Border gates to close from today  

Rajesh Rai  | Phuentsholing

From 6am today, all the border gates across the country will remain closed Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said.

Lyonchhen, who is in Phuentsholing announced this after His Majesty The King’s national address on television yesterday.

People and vehicles will not be allowed to travel across the border or enter into Bhutan except for authorised vehicles. Bhutanese who enter into Bhutan from these border areas will be allowed but will be quarantined.

In an interview, Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering, said that he was able to understand, from the national telecast, how much concerns His Majesty The King had for the people.

As per His Majesty The King’s command, the Prime Minister said the government will implement the contingency plans.

“From small items such as toothbrushes to baby foods, the government has everything ready in terms of necessary supplies,” he said. “There is no need to panic.”

As per His Majesty The King’s command, Lyonchhen said the government’s efforts are geared towards avoiding any casualties due to Covid-19. 

“Our target is zero death,” he said. “We must work together.”

He said that people need to take precautions while caring for elder people.    

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister had a series of meetings and discussions with relevant agencies and authorities in Phuentsholing after he arrived in Phuentsholing on the evening of March 21.

Talking to various workers’ groups and business communities, Lyonchhen said the government was going all out to prevent the virus, as it is the only way out. Phuentsholing being small and densely populated is a “hotspot,” he said.

Business community 

Meeting the Phuentsholing business community, Lyonchhen said the closing of the border gates would definitely hamper the businesses and country’s overall economy. At this moment, he said there is a fine line to draw between prevention of the disease and impact on the economy.

“But our mandate and priority are to prevent the Covid-19 right now,” he said, adding that the business would revive once the pandemic subsides.

To counter the economic slowdown, there are also various fiscal and monetary measures that are being discussed, the Prime Minister said, explaining that it would be in the public domain once it is finalised. It is one of the best packages and would benefit the overall economy and the losses will be minimised at an individual level.

Although the 12th Plan activities and budgeting were already put in place, the government, with the need to spend because of the emergency, has asked the Gross National Happiness Commission to rework on the budget so that a certain budget is made available for the contingency programmes. Authorities are also exploring means to relax the corporate income tax, business income tax, and bank interest rates on loans, Lyonchhen said.

Hotels

Lyonchhen also met hoteliers in Phuentsholing who have voluntarily offered their facilities as quarantine centres.

Although the hoteliers had offered free rooms and services and charged just a minimal fee of Nu 600 (for an individual) for three meals per day, Lyonchhen said the government is ready to top-up on this fee.

“But the condition is that you keep all of your staff, which is our mandate,” he said.

Lyonchhen said that the hotels would not make any profit and that it would even be difficult to break-even despite the government top-up on the charges. “It is being done to minimise the loss and stress,” he said, adding that with the number of people getting quarantined expected to increase, eventually, hotels would suffer in the long run if they continue with the minimal fees.

After the discussion, it has been decided that a budget hotel will be offered Nu 1,000 per head (bed) and Nu 1,500 for two beds or more, which is inclusive of all charges. Three-star hotels will be offered Nu 1,200 per bed and Nu 2,000 for two beds or more.

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