Tshering Palden 

In the entire period Bhutan battled Covid-19 Pandemic, Bhutanese from across the society say there was one obvious critical factor that united the Bhutanese people, inspired the frontline workers, motivated those infected and supported those needy as their kidu gi pham: His Majesty The King. 

The Speaker of National Assembly, Wangchuk Namgyel echoed these sentiments of the Bhutanese people when he thanked His Majesty, at the inauguration of the Parliament last year, for tirelessly spearheading responses and travelling across the country disregarding his personal safety and health in combating the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuring His citizens had enough to eat and taken care of.

“The people are so grateful for the King’s benevolence and hold it dear to their hearts,” Wangchuk Namgyel said.

Despite all the measures and efforts, the Covid-19 pandemic overwhelmed us. The ripple effect of the pandemic brought almost everything to a standstill. From tourism to hotels to businesses, the pandemic had an impact. Lives and livelihoods were disrupted; everybody needed a helping hand.

But as Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering would repeat throughout the pandemic, His Majesty’s command was to leave no stone unturned to ensure the safety and welfare of the people both within and elsewhere in the world.

A systemic response, overseen by His Majesty himself came into play. From creating task forces to handle administrative and bureaucratic processes to distributing rations, vaccines, medicines, and repatriating Bhutanese living aboard, it was His Majesty’s foresight and wisdom that guided Bhutan’s course through the pandemic with ingenuity.

While the Covid-19 restrictions around the world have been relaxed by June 2022, about half the world’s population didn’t get the opportunity to avail vaccination. In Bhutan, despite resource constraints, every one, young or old, had at least three rounds of Covid-19 vaccination which was the most effective solution to prevent casualties. 

De-suups and health workers delivered the vaccines on foot through snow, swelling rivers and remote hermitages via helicopters and on their backs. Bhutan arguably ran the fastest vaccination campaign to be executed during a pandemic.

What was very unique to Bhutan was the country calling back all its citizens from the Covid-19 affected countries. Thousands of Bhutanese living abroad were encouraged to return home to safety. For those who chose to remain away, vaccines were supplied to them.

Amidst the pandemic, more than 100 Bhutanese women trafficked to Iraq were brought back with the State paying for their travels and the entire operation. “If not for His Majesty The King’s benevolence, I wouldn’t have seen my parents and son,” said Tashi, who joined De-suung and volunteered for national service since the second lockdown. “This is the only way I can thank His Majesty The King.”

Tashi said that most women, who went to Iraq, were from economically disadvantaged families and would never be in a position to pay USD 7,000 each to the agents there. “We were rescued by His Majesty’s compassion and love.”

Under His Majesty’s guidance, Bhutan’s response to Covid-19 remained second to none and served as a testimony of how compassionate and visionary leaders can make a difference in the world.

For those who had no means to feed their families, His Majesty commanded ration support  through the Office of the Gyalpoi Zimpon. It was initiated during the first lockdown and after four lockdowns, it served 4,127 applicants benefiting 14,565 people with some basic essential items for the household.

Upon the command of His Majesty, the National Resilience Fund (NRF) was set up in April 2020 to provide economic relief to people through the Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu (DGRK). 

The DGRK received a total of 67,761 kidu applications from April 2020 – September 2022, of which 35,460 were male and 32,301 female applicants. Of the total,  about 87 percent (58,732) of the kidu applicants received kidu at least once, 4,105 (6.1%) kidu applicants received kidu for the whole 30 months. Thimphu dzongkhag has the highest number of Kidu applicants with 25,944 kidu applicants. The majority of the kidu applicants were from the tourism and tourism-dependent sectors, with 14,913 applicants. A total of Nu 5,157.26  million was granted as relief kidu to 58,732 applicants including child allowance of Nu 155.28 million.

Besides, a total of Nu 674.65 million was granted as lockdown kidu to 37,762 applicants. Of the total lockdown kidu recipients, 53 percent (20,185) were male and 47 percent (17,577) were female.

Bhutanese working overseas/ gulf countries were also granted income support for three months. A total of Nu 17.15 million was granted to 678 overseas/gulf applicants in three months.

Residents of Phuentsholing were granted the Special Lockdown Kidu due to the prolonged lockdown in the area. The special kidu was granted to 2,484 households amounting to Nu 84.01 million.

Those who contracted the virus were ecstatic to find neatly wrapped colourful parcels from His Majesty and Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen with a simple hand-written note wishing them a quick recovery. The kind gesture from Their King and Queen eased the pain and lifted their spirits. “I forgot the virus then,” one said.

Agay Drukzang, 87, of Wangdue basks in the winter sun and recounts his experience. “We were nervous that the pandemic would mean the end for me and my wife, 85. Thanks to the supplements and the concerns for us, we didn’t even catch a cold.”

“We can’t find words to express our gratitude to Him.”

The country recorded 62,653 Covid-19 cases and only 21 deaths, all of them with pre-existing illnesses, as of January 2023.

The former Indian Ambassador to Bhutan, Ruchira Kamboj put it succinctly: “Through the course of the pandemic, His Majesty has led from the front. He has exemplified rare leadership in an ever-changing, ever-chaotic world. He has stood unwavering in his approach,  instilling hope and faith within his people. Today, Bhutan proudly stands as a fully vaccinated country – a consequence of swift distribution and bold action. None of this would have been possible without His Majesty, a true Bodhisattva King.”

Today, thousands will gather at the Changlimithang, Thimphu and at the sacred temples and holy sites to offer prayers for the wellbeing and long life of His Majesty The King on His 43rd birth anniversary as the country rejoices the birth of a true ‘People’s King’.