With India in a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, words are going around that Bhutan should follow suit.
Technically, we are already in a lockdown. We share borders with India on three sides. All the borders are sealed. There is no movement of vehicles across the border with a few exceptions.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided for the total lockdown, asking its 1.3 billion people to stay home, because the country’s massive population can overwhelm the effort to fight the disease. India is crowded. The population and its density are challenging the effort to contain the virus.
A total lockdown, not allowing people to get out of their homes in not recommended as of today. Beyond a few towns, Bhutan is sparsely populated. If ever there is a need of a lockdown, it could be in a few towns like Thimphu, Paro and Phuentsholing.
A complete lockdown would mean no movement of people and vehicles except for a few crucial ones. With borders sealed indefinitely, we need to reap the advantage of what each dzongkhag is good for.
The sealing of borders and banning of import, especially vegetables could come as an opportunity for the country. It would be the first time to completely ban the import of vegetables. We know how bans in the past worked.
There is a rush at the centenary farmer’s market yesterday. There are vegetables, mostly from what vendors brought in before the closure of the border gates. The centenary market sells local produce including chillies in winter.
When the imported stock runs out, we will know the local capacity to supply vegetables. It will provide planners, authorities and implementers of regulations a real insight into what is imported, locally produced and other practices in the vegetable business. It could come handy in long-term planning.
Besides vegetables, we need not worry about other essentials. There is assurance of continuity from the highest authorities.
While many people were rushing to groceries and the vegetable market, His Majesty The King was in Phuentsholing to inspect the plans put in place to ensure uninterrupted supply of essential goods from India, in light of the closure of our borders, and the 21-day lockdown in India.
For us, it is fortunately the vegetable growing season. Harvest from places like Tsirang and the Punakha-Wangdue valley has started coming in. It may not be enough when vendors have to cater to hundreds of hotels. But with most hotels closed or business lowdown, local produce should meet the demand.
If there is a concern for price, authorities are one step ahead. They have warned of hoarding or hiking price and inspectors are keeping vigil.
There is no reason to panic or hoard. We can live a few weeks or months without imports. It is, in fact, a blessing in disguise to see our potential in many areas.
What we need to be concerned is about our health. By staying clean and safe, each one of us could be contributing to the fight against the spread of Covid-19.