It is called the deadly virus, the virus that is never slowing down and now declared a pandemic. The coronavirus has shut down places, en masse, separated and isolated people all over the world.
In Bhutan, five days after the first positive case was reported, it has brought the Bhutanese people together. After the initial fear and anger, the people have realised the importance of being together to face the reality.
From prayer ceremonies to voluntary contributions and offering help, in cash or kind, there is solidarity in containing the disease. The panic level has subsided. What overtook it is the understanding that we can contain the disease by being together.
This is an indication of the uniqueness of the Bhutanese people. We may love or hate each other, but when it’s time to come together, we can be a good example.
What inspired the people most was the selfless leadership of His Majesty The King. While many were engaged in a blame game and looking for scapegoats, His Majesty The King had been personally supervising the activities and providing wisdom to the core team involved in dealing with the first case. Since the news of the first case, His Majesty had spent more time at the health ministry providing guidance to the Prime Minister and his team.
If the purpose of leadership is to inspire, there is no better inspiration than His Majesty’s sacrifices in the wake of the news of COVID-19.
Inspired and encouraged, Bhutanese have come together to fight for a common cause. The opposition provided its appreciation and support when in other counties the disease is politicised and used as weapon to attack the government.
We have a positive COVID-19 case. The patient is receiving the best care and showing signs of improvement. The focus is on stopping the spread and ensuring that those suspected are monitored. The hope and prayers are one – to not hear any more cases.
It is not the time to panic or create panic. Nobody has succumbed to the disease yet. We know there are more people dying every day because of other problems. The common flu causes up to 5 million cases of severe illness worldwide and kills up to 650,000 people every year, according to the World Health Organization.
Road accidents, alcohol and lifestyle diseases at home, for instance, claim more lives and it is happening everyday.
What each of us can contribute individually is by being safe and not creating rumours or fake news. Experiences from countries, successful in containing the disease, show that stringent measure widely supported by the public is slowing down the rate of spread.
Beyond cash and kind, disseminating the correct information could help the government and the health staff. Most people panic because of lack of reliable information.
It is time we use local government officials to spread the right message. Those who are better informed, like civil servants or corporate employees could call their relatives in the village to inform them so that they will not restrict a visiting official from Thimphu enter a village lhakhang.
If the single case tested our preparedness, we have not failed. And the government is looking beyond. Works are on to prepare for a ‘red zone” status, the worst-case situation. Being calm and concerned could help those working do their job.