No blanket ban on religious activities, says foreign minister 

MB Subba  

The joint parliamentary committee on March 18 recommended the government to discuss with the Zhung Dratshang on the possibility of closing monastic schools and colleges, including the private ones, as a precautionary measure against Covid-19.

The seven-member committee, which was formed to advise government on the COVID-19 crisis, stated that while all the schools remain closed throughout the country, monastic schools and colleges are still open as usual.

According to the committee, some monastic institutions have raised the need for clear directives on whether or not monastic schools should be closed and religious activities should be held.

“Monastic schools and colleges face the same risks of Covid-19 as schools and educational institutes,” chairman of the joint parliamentary committee, Dorji Wangdi, said.

However, Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that the Dratshang Lhentshog had assured that it would try its best to prevent the virus in their institutions.

He said that the people in monastic institutions were refraining from moving out as a precautionary measure.

The committee stated to the government that mass religious gatherings were taking place on a daily basis despite the advisories to discourage mass gatherings throughout the country.

The committee said that in absence of a clear directive, the monastic schools and colleges are not able to close down or resist from performing religious rituals (Drodoen) at the request of the public.

The committee recommended the government to discuss with the Zhung Dratsang regarding religious gatherings and come up with a clear directive.

In an earlier press briefing, Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that there was no blanket ban on religious activities that did not require big gatherings. He said that the public should practice precautionary measures and avoid forming crowds at religious activities.

Expressing its appreciation on the government’s efforts on Covid-19, the committee recommended the government to put in place stricter monitoring measures at all the land-border entry points.

The committee suggested that one measure could be requiring Bhutanese leaving the country for personal work and business for a short period through land-border entry points to deposit their citizenship identity cards. And the CIDs could be given back once their health status is checked.

This, according to the committee, will help segregate people who are entering into the country from abroad trying to escape the quarantining protocols and those who carry less risks of carrying the virus.

It also recommended the government to minimise the duration of stay in Bhutan to the extent possible for the non-Bhutanese from neighbouring countries.

The committee also recommended the government to make concerted efforts in the border towns to man the porous areas that can be potentially used to escape quarantining protocols, besides strictly closing the gates after 8 pm.

The committee stated that it is relatively easier to monitor people entering the country by air, but difficult to monitor those entering through overland entry points.

“If we do not have stringent monitoring systems at overland border entry points, we run the risk of rendering our whole preventive measures futile. There is a high risk of importing the virus through the land-border entry points,” it stated.

The committee applauded the decision of the government to close schools and recommended the government to explore the possibility to use the BBS2 platform to teach some of the important subjects of Classes X and XII.

“Using the platform will enable to teach the students of these two grades throughout the country with minimum human and financial resources,” it stated.