Remote Jomotsangkha is under a lot of pressure. It is reporting a surge in Covid-19 positive cases. Increasing cases like the record single-day case of 79 people testing positive is overwhelming facilities in Jomotsangkha.
Response is on the way. Isolation centres are established in the gewogs, medical help, both equipment and manpower – doctors and nurses, swab collectors and de-suups are being deployed to the reclusive drungkhag.
The risk of Jomotsangkha becoming the epicentre of a nationwide outbreak is imminent. Jomotsangkha in May last year claimed to have everything in place after the initial scare of a community transmission.
The virus spread from the drungkhag to other places in eastern Bhutan. Remote Merak, which many felt was the safest place to be in the country during the pandemic experienced lockdowns and cases are shooting up. In short, eastern and southern Bhutan are at a huge risk. Worse, they could be the start of a disaster if we let our guards down.
We are, if not cautious, heading for that. The stage, like many say, is set not only for the bye-elections in two constituencies, Mongar and Nganglam, but ready to become the super spreader event. There is a debate whether the presidents of the two political parties should campaign for their candidates in the constituencies. Election campaigns need people to gather to listen to the pledges and promises. It is in other words, creating the perfect ground for the virus to spread.
Nganglam in the south doesn’t have a case today. But we cannot be assured. The word today in a pandemic time is caution. We have heard and witnessed how gatherings become super spreaders in the region. In neighbouring India, the second wave is attributed to the election rallies and the festivals which threw Covid-19 protocols out of the window.
The absence of cases should not blind us. Knowing the novel coronavirus and the uncertainties surrounding it, we could be surprised.
Lest we forget, the problem in Jomotsangkha was because people gathered in numbers to listen to preaching and unfortunately, there was one positive case that spread the virus. We are heading to become a mini West Bengal where election campaigns became the fertile grounds for the virus. The Kumbh festival is attributed for spreading the virus in remote villages in many states in India.
At home, the mini gathering for the choekhor in Lauri gewog and the Nyungney in Serthi became the source of community transmission. People returning to their villages took along the virus.
We have also learnt that celebrating success over Covid-19 could backfire. In an interview with CNN international, the Prime Minister lauded Bhutan’s vaccination drive. Soon after, we reported a case in Jomotsangkha that has become the focus of our fight against the virus.
Elections in the midst of a pandemic are not received well. Many are questioning whether we should have postponed the bye-election. One question that is on many minds is what difference would two more candidates elected make during a pandemic year. What difference could the two more elected representatives bring if the elections become the source of a wider spread? It is about ifs, but during an emergency, the Covid-19 pandemic is an emergency situation, a bye election could wait.
In towns or dzongkhags that have not seen a case, the feeling is that everything is normal and warnings and cautions are misinterpreted as being paranoid. Having seen how the virus takes a toll on lives and livelihoods, it is better to be paranoid and prepared than regret our actions. It is all about knowing the priorities.