Picture of first lockdown in Thimphu

Yangyel Lhaden

In the wee hours of August 11 the government declares a lockdown. The people panic; there is a mad rush at the vegetable and grocery stores. The sudden shut down caught many asleep at the wheel, so to speak.

What next? Service delivery is on the fritz. It would take days to get the systems fixed so that the people are not unnecessarily inconvenienced.

And there were the “stranded”—the people who were caught in between and could go nowhere. Thimphu dzongkhag administration has records of the stranded people and services rendered to them during the lockdown.

Snapshots of cases

A couple made an urgent call on toll-free numbers from a hotel asking for immediate transportation service to return to their families.

Sleepover. It’s a culture. Many a young individual had to head home. There were unreasonable calls from parents, some even threatening to breach the lockdown.

Cultures, traditions and belief systems can sometimes be a problem. At the crematorium, a body did not have all the parts before cremation. The deceased had undergone a brain surgery. Reportedly, part of skull was missing. The dzongkhag had to arrange movement permit to deliver the missing part.

Construction workers at Pumla tried to sneak away to Punakha. They told the dzongkhag officials that they had run out of food supplies. Essential items were delivered but the workers still made an attempt to get away. They had reached Motithang and were sent back to Pumla. One was allowed to head home to Punakha because of genuine reasons. The patrolling team intercepted them at Sangaygang after a few days, drenched in rain.

A young man living under traffic police office went viral on social media which caught the attention of the dzongkhag administration officials. The dzongkhag officials felt that the issue was genuine and helped him out. He was sent to a guesthouse at the national referral hospital where he created commotion. He was detained and then was sent home.

Issuing movement permit for vehicles was another major problem, especially in Mongar, Samtse, and Haa security check posts. The vehicles were carrying passengers not listed in the permit list. Thimphu dzongkhag administration had to consult and discuss the issue with the incident commander of each dzongkhag to allow movement of people and vehicles.

The delivery of essential items was hampered when two bridges, one in Zhodu, Lingzhi and the other in Shana, Paro were washed away. Five horses carrying essential items were washed away at Shana. At Zamthangka, Lingzhi a landslide hampered the supply of essential items. The bridges and the roads were immediately restored.

A father and his daughter were stranded in a hotel in Thimphu. With the hotel closed, the father made a call because they had nothing to eat the whole day. The food had to be catered and they were sent to their relatives’ before their movement got approved.

On the first day of lockdown, a woman from Babesa asked for emergency contraceptive pill. This came in as an interesting case as the dzongkhag administration was tasked to deliver only essential medical services. Following the case, all the satellite clinics were stocked with contraceptives. Delivery of contraceptives was then given a priority.

A businessperson challenged the dzongkhag administration for not allowing him to open his retail store. A man ordered five kg rice, 1.5 kg potatoes, a bundle of sag, and half a kilogram of onions. Such individual cases caused disruptions in service delivery arrangements.

Lesson

Service delivery system can go wrong and that can make matters more problematic. That’s what exactly happened in Thimphu during the first ever lockdown.

There will henceforth be one toll-free number in each dzongkhag to avoid confusion. Vehicle and human resource will be identified and enhanced. Retailers and wholesalers would be identified in all the zones and subzones.

There is a need for a much sensible and functional coordination among the many agencies involved. More important, there has to be clear and concise direction from a central agency.

All these are being put in place.

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