Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Two and half years ago when the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world, the government decided to close its borders to protect the people. With increasing cases in the region, including in neighbouring states, the Phuentsholing border was closed.

In the border town of Phuentsholing, the Prime Minister and other key officials listened to His Majesty The King’s address to the nation in the evening of March 22, 2020, on a screen at the Royal Institute for Governance and Strategic Studies (RIGSS) building.

Three days later on March 25, the RIGSS building was converted as the Southern Covid-19 centre, as per the Royal Command, following which the Southern Covid-19 Task Force (SC19TF) was initiated. The centre for learning, as many call it, the RIGSS building became the centre of ideas. As the country battled against the deadly Covid-19 virus, it became the centre for strategies to fight the pandemic.

Major announcements that had bearing on the nation’s Covid-19 actions were planned at the RIGSS building. Decisions regarding the cross-border movement of people, quarantine routines and facilities, and import-export strategies that affected the entire country were all taken at the RIGSS building.

On September 30, the management of RIGSS took back its building from Phuentsholing General Hospital (PGH).

A few officials attended the simple handing-taking over the ceremony. However, the significance was much bigger than the ceremony. It was about Bhutan’s success in the fight against the novel Coronavirus that had killed millions around the world and disrupted economies and the very way of life people lived.

For Bhutan and Phuentsholing in particular, it was about the success of handling Covid-19 even if we have not won the battle.

As a border town, Phuentsholing posed the biggest risk of Covid-19 importation and transmission given its trading nature and porous borders. The RIGSS building became the centre of every decision that was taken for the good of the country.

Led by an SC19TF chairman, decision-makers toiled throughout the nights to come to decisions that would have bearing on the battle on the ground. The SC19TF team had four Chairmen of which one served twice. An official even superannuated when he was working with the Task Force at the RIGSS building.

On February 19, 2022, the RIGSS building was converted into the “mother and child healthcare” centre. This health service was separated from the PGH and brought to the RIGSS for safety owing to the vulnerability of mothers and children. Every day, 60 to 100 patients were seen.

RIGSS director Chewang Rinzin said infrastructure was one of the key resources during the peak of the pandemic among others such as leadership and expertise.

“It is a momentous occasion for the whole country today as we take it back from PGH,” he said. “This is because it shows that the situation has improved. It shows that Covid-19 is under control. It shows that the new normal is here and better days are ahead.”

Chewang Rinzin offered RIGSS’s deepest of gratitude to His Majesty The King for his selfless leadership, services and all the sacrifices made for the people and country.

RIGSS hostel at Rinchending was also converted as Phuentsholing’s Covid-19 isolation centre as per the Royal Command. A total of 1,348 Covid-19 patients were treated at the isolation centre.

“This has not only helped our health sector, but it has actually helped the larger population,” Chewang Rinzin said.

Now that the building is back with its management, the RIGSS is expecting to continue its regular programmes and events with renewed zeal.

“We will be looking for newer and impactful programmes in keeping with the transformation underway in the country, particularly in public services,” director Chewang Rinzin said.

However, both the RIGSS building and the hostel at Rinchending will have to go through some repair and maintenance work. RIGSS hostel will need major revamping as it was used as a hospital. On October 10, the RIGSS will complete its 9th year since its inception in 2013.