Among the biggest learnings of the recent national lockdown, one was firstly on how to do lockdowns in the future to minimize the economic cost and inconvenience and secondly to prevent repeated and long national lockdowns.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said there are a lot of invaluable lessons learnt which otherwise is unthinkable.
The PM said they have formulated a professional lockdown template which is going to be for three weeks and within that three weeks they will have three phases roughly corresponding to a week each.
Lyonchhen said future lockdowns may be for one week or may go beyond a week but the lockdown will not be more than three weeks and in this time period it will not be a total lockdown.
“Initially there will be a couple of days of absolute lockdown with no movement at all other than health staff and law enforcers and that may go on for three, four to five days but it will not go beyond a week,” said the PM.
After that, as soon as the health screening and categorization is over maybe on the third, fourth or the fifth day (if it hits a place like Thimphu) then people will be allowed to move around in the zone mode.
If there are some red zone areas, they will be restricted more but other places will slowly be eased out into the second phase whereby one can go out zone wise, have online deliveries and physical exercises or cycling events can happen.
“So that can continue and if there are no hiccups or surprises from the outbreak point of view then we can allow movement within super zones and all this will go on for two to three weeks,” said the PM.
If nothing happens after the three weeks then they can unlock over 10 days as it was done this time like initially allowing only walking, followed by public transportation and then private cars.
“If there are still no hiccups like today and if we don’t get outbreaks from the flu clinic then we are back to the new normal,” said the PM.
Lyonchhen said they got a lot of experience and also a lot of confidence from the cooperation of the public as it looks like they will follow the measures very strictly. He said little hiccups here and there are expected.
The PM said the health surveillance is very smart now and flu clinics are sensitive enough and as people are now reporting they can pick up cases coming to the flu clinic.
The PM said they also got confidence that they never had cases from the flu clinics until now, and it is not that they were missed out but they never actually had cases.
“So collectively if you put all this I don’t think we have to go for a national lockdown,” said the PM.
Advancing the economic arguments against future national lockdowns the PM said that they know that the lockdown will always hit the economy.
“Many families are not feeling it but collectively at the national level there are signs that the economy got hit badly,” said the PM.
“I would say these are superficial cuts to the economy in the surgical term as superficial cuts will heal without a scar but deep cuts will heal with scar. But if you keep repeatedly hitting on the same injury site and bother the process of healing then it will turn into cancer,” said the PM.
“Yes, with a one time hit our economy should heal without a scar and it should spring back to normal, but if you are not worried and not strategic and allow these repeated hits then it can turn malignant. This is our concern,” added the PM.
Lyonchhen said that from here on they asked all the industries to have a containment SOP so that even if they have to lockdown that region or the country, those industries can continue.
“You are locked down in your house and the industries can be locked down in their campuses and the work within the campus can go on because Bhutan maybe locked down but the world is not locked down,” said the PM.
He said the export market is India, which is not locked down, raw materials they import are from India which is open and so why should they restrain all this import and export because of a lockdown unless the focus of the outbreak is from their campus.
The PM said there is an approved official template followed by the Macroeconomic Framework Coordination Committee (MFCC) and they actually have done the assessment and that is where -6% GDP growth rate hit on the GDP has come up.
“Now how far that is true and how far it is reliable and dependable is all up to us to interpret but that is the international norm as they follow the same standard and they followed the same things like spending capacity, transport mobility, unemployment rate and once they fed all this into the formula then our growth rate was going down and as things went on in the lockdown manner it reached minus six percent,” said the PM
He said the same formula says that as we unlock and as the transportation picks up and as employment picks up and as import and export picks up, growth will slowly come back to minus one level which was the pre-lockdown phase.
“So if the formula has any messages it is only one which is if you repeatedly lockdown and if you continue the lockdown the economy will not be able to survive and that is very clear,” stressed the PM.
He said that the lockdown achieved what was wanted.
“I don’t think any nation achieved what we achieved during the lockdown. Think of any country that has locked down and opened up and they have opened up for many reasons. Some have opened up as they did not get what they wanted from the lockdown, some countries kept extending their lockdown but yet they could not achieve it and so they had to go back which they call unlocking,” said the PM.
He said in the case of Bhutan they had a definite time line and they achieved what was wanted, and are unlocking in a very professional and uneventful manner.
The PM said that if Thimphu did not have any hiccups the rest of the country is definitely safe. He said if there were any hiccups then they would have got it in Thimphu where almost a fourth of the population resides.
“So yes, it was a little worrisome as the economy dipped quite badly, but as I said these are superficial injuries and as we have unlocked over the last 10 days’, things would have started improving,” said the PM.
He said the economy is nothing but the reflection of one’s lifestyle where if the lifestyle has become a little comfortable then it means the economy is also getting better.
He said the import export amount has gone down a bit and transaction has gone down a bit, but everything is picking up and the government would like to facilitate as far as possible and as much as possible.
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