Beyond the lockdown and the pandemic

Weeding paddy, guarding cornfields or grazing cows – normalcy will return in the villages with restrictions relaxing from today. In the capital too, there will be more shops opening to business and controlled movement of people.

With no new cases in the last one day and thousands of contacts traced and tested, we are regaining the confidence. The lockdown worked. Further relaxation will depend on the situation.

As most of us restrict another weekend at home wishing for a better week ahead, the realisation is that Covid-19 had been a powerful force of change. The last 10 days was a reminder of our priorities. We were suddenly reminded to focus on what really matters in life.

It was not our appetite for luxury items or fashion; it was not the craving for a nice cup of Latte or a vacation.   We were after essentials – basic food, basic health and security. We realised that there was pleasure in getting a chance to go out and buy groceries. Suddenly, the values Buddhism taught us, like being minimalist awakened us. Many are realising that there should be subtractions in our lives, subtractions in our wants and needs that make us complex beings.

Experts are convinced, even adamant, that Covid-19 will not go away soon. We have witnessed it. Countries that controlled the virus are seeing a second wave. There is no returning to normality. The best way to adapt is in resetting our priorities, our lives.

With stricter lockdowns, we may contain a community transmission and declare ourselves Covid-19 free, but it has already left an indelible mark in our lives. Some call it impermanence. The new maxim is “New Normal.” It has already become the catchphrase as returning to normality is now seen irrelevant. We have witnessed it too.

At the individual or family level, it is about adjusting to the new normal. The new normal is a call for change – change in our preferences, choice, habits etc. Covid-19, it is confirmed, will widen the gap between haves and have-nots. We are already seeing the low income affected the worst. The travel and service industry will not recoup soon from the impact of the pandemic. Thousands employed in these sectors are already feeling the pinch.

There are only a handful of people with a secure source of income. This week, many will see their monthly salary with fuel and housing allowance credited to their account. How long this will continue will depend on the situation. Situation in pandemic times depends on what happens across our borders.

It is therefore time to rethink, to save, to spend on only simpler things. The government is broke. Spending will be tightened. This will start with cutting allowances and slashing salary if employees are forced to stay home. We have to adjust to the new normal.

Covid-19 has become the turning point. How do we draw a national vision from the pandemic? We have seen how we adapted during the lockdown. There are opportunities.

Food self-sufficiency seems to be a reality from how we reset ourselves. Besides our farmers, those who went back to the farms to grow grain and vegetables filled the gap. Butter churned in Radhi Trashigang is made available at Changzamtog after two days. With storage facility and efficient transport, cheese balled in Dagana is delivered to a Taba resident by evening. There are possibilities.

Travelling abroad is restricted. We are seeing growing local attractions, from glamping to spiritual tours. It will be a long time before tourism bounces back. It is an opportunity to prepare a clear high-end tourism policy.

The pandemic has given us the opportunity to make it a turning point. Our decisions, thus far, guided by His Majesty at the helm, have gone in the right direction. How do we adjust to a post Covid-19 Bhutan, as a Bhutanese family should be the new concern.

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