Learning from the pandemic year

The Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa government completed two years in governance yesterday. The second year, which the government looked forward to after laying the foundation however, was overshadowed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The pandemic, which started as early as March, derailed the government’s entire plan. All attention was diverted in containing the virus. Development activities and promises could wait. The health of the people and the nations became the priority.

Livelihoods were impacted. Businesses came to a halt and the economy spiralled into negative figures. But as we look at the government’s second year, most are forgiving. Many are not as critical as expected in their assessment of the government’s performance.

If 2020 is a pandemic year, the government, guided by the wisdom and leadership of His Majesty The King, has done well on the Covid-19 front.  Bhutan is one of the few countries where not a single case of death from Covid-19 was recorded. We have managed to prevent a full-blown community transmissions and a successful nationwide lockdown.

Several sectors, especially in the private sector, felt the biggest impact. Tourism, a lucrative source of revenue and employment, the airline business and the service sector, took a big beating. Thousands of Bhutanese lost jobs overnight. With strict restrictions imposed to contain the spread of the virus and save the population from the pandemic, manufacturing and the construction sectors, and export and import, suffered a battering.

The second year, from the Covid-19 angle, was a year of coming together. Led by His Majesty The King, Bhutanese came out to answer the call of the nation. From farmers offering vegetables to rich business contributing cash and thousands volunteering to serve a country in need, it was a successful year.

The Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu came as a masterstroke, as it rescued thousands of Bhutanese from the impact of the pandemic. Notwithstanding the cost and the risk, the government, on the command of His Majesty, facilitated the return of thousands of Bhutanese living overseas. Millions of ngultrums have been spent on quarantine facilities and feeding, for free, the returnees.

The Covid-19 year was also successful in terms of reminding us that we are heading in the wrong direction. The pandemic exposed how dependent we were on many things, starting from vegetables. While many are cursing the pandemic, we are silently thanking the pandemic for reminding us of our priorities.

Thousands of people returned to farming and hundreds joined the construction sector to fill the gaps left by expatriate workers. The education sector was forced to implement decisions that were planned years ago. The agriculture sector was reminded of food self-sufficiency that our leaders recognised decades ago.

It would be wrong to interpret a pandemic year as a fortunate year. But if we can draw lessons and translate them into national visions for the future, we will not only have a third successful year, but many more such fruitful years. 2020 could be the turning point.

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