PMO’s notification and MOH’s clarification confuse people

Nima Wangdi and Tashi Dema

Two days after the relaxation of lockdown in the capital, a cautionary notice from the Prime Minister’s Office of possible lockdown in Thimphu when updating the Covid-19 situation in the dzongkhags created panic and confusion among the capital’s residents.

The update on the Facebook page of the Prime Minister’s Office requested that everyone remain vigilant as lockdowns could come at any time, given the frequency of travel and the increasing gatherings, especially in Thimphu. It also urged people to maintain adequate stock of essentials and be mindful of the threat that looms amid the pandemic.

Many took it as a notice for another lockdown.

Within 30 minutes, the Ministry of Health (MoH) issued a notification “Rumour Check” stating that rumours that Thimphu thromde would be placed under immediate lockdown are not true. “We would like to request the general public to kindly refrain from sharing such rumours as it causes unnecessary panic among the general public in unnecessary gatherings and overcrowding.”

Panic and crowding was what resulted from the two public notices from the PMO and MoH. Many were calling friends, officials and the media to confirm the rumour. Some took to social media to blame the government for not being clear, creating confusion by not coordinating in issuing public notices when the people are still confused with the Covid-19 situation and the government’s handling of it.

A private employee, Sonam, said the notifications were confusing and it appears the MoH and PMO are not coordinating. “A lack of coordination might impact the people.” Another private employee, Tshering, said such conflicting messages are unacceptable. “It’s not helping anyone. People are already confused. It’s just aggravating the situation.”

Besides the notifications, some are questioning the list of red buildings, as they claim many cordoned off buildings are not listed as red buildings.

When work in offices resumed on February 14, many panicked when some secondary contacts came to work without going into quarantine. “A secondary contact came to the office and everyone in the office was worried when it was found that the official did not even undergo a Covid-19 test,” one said.

Similarly, employees of a financial institution were worried when rumours spread that an employee of their office tested positive.

Sharing the PMO’s press release on his social media page, a candidate of a political party, Karma Loday, wondered if the month-long lockdown was lifted based on expert’s assessment that except for the cordoned red building, the city is virus-free. “Does it mean that there are still people with active viruses moving about in the crowd? Why was the lockdown lifted if the mass testing was inconclusive?”


Rumour check not contradicting PMO

Meanwhile, officials from the MoH said their notification titled ‘Rumour Check’ does not contradict the press release from the PMO.

“We just clarified that the rumour of lockdown since yesterday afternoon was not true, while PMO’s notice was a caution to the general public about lockdown being possible at any time,” an official said.

The official also said the notification had to be sent out since the rumour was panicking people resulting in crowding when going to buy essentials. “Many people also called hotline numbers and officials asking if there would be a lockdown. Some people also called for RT-PCR tests to escape Thimphu before they got stranded in Thimphu.”

On the secondary contacts, the official said they keep secondary contacts under surveillance depending upon the degree of risk. “No type of contact is neglected and they are under surveillance.”