayang employees.

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He said employees opting for direct engagement in job would be facilitated through the youth engagement livelihood programme (YELP) and Build Bhutan Project (BPP) as per their qualification, experiences, and interest. “There are many vacancies with YELP and BBP.”

A laid-off drayang employee, Sonam Choden, has registered with labour ministry’s skilling programme.

She is interested in carpentry. “She also registered in electrical training with the youth group of Lungnyi gewog in Paro.”

Sonam Choden said that she was interested in carpentry and was inspired by seeing her friend who knows carpentry. “I want to train myself in many skills to sustain myself.”

Another laid-off drayang employee, Thinley Pem, said that she was thankful for the training from labour ministry as working with drayang was not a stable job. “ I want to learn tailoring.”

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Another employee, Tshering Lham, has registered with the labour ministry’s skilling programme as well.

She said that she did not choose self-employment and engagement options as she would not be able to work more than eight hours a day. “There’s no one to look after my bedridden mother at the moment.”

She said that she wanted to take this opportunity and would explore other opportunities as well. “I am not sure which skilling programme to choose.”

Meanwhile, the ministry has also issued the reintegration programmes to laid-off employees of Mountain Hazelnut along with drayang employees reintegration notification and 111 employees with Mountain Hazelnut registered.

Labour Minister Karma Dorji said the ministry recently received a notification from Mountain Hazelnut that it is laying off 157 employees. “The ministry is trying to provide re-integration programmes and reach our programmes to them.”

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Lyonpo said the ministry’s programmes are aimed to cater to laid-off employees, overseas returnees and tourism sector employees. “We are also going to provide such training to messengers of the Royal Civil Service Commission ( RCSC) when their contract expires.”

Lyonpo said that RCSC would not renew the contract of messengers and when they are out of civil service the ministry would roll our programmes for them to get into the labour market.

Chimi Rinzin said that the ministry requests all job seekers and affected Covid-19 individuals to also participate in skilling programmes to prepare for emerging labour market requirements.

The registration is open until January 25.

Tsirang residents contribute to frontline workers

མིག, 01/24/2022 - 10:47

Choki Wangmo | Tsirang

Tsirang residents have made various contributions to frontline workers since the lockdown began on January 16.

The contributions range from green produce such as vegetables and fruit, to dry groceries and logs for firewood.

The dzongkhag administration acknowledged the contributions on the dzongkhag’s social media page.

Vegetable vendor Singye Wangchuk has contributed 15 kilograms of mushrooms while the Tsirang Smart Group has contributed four cartons of eggs and vegetables. Drangtse Bakery has contributed bread, buns, and cakes for the frontliners.

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CT Mart owner Milan Tamang contributed hand sanitisers and face masks and three bags of rice for the stray dog feeding programme.

The owner of Pawan Hardware and Lungshing sawmill, Koirala, and Dinanath Adhakari, have sponsored one DCM load of firewood and one truckload of logs each.

Dzomling tshogpa, Tashiling Maed tshogpa, Harka Mafchen, and driver Naina Singh Monger also contributed a truckload of firewood for Semjong frontliners.

Mandarin exporter Nim Tshering contributed a box of mandarins.

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Meanwhile, some residents sponsored meals for the frontline workers.

Contributors said that they came forward in solidarity to help the frontline workers who are ensuring public safety during such trying times caused by the pandemic. “When we work together as inspired by His Majesty The King, we can achieve greater things,” a contributor said.

Another contributor said the current situation in the country is an opportunity to give back to the country in whatever ways and means they can.

Once bitten twice shy?

མིག, 01/24/2022 - 10:46

By next Monday, thousands of Class X and XII students across the country will reside and study in their schools as they prepare for the board examinations. To ensure that the examinations – a future deciding factor for students – are held as scheduled from February 14 to 28, the education ministry decided to go ahead with the examinations.

There are concerns. Apart from the inconveniences or the worry of good food and accommodation, a valid concern is the virus. With what happened at the Punatsangchhu 2 project fresh in our minds, the concern is if the virus could be contained in schools operating in a containment mode.

Driven by priorities, working in containment mode and letting big projects quarantine centres were allowed. The Punatsangchhu incident where a tanker driver had been alleged to have spread the virus is making people question the government’s decision. Class X and XII board examinations are important. There will be a ripple effect if the examinations are postponed or cannot be held. By February, thousands more students will be in Class X and XII. And like the prime minister said, there is no guarantee that the situation will improve.

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The question is can we prevent an outbreak in schools functioning in a containment mode? Given the nature of the virus, it takes one case to lockdown a country as the Omicron variant is highly infectious.  Will those managing schools even with the help of frontliners be able to prevent that? From the Punatsangchhu experience, there is a lot to do.

Another valid concern is preparing students for the examinations. With students put through numerous protocols, it would hamper their preparations. Conducting the board examination is not the end of all means. Students, especially Class XII students, should be able to prepare well for the examination. The Class XII examination decides the future of many students. Whether they go to win a government scholarship to study medicine or engineering or drop out of school is decided after the Class XII examination.

School management, particularly day schools will be overwhelmed having to host hundreds of students. Some private schools, with only a handful of students, are in a better position. Government boarding schools are prepared and briefed about the worst-case situations long before this lockdown.

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Having protocols in place alone, we learnt, is not enough. Letting a project import foreign workers so that it meets the deadline has cost thousands other businesses big and small. The private sector, especially the construction and mining sector, are the worst affected and are questioning government decisions. The Rurichhu quarantine centre, those who spent time there say is no better than a prison making it vulnerable for breaching or jumping quarantine. If schools in containment mode are not student-friendly or do not provide a conducive environment for preparation, it could leave room for lapses.

On the positive side, it is an opportunity for parents to help schools and their children make the month-long studying in containment a wonderful experience. Sharing the burden to feed and make students comfortable is one. Students will be able to concentrate on their preparation without having to complain of food, hygiene or comfort if parents can share the burden.

PPE will be provided for frontline workers at quarantine centres 

མིག, 01/24/2022 - 10:45

Dechen Dolkar 

The standard operating procedure (SOP) for the quarantine facilities have been revised in response to an increasing number of frontline workers testing positive recently.

After the introduction of the Omicron variant in the country, several frontline workers have tested positive in the quarantine facilities.

From January 13 to 21, around 12 frontline workers working in quarantine facilities have tested positive.

During the virtual press conference on Friday, National Task Force member Karma Yonten said that with the increasing positive cases among frontline workers, they had a discussion with the de-suups on duty with regard to testing positive, and even with the National Task Force and Technical Advisory Group.

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He said that the SOP that was developed for the Delta variant should be adequate for Omicron as well.

He said that there are two SOPs, one for health, and one for security. “When we reviewed the SOP a few months ago, both of the SOPs were reviewed and we also made sure that de-suups that are going to quarantine facilities are briefed on both security aspects by police and health aspects by Ministry of Health officials.

He said that de-suups mentioned that they were briefed and they claimed that they followed safety protocols.

“Frontline workers have requested better personal protective equipment, especially in quarantine facilities where we have quarantined individuals who have tested positive,” he said.

He said that earlier, they provided them with three-layer masks; now they are providing N95 masks.

He said that in manning quarantine facilities, having de-suups who are specially trained in the medical field by the Ministry of Health would be very useful. More de-suups will be trained for medical and deployed at facilities that have positive individuals.

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He also said they try to reduce transmission of the virus within the quarantine facility and also worry about the virus reaching beyond quarantine facilities.

He also said that they have developed an SOP in quarantine facilities. De-suups will cordon off the quarantine facilities from the outside. “This will ensure that no one from the quarantine facility comes out and mixes with the communities.”

Lyonchhen said that when there are frontline workers testing positive, it means there has been some contact between the frontline workers and positive individuals.  However, there is no infection between the community and frontline workers.

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“Those who got infected, if it is due to a breach, obviously it is the result of a mistake and if it was unavoidable we feel bad for them,” Lyonchhen said.

A member of TAG, Dr Tshokey, said that because of the high infectiousness of the Omicron variant, most frontline workers have been given a booster dose.

Bhutan’s tiger conservation efforts successful

མིག, 01/24/2022 - 10:44

Chhimi Dema  

Bhutan has fulfilled tiger conservation commitments, according to the head of Bhutan Tiger Center, Tshering Tempa (PhD). He reported this during the Fourth Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation that was held on January 19.

According to Tshering Tempa, Bhutan has fulfilled a commitment to monitor and maintain a viable tiger population, mitigate human-tiger conflict, and create an agency within the forests and park services department for tiger conservation (the Bhutan Tiger Centre was established in 2017).

To reduce tiger poaching, smart patrolling was initiated and fines were increased from Nu 50,000 to Nu 100,000.

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Bhutan made these commitments during the Third Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation in 2016.

There are 103 tigers in the country, and approximately 3,900 tigers in the world, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

The presence of tigers in the forest is an indicator of the well-being of the ecosystem. Tigers are the apex predator of the food chain and keep the population of wild ungulates in check, thereby maintaining the balance between prey herbivores and the vegetation upon which they feed.

A WWF press release states that at the Fourth Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation, government and non-governmental experts are working to advance the preservation of the largest and most endangered big cat species.

Tshering Tempa said that Bhutan is at the forefront of the global initiative for tiger conservation.

He said that the conservation policies in place and political will in Bhutan have consistently considered tiger conservation to be an important component of the development.

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“If there is one singular threat in Bhutan that will undermine tiger conservation efforts, it will be human-tiger conflict,” Tshering Tempa said.

Almost 60 percent of the population resides in rural parts of the country, and there are settlements in the protected areas.

The Bhutan Tiger Centre started initiatives such as conservation through compassion, community-based tiger conservation funds, and developing eco-tourism products to improve the livelihood of the people living in and around tiger habitats.

According to the Forest and Nature Conservation Rules and Regulations of Bhutan 2017, criminal offences related to protected species such as tigers, snow or clouded leopards, musk deer, and takin are a fourth-degree felonies under the Bhutan Penal Code.

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Tshering Tempa said that the tiger conservation effort in Bhutan will serve as a “heart that will pump” tigers to other regions in the Easter Himalayan landscape. “If investments are made in Bhutan for tiger conservation, tigers can repopulate in other countries.”

The three-day conference is being held before the Second Global Tiger Summit in Russia in August where the heads of the states from 13 tiger range countries will meet to work towards tiger conservation.

Are the gaurds scaring the cranes?

མིག, 01/24/2022 - 10:39

Nima Wangdi | Bumdeling

Villagers in Bumdeling gewog say that the number of black-necked cranes (BNC) visiting Bumdeling in Trashiyangtse is decreasing over the years because conservationists are scaring them.

They say that the foresters scare the endangered birds, because they catch them for collaring.

Thukten Tshering from Douling village said a team of foresters is still in the valley catching cranes. “There were 62 cranes initially, but now there are only 22. The cranes left in the past few days because they were scared. Some returned.”

He said that the cranes roost on the other side of the river, facing his house. He keeps counting them every morning. “I think the cranes left out of fear.”

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Thukten Tshering said the conservationists are scaring the birds. “I am worried that we are losing our cranes now. The number started declining from the time they started catching the cranes.”

Another villager, Singye Dorji, 45, said when a crane is caught, it struggles and other birds fly away out of fear. “I think the scared birds do not return the subsequent years. It is true that the number declined after foresters started catching them.”

He said other reasons could be the declining feeding grounds, as the flood has covered paddy fields in recent years.

An elderly woman from Ngalimang village said cranes used to fly in flocks when she was in her 20s, but it’s rare today. “Cranes crowed at specific times and followed the timing strictly. The villagers followed their time during the winters.”

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The chairman of Thrung Thrung Namsung Tshogpa, Choki Dorji, said villagers try to protect the cranes, but conservationists are scaring them. “The cranes are smart and they get scared of even a small thing.”

Villagers said they do not know what the conservationists are doing and if their activity is going to benefit in conserving the cranes in Bumdeling.


Cranes caught for research

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The park ranger of Bumdeling wildlife sanctuary (BWS), Sangay Drukpa, said Ugyen Wangchuk Institute for Conservation and Environment Research, Royal Society for Protection of Nature, and BWC are conducting research on the cranes.

Human-wildlife Conflict in Kurtoe gewog

མིག, 01/24/2022 - 10:38

Tshering Namgyal | Kurtoe

In Lhuentse, the farmers of Kurtoe Gewog not only lose their crops to the wild animals but the predators like common leopard and wild dogs prey on domestic animals.

Kurtoeps say that they lose hundreds of birds, dogs and cattle to wild predators every year besides losing acres of crops like maize and paddy.

A Dungkar resident, Sithar, said he was left with only a chicken out of 16 he brought last year.

Residents say that every year they lose more than 200 birds to the common leopards, besides dogs, and foals.

“Within no minute they tear the iron mesh out or remove the planks and snatch the hens out. It is no different for dogs. They are picked up from the doorstep any time,” a Tabi resident, Peldon, said.

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She said that egg had become a scarcity in the gewog.

There is also a huge potential for dairy farming but not many dairy groups exist in the gewog.

People say that they also lose more than 50 cattle and horses in a year to wild dogs, and said they no longer release them to the nearby jungle.

“Even if they are tethered near the farms, the wild dogs attack them. If you are not nearby and vigilant, you will not even find a carcass,” former Dungkar tshogpa, Sangay Tshering said.

People claim that more than 50 animals released on Tshethar in the nearby jungle were also lost to wild dogs.

Gewog livestock extension supervisor, Ugyen Dorji, said there were now no farmers who keen on starting large scale dairy and poultry farms in the gewog.

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The entire Kurtoe gewog falls inside the Wangchuck Centennial National Park (WCNP), the largest national park in the country.

“We have been asking the farmers to share information about crop depredation and number of animal casualties from the wild predator; but aren’t getting any,” Park Ranger Dorji Wangchuk said.

He added: “If the correct and timely information during such incidences is received, the data could be compiled and submitted to work out conservation measures.”

Farmers say the issues were raised but did not get incentives.

“After our requests were ignored, we stopped informing,” a resident said.

Opposition proposes deferring board exams 

མིག, 01/24/2022 - 10:37

Staff Reporter  

The Opposition Party has suggested that the government postpone the board examinations for Classes X and XII scheduled from February 14 to 28 in view of the Omicron outbreak in the country.

In a press release issued yesterday evening, the Opposition stated that going ahead with the board examinations would cause “excruciating logistical inconveniences and challenges” to both the teachers and students, as they are to operate in containment mode.

“We advise the government to postpone the board examinations for some weeks,” the press release stated.

The Opposition stated that despite the unfavourable conditions at the moment due to the Omicron outbreak, the government has decided to go ahead with the board examinations.

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According to the Opposition, some schools reportedly have not completed their academic processes and are not ready for examinations due to the late reporting back of students.

“This will affect the equity in assessment, outcomes, and access to opportunities for the students,” the Opposition stated.

However, the Ministry of Education stated in a January 21 notification that the ministry decided to conduct the exams as per the decision of a high-level virtual consultative meeting the ministry held with the Prime Minister and the Education Minister.

The ministry has notified dzongkhag and thromde administrations to ensure the smooth management of the board examinations.

The Opposition Party also asked the government to provide explanations as to the cause of the Omicron outbreak. “The nation remains overwhelmed by the Omicron outbreak causing huge economic and social disruptions to the people.”

The Opposition Party stated that it was fully mindful and deeply appreciative of the efforts made by the government and all concerned to combat and ease the situation.  

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“However infectious and uncontrollable Omicron variant may be by nature, we feel the massive outbreak was preventable.”

Citing the information and incidents that transpired over the week, the Opposition stated that it was understood that the import of foreign workers with neither quarantine nor antigen tests through Gelephu to the Punatsangchu hydropower project site was the “main cause of the outbreak”.

The Opposition Party called upon the government to “provide full and satisfactory explanations” to the nation on the causes, lapses, and accountability thereto for the outbreak.

The party also asked the government to not come up with new and separate by-laws (rules) related to Mines and Minerals.

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It urged the government to prepare and submit the new Mines and Minerals Bill to the seventh session of the National Assembly and function within the current Act and its regulations until the new Act comes into effect.

The Prime Minister stated in his State of the Nation report that the government has revised the Mines and Minerals Management Regulations 2002 and that all mines and minerals will always be driven by the interest of the nation.

“The regulation is in the final stages and we will be endorsing it in a matter of time,” it stated.

Picture story

མིག, 01/24/2022 - 10:32

  Horses loiter on Norzin Lam, the main street of Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital city, as Covid-19 forces residents to avoid moving out of their homes