Jigme Wangchuk

Thursday, April 2 — He’s done his morning prayers and breakfast too. It is 9am. In about 30 minutes from now he is going to be out briefly for physical exercise. This is a regimen Namgay Dorji, 41, has designed for himself to kill time.

This is Namgay Dorji’s 17th day in Kichu Resort in Paro, one of the many Covid-19 quarantine centres in the country. He continues to educate people on the importance of quarantine by live streaming events from the centre.

“The day I landed in Paro, I got really worried,” says Namgay Dorji. “I did not know what quarantine was. I thought I might get locked up in a dark room with no access to the outside world.”

That was after he picked up the Kuensel issue of the day onboard the Drukair. He had gone to Kathmandu in Nepal. His wife, from Hong Kong, was supposed to fly in to Paro but Bhutan had by then announced a ban on tourists and foreigners. Law Yee Mui had to fly back to Hong Kong.

Namgay has become more health-conscious since then. He does 30 push-ups in a day, some stretching and serious fast walking. A golf aficionado, he feels he is now fast becoming a Himalayan yogi.

“To keep myself sane, I talk to my wife every day. She is doing fine. And I talk to my mother,” says Namgay. But he is determined to educate the people in his own simple ways.

Chimi Wangmo, Namgay’s 85-year-old mother, worries about her son. Namgay calls her every day to assuage her pain. What quarantine is, she doesn’t know. She thinks her son’s done something really bad and is locked up in a cell.

“The moment I landed in Paro I called her. That was 17th of March. I told her I would be home after 14 days. She is good with numbers. Now that quarantine period has been extended, she is more worried,” says Namgay. “She is now really beginning to believe that I have come in conflict with law.”

Mui is worried too. She feels that she put her husband through all these complications unnecessarily.

“Our King and the government have done so much already to keep our people safe. So I decided to educate people on the importance of quarantine from my room every day. That’s the least I can do. It struck me suddenly that there could be many people like me who did not understand what quarantine was,” says Namgay. “When we are going through such difficult times, I thought I could contribute in my small ways to educate the people.”

It is a lot better now. In the beginning, Namgay was even accused of bringing Covid-19 into the country. “That did not bother me. I knew fear would make us more vulnerable. Positive messages and stories are critically important.”

Rich and powerful are messing things up, says Namgay. And this is the real danger facing the country today. Bhutan now has the fifth Covid-19 positive cases. The recent one could have been the most dangerous. Information about it is scarce still. Why?

“I have not missed one live streaming since my first day in the centre. I can handle it all right but young people might need some counselling services. Passing time in the quarantine centres can be very difficult,” says Namgay. “I have always been a religious person. Prayers keep me sane.”

When Namgay first began live streaming, he was met with criticisms galore. Some called him the bringer of Covid-19. Others called him thankless and rude.

“The fact is we still need some serious Covid-19 education. That’s why my main focus is on creating awareness,” says Namgay. “The danger is when people disregard health advisories.”

Covid-19 positive cases are growing in the world. The latest is this: 966,702 cases worldwide and 49,290 deaths. The total recovered cases stand at 203,535.

“I have not contracted the disease and am confident that I will walk out clean. But I am a citizen who is deeply worried. How do the rich and powerful people get out, though? This is the biggest risk facing the country today,” says Namgay. “Irresponsibility at this time should be counted as treason.”

When Namgay had to convince his mother that he won’t be home until after 21 days in Paro, she became more suspicious. He must now prove that he’s done nothing wrong and that he is not detained by the police. 

He does this every day, only she forgets.

Heading to wash his clothes, says Namgay: “I have now become a serious laundryman. Whoever puts the people of this country in danger must be punished, severely.”