This is not a lockdown but it comes close to it as the Prime Minister (Dr) Lotay Tshering announced a slew of measures all aimed at avoiding mass public gathering and minimizing contact among people.
The measures come this week after Bhutan got two scares. The first was on Wednesday when it was found that a 54-year-old tourist from Hong Kong who visited Bhutan from 3rd to 12th march had tested positive in Hong Kong.
Then came the news on Thursday of Bhutan’s third and first Bhutanese COVID-19 positive case through a female student coming back from the United Kingdom, but already under quarantine.
Lyonchhen said that Bhutan at the moment is unlikely to go in for a full lockdown as all the three COVID-19 cases in Bhutan are imported and there is no evidence of community transmission.
A release by the government said, “As we strive to stay ahead of the spread of coronavirus, with His Majesty’s guidance, the government has introduced highest level of preventive measures all along. This includes recent closure of all border gates early this week.”
It said that reinforced by an efficient containment system, the government is making efforts to come out of the pandemic with slightest of burden on the people of Bhutan.
“Stepping up the arrangements, and acknowledging importance of minimising contacts among people as effective fight against COVID-19, the government puts forward following restraints to prevent the spread of the disease. Relevant authorities and agencies are requested to act on the instructions with immediate effect,” said the release.
Gatherings for religious purposes are discouraged, prompted by the fact that countries have experienced outbreaks from such events.
Gathering at any social events like birthday, wedding or promotion parties are disallowed. Lyonchhen said families can mark the tendrel of such events like offering a butter lamp but without parties and gatherings.
Picnics or similar outdoor functions are prohibited.
He said congregations at work, official dinners, functions or gatherings at workplace eateries are discouraged. Lyonchhen though said that certain unavoidable government gatherings or meetings have to go on.
Lyonchhen said that individuals are required to maintain physical distance from the rest at grocery outlets, vegetable markets, fuel depots or other public places.
Also while in queue to avail of services like banking or hospital, individuals are required to maintain physical distance.
All non-essential and leisure travels within the country are restricted. Movements in groups, within the towns and communities are also discouraged.
The PM giving an example said that a taxi that can carry four people should carry only two people and a bus should have only on person on each side instead of two sitting together on a seat.
Lyonchhen said the Road Safety and Transport Authority is instructed to design and implement strategies for passengers using public transports to maintain physical distance.
The PM said that Bhutanese travelling abroad must seek prior approval from Ministry of Foreign Affairs even before they start processing formalities for the travel.
Business and entertainment
Lyonchhen said that while ships and business establishments will remain they must ensure social distancing. He said that for example in a bar a certain distance should be maintained and it should be like one person on one table.
He said that all movie theatres, snooker rooms and video parlours should be closed as large numbers of people have to spend time in an enclosed space and this carries risks.
All business entities must adjust timing and engage employees in a way that there is no crowding.
and they must ensure and make it conducive for their customers maintain physical distance.
While open-air shows are disallowed, television programs must be modified for participants to observe physical distance.
Games and sports
The PM said that games or sports that require physical contact like football and basketball are not allowed. He also said that traditional games, including archery and khuru are prohibited in all communities. The PM though said certain games like lawn tennis or badminton can be played.
Fitness centres like gym, yoga and meditation centres are urged to ensure minimum attendance at a given time for clients to observe adequate distance.
Civil service, corporate, private, and other agencies
The Prime Minister called on all agencies to devise and institute “work from home” system.
He said agencies are encouraged to use technology for meetings and correspondence of all kind.
He said, “In such emergencies, we have no doubt everyone has to shoulder immense workload. We are all expected to work beyond normal office hours. Here, we would like to state that as public servants, one should be guilt-ridden if you are not contributing or are not fully engaged in such times. Irrespective of where you are working from, you must come forward and make the most of your time.”
Lyonchhen said that Individual responsibilities in pursuing these actions are highly appreciated and would have lasting impact on government’s efforts to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the country as well as beyond.
“However, given the fact that we have no room for complacency at this time, those who don’t abide by the instructions will be dealt with strong legal action,” stressed the PM.
The government will monitor and update the instructions in keeping with evolving situations on the ground.