An atmosphere of calm has returned to Thimphu after the new coronavirus scare earlier this month.
People have started going on with their daily lives, Norzin Lam, the capital’s main thoroughfare, is busy again. Shops have reopened; there is no panic and, some in quarantine left for home without any symptoms.
Stringent measures like mandatorily quarantining Bhutanese returning home are in place. Those in quarantine are appreciating and thanking the government for the comfort they are provided even when they are separated from their family and friends.
But we should be concerned. From what is happening around the world, including in our region, there are reasons to be more concerned. Since the new coronavirus was first detected in China in December 2019, it has now spread to about 141 countries.
The situation in the worst affected countries like Italy, France, South Korea, and Spain is beyond comprehension. These are developed countries and the pictures of empty streets, subway stations, tourist sites and sporting arenas presents us scenes of Hollywood zombie movies.
Some countries are in the state of complete shutdown. It is that bad.
Cases are increasing daily in the region, including in neighbouring India. From the situation, it is not about if but about when a positive case is reported close to our doors. The risk is that real.
We need to be alert. This is not to scare people, but to warn about our complacency. The notifications, restrictions and the preparedness of the health ministry will work only if people cooperate. Given our experience with disasters, we are not good at it.
We have a tendency to rush to the riverside when there is a warning of a flash flood. We rush to witness a fire and crowd or clog roads when there is a vehicle accident. Perhaps this arises from not experiencing huge disasters. We have not experienced a serious disaster in recent memories.
On the economic front, all of us are aware that it will be hit hard. Experts have nothing encouraging to say. The impact the disease is going to leave, economists say, could be worse than the 2008 global crisis. If the current crisis is more complicated, we are more connected and more vulnerable than we were in 2008.
The demand is for fiscal or monetary policies like slashing interest rates or deferring loan repayments, which experts say is not going to work. The government is aware of this and has asked our own experts to tailor-make strategies that suit us.
What economists suggest is financially supporting workers who are forced out of work, small businesses at risk of bankruptcy, guides and waiters seeing their earnings collapse. This government is well aware and drawing a similar strategy.
The priority today is still preventing our people from getting the virus. If we have health, we will have the energy to work around an economic crisis. What we should do is be prepared for this.
The best preparation is realising that there can be a storm after the calm.