The news that a 76-year-old American tourist is Bhutan’s first COVID-19 case caused much consternation and some degree of panic.
People first headed for drug stores to buy out masks and hand sanitizers and then headed for the markets to hoard up on essential supplies. Cars lined up in long lines at fuel pumps.
Even the normally busy JDWNRH was like a ghost building as patients decided to stay away.
However, the news by evening that all 39 first contact cases had tested negative came as a huge relief to the nation as this showed that the tourist had not spread the virus beyond himself, so far.
However, it is a reality that the COVID-19 is in Bhutan and we have already learnt some important lessons.
Earlier in the day, the Health Minister and the Prime Minister gave a very clinical and well informed press release and press conference loaded with important information.
The measures and plans put in place also looked organised and well thought out, for now.
One bright side of the COVID-19 happening now is that we have two doctors in the Cabinet including the PM and FM and a Health Minister who is a Health Policy expert.
It is important to stay aware and take precautions and also be worried to an extent, but it is not wise to panic.
With the 40 cases all showing negative so far it is a kind of close shave for Bhutan. Of course more tests have to be conducted in the coming days on the same people and if need be more people, but the results so far are very encouraging.
The government took the right decision in stopping the entry of all tourists for two weeks so that we can get a handle on the current situation and contact trace everyone who came in touch with tourist.
However, it was also good that the government did not overreact to close down trade and commerce along our main arterial supply line of Phuentsholing and Thimphu.
The COVID-19 crisis has also shown the importance of sharing verified information early otherwise rumors and fake news on social media can take over.
Our first brush with COVID-19 holds many lessons in terms of how the public reacts, and also how our system is able to cope with and track down cases and quarantine and test them.
It was almost inevitable that COVID-19 would come to Bhutan, but this government will be judged by how it handles it from here.
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”
John F. Kennedy