Bhutan imposes nationwide COVID-19 lockdown

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Bhutan is currently on lockdown, an unprecedented event in Bhutan's recent history.

View of the capital city, Thimphu

WHY DID BHUTAN GO ON A LOCKDOWN
Bhutan’s government imposes nationwide lockdown on Aug 11 following a report of a COVID-19 positive case in Gelephu. A 27-year old Bhutanese woman who returned from Kuwait on June 26 was previously placed on mandatory quarantine in Paro. Throughout the 21-day quarantine period, she was tested negative five times on PCR test but positive on rapid test (IgG) on three occasions. Even though she was asymptomatic, her quarantine was extended for another week and subsequently discharged on July 26, the 30th day of her quarantine after testing negative on PCR. In keeping with health protocol, she was advised to report to a flu clinic on August 10. She reported to a flu clinic in Gelephu on Aug 10, where she was tested positive on PCR.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering shared that the fact that the woman's case was detected shows that the government's protocol and monitoring system was efficient. The second layer of surveillance further monitors all those who has been discharged from the mandatory quarantine period.  

The health ministry has since been working rigorously to trace the close contacts of the woman and both rapid and PCR tests were conducted for the suspects to curb any community widespread. Thus far, the PCR tests conducted for the primary and secondary contacts traced are all negative.

The government issued a statement to urge everyone to stay at home and movements of the people and vehicles were restricted in the predominantly Buddhist nation of 750,000 people.

"All schools, institutions, offices and commercial establishments will remain closed. Ongoing exams will be postponed, while students and trainees in boarding facilities should continue to remain on campus and follow COVID-19 protocols. The unprecedented lockdown is enforced to identify and isolate all positive cases, immediately breaking the chain of transmission," the government said in a statement

A National COVID-19 taskforce meeting was held at the Ministry of Health for the coordination and implementation of the lockdown. The taskforce, led by the prime minister, received guidance from His Majesty The King, who stayed with the team all through the night at the ministry.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering speaking in Tshangla and Lhotshamkha on the nationwide lockdown on BBS radio on Aug 11. Source: Prime Minister's Office - PMO, Bhutan

OVERVIEW OF COVID-19 CASES IN BHUTAN
To date, Bhutan has a total of 113 COVID-19 cases, the lowest in the South Asia region with zero fatality. 93 of the patients have since recovered. The tiny Himalayan nation has often been lauded by the international community for its COVID-19 efforts due to its swift response. 

Bhutan, an exclusive high-end travel destination has barred foreigners from entering the country since Mar 6 after the first imported case, an American tourist was tested positive in the country. The government has also imposed a mandatory 21-day quarantine for Bhutanese returning from abroad. On top of free testing and medical services, all meals and accommodation are provided for free by the government at the designated quarantine facilities.

BHUTAN’S COVID-19 PREPAREDNESS AND PREVENTIVE MEASURES
Prior to the lockdown, the country has been taking the safety measures seriously since the start of the pandemic. The country was placed in the Orange zone prior to Phase 1 reopening on July 1. Some of the measures taken include schools’ closure, wearing of face masks, prohibition of large gatherings, physical distancing and check in through the Druk Trace app.

Just last week, the country conducted a tabletop simulation (mock drill) in Thimphu to test the Thimphu Thromde’s preparedness and to check its potential to handle a local transmission and a lockdown. Pseudo or fictional situations of positive cases being detected in the flu clinic and hospital were presented.

The preparedness of the entire nation is currently being put to test. However, the first day of the lockdown yesterday was implemented smoothly with people from all 20 districts cooperating and abiding with the restrictions. 

HIS MAJESTY THE KING AT THE FOREFRONT OF COVID-19 PREPAREDNESS AND RESPONSE
His Majesty The King has been at the forefront of the COVID-19 efforts and can often be seen walking the ground to ensure the safety and well-being of the people. His Majesty recently met people living near the border in Samtse and Chukha to personally talk to them about the growing threat of community transmissions.

In fact, His Majesty has just returned to the capital city of Thimphu on August 9 after a two-week Royal Tour to Southern Bhutan. The purpose of the tour was to review and reinforce security measures in place, with active COVID-19 cases on the rise in the neighbourhood. His Majesty has continuously provided extraordinary leadership and vision to keep it’s people safe from the pandemic. His Majesty’s selfless leadership has inspired and encouraged the nation to stay united and resilience to combat the pandemic.

His Majesty The King speaking to a woman at her home in Thongling village of Sampheling gewog in Chukha. Source: His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck

To ease the financial burden on the citizens, the King has also provided cash grants to those who have lost their jobs and livelihoods through the Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu (Apr to Sep 2020). As the coronavirus will hit harder for those with underlying conditions and old age, His Majesty initiated several kidu packages to protect the vulnerable section of the society at all cost.

To ensure that all Bhutanese have enough food and essential supplies, His Majesty commanded the government to go beyond basics and procure vital commodities for the nation to sustain. For the welfare of Bhutanese living or studying abroad, who are in need of financial support for logistics while battling COVID-19, His Majesty ensured accommodation. For students in foreign land who are seeking to return but unable to afford, His Majesty has granted kidu*.

With such remarkable leadership from the King, dedicated and tireless efforts from the ministries and frontline workers, alongside the compliance and cooperation of its people, Bhutan will undoubtedly be able to combat through the COVID-19 pandemic unitedly.  

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*Kidu or wellbeing of the people is traditionally a Royal Prerogative and enshrined today in the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan as a fundamental responsibility of His Majesty the King. In the history of the Bhutanese Monarchy, the Kings have reigned on the principle of service of the people. Beyond the duties of governance, Monarchs have always considered it their sacred duty to provide for the most vulnerable sections of society. There are several Kidu schemes designed to help certain groups of people, such as support for elderly citizens, and those requiring medical treatment. The King has also continued the tradition of giving state land to landless farmers around the country. Kidu also provides immediate assistance to victims of natural disasters. Throughout the century, hundreds of thousands of children, elderly, disabled and sick people have received and continue to receive personal care from their King. 



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