If we can judge the awareness level of the society on the Coronavirus, we are not bad. The news of two tourists put under observation at the Phuentsholing hospital yesterday became a huge concern to the public.
In the light of the disease spreading at an alarming rate, there is fear and rightly so. Some called for, and are still calling on, although not officially, on the government to put restriction on tourists until the Coronavirus issue subsides.
From the reactions, it was a good litmus test on how the people would react if positive cases were confirmed in the country. Everybody is aware how severe the virus is, which has now become pandemic. They are aware of how it is spread.
However, there is still a lot to do. With the virus spreading to at least one new country almost every day, all eyes are on the COVID-19. Most fear that if the virus reaches neighbouring India, which has already, it will be a matter of when and not if it would reach Bhutan.
The porous border and the free movement of people make us vulnerable.
What is more concerning is the rumours. Kuensel broke the news about the tourists, their guides and drivers put under observation. The rumour that spread was that Bhutan has reported its first COVID-19 case.
Investigating suspected cases is a procedure. The tourists didn’t have fever after thorough check-ups at the Phuentsholing hospital. Those who referred them to the hospital did a good job. They suspected fever and sent them to the hospital. That is the normal procedure.
With anonymous people on social media becoming instant source of news, it is not helping people.
One piece of advice we should heed is that while we should be concerned because thousands of deaths and infections in several thousands is a serious problem, we should understand the situation.
We should not spread rumours and create panic.
Mainstream media break news not to compete but to convey verified and correct information. In today’s case, to beat social media exaggerating it.
If ever there is a case, the government will not conceal information. In fact, the health ministry is updating regularly what they are doing in the face of the pandemic. We have seen how hiding information is not helping in the fight against the virus. We do not expect officials calling media to not inform the people about real threats.
With neighbouring Sikkim state banning travellers, including Bhutanese from yesterday, calls on banning tourists will get louder. The government will have to make a choice based on reasoned decisions – to protect the tourism business during the tourist peak season or follow countries that restricted visitors from Coronavirus affected countries.
If we have alternatives and are confident of containing an outbreak, which even developed countries are struggling, we would be lucky. It could be too late when the first case is confirmed.
As of yesterday, 200 tourists, some from severely affected countries like Italy, Germany, South Korea and Singapore entered Bhutan through Phuentsholing.