A problem bigger than pandemic?

A systemic, even systematic, flaws in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic in Bhutan have begun to come unravelling. And coming from an “entry point” such as Paro, now, is unsettling.

We have been aware, acutely, that complacency would be the end of it all for a country such as Bhutan that has neither the economic power to deal with full-scale explosion of the pandemic nor the scientific know-how to combat the unrelenting virus. Yet, today, that is exactly what seems to have happened.

And there was also conspicuous lack of clarification from the authorities concerned. These are a lethal combination of ineptitude on display that can throw a spanner in all the efforts and resources we have put in to fight one of the greatest scourges of our time.

A news report pinned an index case on one person in Paro, a driver, who reportedly had nothing to do with the rising Covid-19 positive cases in Thimphu and Paro. Upon a deeper investigation, though, what has come out clearly is that there are systemic gaps that could have engendered the current situation of fear, panic and distrust among people in the red-marked Thimphu and Paro.

The driver himself, who was engaged in picking the passengers from the airport and dropping them off to the quarantine centres, was shocked to learn that he was the source of the infection. From March last year, the driver was involved in ferrying passengers and frontliners from the airport to quarantine facilities. His last day of duty was on December 18. However, according to the record with health officials in Paro, the dzongkhag discontinued the quarantine provision for frontliners since September last year given the huge financial implication and decreased repatriation flights.

What is more worrying is that the incident commander, Paro dzongdag, has been unaware of these changes and much of what has been happening in his dzongkhag in terms of fighting the spread of Covid-19.  

What needs to be understood here is that the bus driver is not in the wrong. He has his logbook as proof. The school authority, he said, even had asked the dzongkhag administration if it was safe for the drivers to be sent directly home after picking up the passenger from the airport.

The fact is that the driver has tested Covid-19 positive. Many other drivers and their families have. The problem is with the report that pins, without sound basis, the fault on a single individual. Health Minister Dechen Wangmo has said: “It is a near impossible for us to establish an individual as the source of the infection…No country in the world can identify a single individual as a source of infection.”

Too little, too late.

Imagine the kind of pressure on certain such cases and individuals resulting from recklessness in the system. Information flow, leak, and lousy redressal are emerging to be formidable problems. If not addressed, as urgently as possible, we have a problem bigger than the pandemic itself to tackle with.

Fear and panic can’t be helped in a situation such as the nation is faced with today but wilful misinformation and the kind of disregard that seems to be accepted, even by the government, is dangerous

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