What we saw yesterday, in Thimphu and some parts of the country, was what we have repeatedly seen over the years and what we will continue to see. Traffic was heightened from early morning with worried shoppers, faces half covered with dust masks, rushing to grocery shops, pharmacies, the vegetable market – in fact all shops selling basic necessities.
It’s the one time we move fast – when we sense the risk of personal hazards – when we panic. It is a natural sense of self-defense, a reaction to fear, whether it is serious threat to life and limb or to simply to avoid inconveniences. And it is a universal trait.
The reason for this week’s chaotic scenario is the arrival of the Coronavirus in Bhutan. The first case was detected in Thimphu late on March 5, when an American tourist tested positive, and social media conveyed the tragic news across Bhutanese society where nearly everyone carries a mobile phone.
The first observation is that social media does what it does best – or worst. With the news shared on the numerous channels that Bhutanese use, nearly every man, woman, and child in Thimphu was thrown into states of mind that ranged from mild concern to panic. It is also because our sense of vulnerability has been fanned by media headlines across the globe.
So we rush to the shops and hoard necessities. It used to be rice and chilli in the past. Now it is bottled water and toiletries, besides food. Not to mention the dust masks, that is largely useless under the circumstances, and some medication.
But, as fast as we are to sink into panic, we are equally quick to forget. And this may be the turnaround, although a back-handed one. If we do not detect more infections, or even if we do not see a rapid spread of the virus, we will soon be back to normal. After the initial alarm, we lose steam.
The sight of nearly every resident of Thimphu walking around in masks is thought provoking, and worrying. It has been repeatedly announced the normal masks we buy off the street do not help anyone except those who sell them. If at all, we need to use specialist masks that are not cheap and not easy to find. And they are known to cause claustrophobia even for doctors who use them during surgery.
So should we panic? No. Should we hoard? A big no. Should we be worried? Yes. Under the circumstances we should be worried and take every precaution we can, in terms of personal hygiene and avoid risky places and crowds.
But we should move on with our daily work and routines because life must go on.