August Lockdown in Bhutan
Updated: Aug 31, 2020
All of Bhutan has been locked down since Monday, August 10th, when a Bhutanese woman who had come from outside the country tested positive for the virus in Gelyphu. The lockdown announcement was quick, but we were prepared for it. The government made announcements on social media as well as the country's newspapers and television station, but word of mouth is a pretty accurate way to get information here. At the end of the first week the government was sending around trucks all over the country to distribute vegetables.
Usually we have weekend vegetable markets where farmers and distributors come to sell vegetables. Since everything was closed, the Ministry of Agriculture scrambled to distribute fruits and vegetables that first week. By the second week, Thimphu had been split into zones, and we were given passes by Desuup volunteers who visited all of the 27,000 households. The passes allowed us to go and shop at our own neighborhood shops for food and necessities.
Here's the shop in our zone, Six Brothers, where we can get necessities.
Checking out at Six Brothers. This is actually a son of one of the brothers.
So we are in week three of the lockdown and there is the hope that if there isn't community spread in certain areas, we will soon be able to move out of our homes. Phuentsholing at the southern border with India has around 60 cases just now. But since everyone is in quarantine, we are hoping the cases will subside. Amazingly, the Ministry of Health has tested over 26,000 people in Phuentsholing and several thousand more in the rest of the country. The Health Ministry has tested almost everyone in the border town, except for small children who they feel might be too traumatized to have the test. 5,000 people in Thimphu were tested as they registered as having traveled to Phuentsholing after August 1st. So the testing here is amazing. It's the way to get ahead of the spread. Testing, tracing, and quarantining is what's happening here.
A few other things that are happening:
The nation's taxi drivers have stepped up to transport volunteers, the Desuup (National Guard) who are organizing and patrolling all over the country. The also transport people going for testing and they help distribute food.
Tour companies have provided large tour buses to transport Desuup volunteers.
Her Majesty the Queen, Jetsun Pema, and other members of the Royal Family are cooking meals and snacks for the huge number of volunteers in the country as well as health workers.
The government is lifting the ten year ban on the sale of cigarettes in the country and making cigarettes and alcohol available to people who want them in lockdown. Members of the government reasoned that sudden lack of these addictive substances could lead to problems in the locked-down homes and also tie up already stretched medical services.
His Majesty the King asked the Bhutanese Army to feed the over 100,000 stray dogs in the country. With hotels and restaurants closed and people confined to their homes, the usual food sources are not available during lockdown. There over 15,000 strays in Thimphu alone, and the fear is the dogs would become feral and attack humans or livestock without their usual food sources.
Everyone in Bhutan is following the advice of His Majesty and other members of the government and staying home. We've been told that if we stay home for three weeks we can break the chain of infection of the virus. We're all hoping it works. Stay tuned. Whatever happens, the general mood here is of gratitude for having a government that is working aggressively and consistently to thwart the virus and for being compassionate and decent to all of us.