The government deserves commendations for doing away with home quarantine.

Bhutan temporarily shut down all its international borders from 6am yesterday. Covid-19 has not only entered the region but some of the neighbouring countries are reporting positive cases at an alarming rate.

The government’s decision to close the borders, therefore, comes at the right time. The scare is growing and there will be small disruptions and inconveniences. But there is no reason to panic. What this short-term closedown gives us is the critically needed focus.

Bhutan’s biggest challenge since the first Covid-19 positive case in the country has been people breaching home quarantine protocols. Many countries, in the region and beyond, are battling the same problem. When education and awareness do not seem to help, better measures and more effective protocols must be adopted. More important, our response ought to be swift.

Facility quarantine is the best option we have to reduce the risk of Covid-19 spreading like wildfire.

Globally, 186 countries have been affected by Covid-19. That means the decease has reached almost all the countries in the world. With people ignoring health advisories and protocols, the danger of the disease spreading further remains. And this could be devastating.

Bhutan has so far tested close to 500 samples. Close to 2,000 people have been placed on facility quarantine and 299 on home quarantine. The problem is that home quarantine, in the context of our society, can be counterproductive to our battle against the pandemic. The arrangements made by the government and health professionals reportedly are being taken worryingly lightly.

The decision to make facility quarantine mandatory for all Bhutanese returning home is, therefore, highly appreciated. This means all individuals, irrespective of age, except perhaps in special medical cases, will now be placed on facility quarantine. 

What we need to understand is that facility quarantine is not detention. It is about safety. In some of the severely affected countries, such strict restrictions have resulted in a dramatic decline in Covid-19 incidences. In Hubei in China, for example, the number of new cases fell from 1,600 each day to 36 within a month after social distancing measures.

At a time when the whole nation is faced with one of the biggest challenges in recent memory, honesty, integrity, and sincerity are vitally important. There is exceptional care being taken by the government and the limited health professionals. Adequate care alone, it has been observed, can reduce the threat of the disease by almost 85 percent.

But we have a unique case to deal with. In many countries, it is the poverty and crowdedness that is the problem. Here, in Bhutan, the rich and the powerful could be helping defeat the government’s efforts to keep Covid-19 at bay. Why and how is this happening?

Implementation of rules has been our biggest weakness. We cannot afford such laxity today. The laws are clear. Individuals failing to comply with the national emergency of this magnitude are liable for criminal nuisance. That the government is ready to bring the full weight of Penal Code of Bhutan 2004 to bear on them is reassuring.

Otherwise, the entire national effort, resource strapped as we are, could go in vain. This is the real danger facing the nation today.