Call toll-free number—1214

As the threat of coronavirus enters Asia—the number of cases in Thailand has reached 19, two in India and one in Nepal—Bhutan has been upping its capacity to deal with the outbreak. In China, in Wuhan from where the outbreak began, the number of infected cases has crossed more than 14,000.

For Bhutan it has become critically necessary to not only beef up surveillance at entry points, but also inform and educate the people regularly. Prime minister has asked the speaker’s permission to update on the disease before every session of the on-going parliament. That will not be enough, however.

We have now come to the point when we have to decide whether to close down borders or cancel international flights to destinations where cases of coronavirus are growing.

The ministry of agriculture has advised the people to refrain from importing and consuming food, vegetables and meat items from unidentified sources. What is important though is that our people should be aware of the dangers. Our focus today has to be how efficiently to take the message to the farthest corners of our country.

Prime minister is regularly meeting with the representatives from different agencies and members of disaster management authority to fully understand the situation and preparedness of the country.

It might not be an emergency situation in Bhutan yet, but we can ill afford to take it easy. If there is a coordination failure, we can be overwhelmed in the matter of a few hours. For seamless coordination in case the virus comes to Bhutan, we need to write and call; we need to do by much more. If all these lead to creating panic, all the better although that isn’t the media’s real intention because fear or the knowledge of something dangerous that could visit us is always good.

Preparations cannot go well without information. Because coronavirus is a new disease and we get to know only a little more about it from the new cases, the media have the responsibility to write about it so that our people know what they ought to do to keep the disease at bay. 

That the government, health ministry in particular, is managing formal and informal entries into the country, taking precautionary steps to avoid all possible risks gives us some comfort.

But even as much is being done to protect our people from the deadly disease, some people, particularly retail shopkeepers, have found it convenient—very shocking indeed—to maximise their profits. Overnight the cost of medical equipment has ratchet up. There are reports that some businesses are hoarding vital medical products and equipment because tourists are now paying fat money.

Economic affairs ministry’s office of consumer protection has notified that such unfair practices, if found, will be punished. But how are we monitor whether such things are happening in the country?

Here is the toll-free number—1214. If you are in the know who is hoarding vital medical products and equipment, call this number. In a situation like this, such things that can protect people should in fact be made free.

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