Card system to ease access to essential items

Yangchen C Rinzin

The capital city has been divided in 45 zones and shops identified to ease the lockdown in the capital whose residents had been complaining of not having access to essentials or vegetables in the last few days of the lockdown.

The relaxation, where each household received or will receive a card that allows them to shop from identified areas in their zone, was initiated on the command of His Majesty the King who commanded a special team to develop the card system.

The card, or movement card, will allow people to come out for three hours to shop, take a brisk walk, but it is not a permit to visit other homes or neighbours. Only shops like convenience stores, grocery shops, dairy and milk stores and pharmacies would be allowed to open.

Where there are no vegetable shops in the marked zone, packaged vegetables will be provided in grocery shops for people to buy.

However, many households after receiving the card learnt that the zones they fall in have neither grocery nor vegetables shops. A cardholder cannot get into another zone for shopping.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering during the press conference yesterday assured that an expert committee has worked out and would ensure temporary shops as an interim measure in places where there are no grocery or vegetable shops.

Lyonchhen said the government will try their best to make essentials available in the temporary shops, but it does not mean issuing permanent licenses to run shops in that area.

“Experts have already taken a lot of things into consideration and will work out accordingly,” Lyonchhen said. “However, the temporary shops will have only essential groceries, dairy products, vegetables, and pharmacies.” Lyonchhen added even in areas where there are many shops, they would not allow all the shops to open at the same time.

As of yesterday, many households have received the cards distributed by De-Suups at their door.

Head of the Office of Performance Management under His Majesty’s Secretariat, Karma Yonten during a panel discussion on the national television said that if the distribution of cards completes today, they would announce and open the shops by tomorrow. He said the strategy is a pilot project.

“The card issued is primarily for shopping and a brisk walk and movement will be strictly monitored,” he said. Karma Yonten said that people with children or people with disabilities should use the home delivery services. To discourage crowding, the cards have specific timings for three hours – from 8-11am, 12-3pm and 4-7pm. “One must remain in their confined zone and not be outside for more than the allocated time,” Karma Yonten said. Shoppers cannot use vehicles.

Karma Yonten said that to make stocks available in the identified shops, the team is preparing a list of shops in all these 45 zones and link them with wholesalers in Thimphu.

“If people violate the timing provisions, we would first give them a warning, seize the card for a week if they repeat for the second time and deal them with appropriate laws if they violate it for the third time,” he said.

A total of about 31,000 cards are expected to be distributed by this evening. Shopkeepers should sanitise shops, keep washing facilities and both customers and shopkeepers must wear masks.

The government will announce the names of the identified shops and timing soon. A review will be done to see if it functions as planned or if more shops need to be opened.  “It will depend on the cooperation of the people,” said Karma Yonten.

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