Thursday 3 pm saw the top cream of the Royal Government of Bhutan coming together in a massive meeting in the Royal University of Bhutan hall, at the invitation of the Prime Minister.
The meeting was attended by members of the Cabinet, Constitutional Posts, senior Judges, senior Executives and other top Public servants.
While the expectation was for some major announcements, the Prime Minister updated the audience on certain well known developments leaving one wondering why the large gathering had been called at all in a time of COVID, when gatherings are not encouraged.
To make matters worse, an overwhelming majority of the gathering were not wearing face masks in clear violation of the government’s ‘new normal’ guidelines of 19th June recommending masks at all gatherings.
It went against the repeated public advice of the Ministry of Health and Health Minister (who was not there), requesting citizens to wears masks in closed settings as part of the ministry’s mitigation measures to prevent community transmission.
It was also not in line with a 9th July circular of the MoH saying that wearing of face masks in gatherings is mandatory due to WHO saying COVID-19 transmission can possibly happen through the airborne route.
The only saving grace was that social distancing was being maintained.
It is clear that the senior levels of the government may be good at making or prescribing rules, but they themselves are not very good at following them.
The incident also demonstrates a shocking level of ignorance on the dangers of having such a mass meeting in an enclosed hall with no masks, just when the WHO itself is warning of the virus being airborne in closed settings.
This also comes at a time when the MoH is desperately trying to get people to wear masks in public places as the danger of community transmission only rises by the day with an explosion of cases in India, and a porous border that an increasing number of Bhutanese are violating for petty reasons.
When a significant number of citizens are skeptical about wearing masks, it is the duty of the government to lead not just by words, but more importantly, by example.
The government’s initial facemask advice in the early days, based on flawed WHO advice, was that it is only for symptomatic people and medical staff. This message was drilled home so strongly that many Bhutanese stopped wearing masks.
Now when the science has been updated and masks are crucial to prevent community transmission, the government, at the larger level, seems almost reluctant to change tack and this may cost us very dearly.
“If you cannot prove it by your action, you do not mean it.”
Murad S. Shah