We, Bhutanese, take great pride in our ability to survive against great odds, the ravages of history and external challenges – as a nation and as a people.
This has also been noted by people, like former Indian Foreign Secretary, Nirupama Rao, who said that the Bhutanese are the best in the world at this survival game.
We have not only survived, but thrived, so far – mainly due to two factors. The first is the unity of the people against external challenges, and the second is good leadership that looks after the welfare of all and the greater national interest, best symbolized in our Kings.
However, with the third national lockdown, there are people advocating a different kind of survival, which is Darwinism or survival of the fittest. They may not say it directly, but the increasing clamor to lift the lockdown and ‘live with the virus,’ is exactly that.
The ones making the loudest noises to open up are the mainly young and middle aged, with two or even three doses of vaccine in them, without any comorbidities and with nothing much to lose if the virus sweeps through the country.
However, the 130,000 children below the age of 11 cannot come on social media to argue for their right to life and right to health. They cannot threaten to vote out governments, or rile up other people if their interests or health are not upheld by their elders.
The vast majority of 56,000 people above the age of 65, similarly, cannot come on social media and express their fears in eloquent or fiery words about a virus that primarily kills them. Many of them will not even know what a Facebook or Twitter is.
Then we have more than 90,000 Bhutanese living with co-morbidities from failed kidneys to diabetes, to cancer to other issues. They live in constant pain and sickness, and so the last thing on their minds will be to come online and admit their sickness and wage battles with motivated and healthy keyboard warriors.
They are the group at the highest risk as the five deaths so far have been among them.
Those advocating ‘living with the virus’ should visit the children’s ward in JDWNRH in winter to see the terrible price that even the seasonal flu exacts from young children whose immune systems are too weak to even fight the flu.
Many are down with pneumonia and all of them need Oxygen to breathe, are on IV drips and have to have cocktails of antibiotics injected into them to prevent their lungs from being overwhelmed and drowning in its own fluid.
For the luckier ones, the treatment is done in a week to 10 days’ time, while the more sick ones stay on for weeks, and some don’t make it.
These advocates should visit the ICU section in the same hospital and see how the old, young and the co-morbid are struggling between life and death, even in the best of times.
Now imagine what a virus, far more deadly than the common flu primed to go after and even kill the weak, will do to the above people.
Their loss and pain will not be registered in viral posts or messages, but in the silent tears of their loved ones, funeral pyres at the cremation grounds and some statistical numbers.
An Italian diplomat and author of the Renaissance era, Niccolo Machiavelli, said, “…A man is quicker to forget the death of his father than the loss of his patrimony (inherited property).”
It is now important to ask this question of ourselves, as Bhutanese, if we are the kind of people that Niccolo Machiavelli describes. Are we willing to risk the health and lives of children, the old and the vulnerable who could well be from within our families, just so to earn a little more money?
Lost money or income can always be earned back, but not the health and lives of our loved ones. Are we, as a so-called ‘Buddhist Nation’, willing to live with the guilt of so much death, sickness and pain on our conscience?
COVID-19 had wrecked so much havoc in many countries, to the point that dead bodies could not fit in morgues, and there were long lines outside cremation grounds due to the fact that governments mismanaged their response, and people did not have faith in them or their advocacy.
This has not been the case in Bhutan, and so, we need to avoid such tendencies.
At the moment, it will be safe to assume that the majority will still favour keeping the virus out over ‘living with the virus.’ However, even if the day comes that this changes, it is still the duty of the government to prevent the short-term misjudgment of the public from affecting our long- term interests.
Our political parties should hold the government accountable, but they should refrain from using misled public emotions for politicking, by giving the illusion of another fictional option.
We are a democracy, and not a mobocracy, and we cannot let the misinformation and the fears of the mob dictate our national policies, otherwise we are doomed.
In a democracy, the duty of the government is not just to uphold the will of the majority, but it has an equally important duty to also protect the majority from its own bad instincts, and fears borne of misinformation and high but temporary emotions.
The former British Prime Minister David Cameron will go down as one of the most reviled Prime Ministers in British history who did his country great harm.
In order to win over the far right elements of his party and also appease some right-wing populist sentiments in the UK, he ordered a national referendum on Brexit or Britain leaving the European Union. Cameron and his colleagues never even dreamt that Britons would vote to leave, and so this was like killing two political birds with one stone for him.
However, the referendum campaign was hijacked by a strong and aggressive misinformation and a populist ‘leave campaign’ that played up peoples’ fears, and included techniques, like targeted fake news on social media, based on the fears of the reader deciphered via algorithms.
The majority of Britons voted on the basis of this false information and their own emotions, and the result is Brexit which is an unmitigated economic, political and geo-political disaster for Britain, courtesy the politicians and populists of Britain.
In Bhutan, apart from the faith, unity and trust of the people, we have a leader in the form of a King, who not only literally walks the talk in every sense, but has put his very life on the line to protect us, leads this battle from the frontlines, and empties out his treasury and all Royal Funds to ensure we do not feel the worst of the economic impacts. This is all drawn from a vision that looks at the long-term national interests of Bhutan, and the welfare of its people.
We can continue to follow this wise path drawn out of the wisdom of the ages that will ensure we have a safe journey till our destination, or some of us can falter and try and take the other path that leads into disaster and ruin for the nation. Perhaps then, Nirupama Rao can finally be proven wrong.
Hatred is gained as much by good works as by evil.
I go with “Live with the virus” coz by now all most all the people starting from 4yrs old kids knows the Covid protocol moreover, I believe Bhutanese parenting isn’t that lavish to let their children roam freely in an around red buildings or high risk area plus our elders could stay home until the atmosphere seems safe for them. But plz let’s not punish everyone in the town just because one at the corner of the town at a particular house tested positive la. Living with virus is learning to live safe and fighting for self and other way round is just spoon feeding la…Royal kidu….for how long? We feel quilts and need to give 1000s thoughts before we avail Kidu la coz we must understand that future is uncertain la. It would be better not to empty the little pockets (HM’s wealth) that’s might come handy in more dire needs in future too la.
P.S living with virus doesn’t mean the MOH and front liners shedding their efforts towards containing the spread of virus.