Following the detection of the first COVID-19 case in the country, fears of food shortages have prompted some people to panic buy and stockpile on food items and other necessities, like face masks and hand sanitizers.
A whole sale retailer based in Thimphu, Kezang, said that during the news of the first COVID-19 patient, people came in rushing and purchasing grocery items and other stuff from his shop.
“People kept rushing into my store and my shelves were almost cleared on that particular day. I had to restrict people from entering the store and invited them one by one and made them purchase the items,” he said.
A 57-year-old resident in Thimphu, Sangay Khandu, said that he has stockpiled food items and other necessities if the situation goes into a lock down.
“As soon as I heard the news of the first COVID-19 outbreak in the country, I picked up a few extra food items and household necessities, in case if the situation gets worse and we can’t leave our house for a brief period of time,” he said.
Karma Wangmo 28, said, “I bought water, food, and toilet papers as people begin to stockpile essentials over fears that supplies will be affected by the spread of the Coronavirus.”
Meanwhile, Minister for the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, Yeshey Penjore, said that when it comes to food reserve, the government is not much worried.
“We are working on with the emergency supply for three months and beyond that we are working both on the import as well as on our production. There should not be crisis when it comes to food resources supply. The government is confident to face the challenges,” Lyonpo said.
Lyonpo said that the government is working closely with the Government of India for the import of food items.
“The ministry together with FCBL is working on the stockpiling of essential resources for three months. We need to discuss and take support of the Government of India for continue supply of the commodities. The most nerve-racking part in the country is the food and how the government is going to bring the supplies from India if it gets to a red zone,” he said.
Meanwhile, the PM got assurances from India that food, medicine and fuel supplies would not be disrupted even if India goes into lockdown.
Lyonpo, said the country cannot fully depend on import.
“Our focus is on the import substitution. We need to produce on our own because we have to save our resources and keep the money within the country as much as possible,” he said, adding that the government doesn’t have a choice rather than depending on import for three months and work on own production.
He further added that the government has to encourage the farmers and make an aggressive approach in commercial farming in such matter.
“In such conditions, we need to even accelerate our production capacity, so we will have to encourage our farmers to produce their best food resources, secondly Ministry with support from the Ministry of Finance have to pump in some more resources in our SOEs and Farm Mechanism Corporation Limited and Bhutan Livestock Development Corporation Limited. We need to have supplementary support on top of what our farmers can produce, which means we need to make more aggressive approach in commercial farming,” the Agriculture Minister added.
“At this time we have to keep stock for three months, so we need to have all strategies and plans for at least for 6 months to one year. So, the FCBL will keep stocking the resources and continue the supply to the retailers and the people will have continuous supply of commodities in the market where our people can access the food resources,” the minister said.
He also said that the Ministry of Finance has released Nu 3 million budget to the FCBL for the resources stocking.
“For three months, we have allotted Nu 3 million budget, which the Ministry of Finance has released to FCBL for stocking. The budget we have kept for the 12th Five-Year Plan for the import substitution, now we have to re-appropriate and activities which may happen this year and the next year, we will have to front-load it. For additional budget we will have to keep on requesting Ministry of Finance for supplementary budget supply,” he said.
In the meantime, the government is currently working on a red zone contingency plan. The Health Minister says this is being done incase the situation worsens and the nation is forced into a complete lockdown. The contingency plan will ensure that everything moves seamlessly.