Lyonpo Loknath Sharma, Minister of Economic affairs

Omicron’s potential adverse impact on Bhutan’s economic recovery

It may be only a matter of time before the ripple effects of the new, uniquely mutated version of Coronavirus, named B.1.1.529 or ‘Omicron’ is felt in Bhutan after reaching India along with 41 countries.

 “It is impossible not to feel the impact of the Omicron in Bhutan, as we are directly associated with our neighbours, like India via trades and all. But now we are better equipped to tackle the situation and keep things under control,” said Lyonpo Loknath Sharma, Minister of Economic affairs, and further said, “We have to take strong measures as what was done in the past. Pandemic is nothing new, and we know exactly what to do. Nothing is certain as of now because we have yet to see how the virus spreads and what problems it could cause.”

Lyonpo also said that if there is an outbreak in India, it could adversely affect the trade. The economy in Bhutan is slowly picking up as compared to 2020, and Bhutan must do everything in its power to avoid repercussions during the vulnerable time the economy is growing. 2020 has been a hard hit but in 2021, exports have been picking up, according to Lyonpo.

“We are hoping the Omicron doesn’t affect the SAARC countries, otherwise it could make things bit tricky for a nation such as ours,” Lyonpo said. Lyonpo further said that the countries affiliated with Bhutan could impose trade restrictions as well as travel restrictions, which could affect the exports, imports and tourism, thereby hindering the economy of the country. CSI has come a long way and it will be sad if they are affected.

“Our attempt must be to stop the virus, and if that falls through, we must impose stricter measures. In the worst-case scenario, things could be same as 2020 and lockdowns might be imposed but we are already doing whatever we can to prevent that,” Lyonpo added.

“The impact of the Omicron is a misconception,” said the President of Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Tandin Wangchuk, and added, “It may or may not be as dangerous as the Delta, but it is apparently spreading quite fast. The one thing we could do as a country is to be prepared. In case it spreads to India, it is very likely it will spread to Bhutan too. We have learnt many things during the first and second lockdowns under the guidance of His Majesty, and now, I believe we are fully prepared to face whatever is coming our way, but it is inevitable that the economy and trade will be affected as well. That much is certain.”

The President of BCCI also said that it is high time for him to hold a consultation meeting with the private sector under the guidance of the Royal Government of Bhutan. As the private sector cannot do things as they please, they must comply with the government’s regulations, and economy and trade are going to be hardest hit, in case the Omicron spreads in Bhutan or neighbouring countries.

Tandin Wangchuk said that it will be very problematic for imports, exports, production and tourism which are all pillars supporting the economy of the country. Bhutan is depending on India for imports of various goods, skilled workers in construction sectors, boulder exports, trades, etc.

He said, ”This is a challenging issue because we have to take a balanced approach between the life and the livelihood. Hospitals should have facilities to at least absorb 50-100 patients. But for us we are more bothered by the economic affairs. Regarding the current situation, Bhutan is trying to recover its economy and many business centers have opened up. They are doing well except for the tourism industry.”

The construction sector seems to be picking up with more skilled foreign workers coming in, but the import of materials may be affected in the future. The entertainment centers have also been recovering except for Drayangs. Various sectors have been following the COVID-19 SOPs fairly well and are expected to do the same in the future.

As of now, nothing seems certain, but Dr Michelle Groome of South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable diseases observed that there has been ‘exponential increase’ in the number of infections and that ‘exponential increase’ warrants a worry or concern.

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