When Bhutan got its first Covid-19 positive case, at around 11pm on March 5, 2020, the nation was in a deep slumber. Nothing would be the same again. Silently and unawares, we had left one era behind and stepped on to the new. The world as we knew had changed in its many dimensions.
We weren’t prepared, even as we did all we could to face the unrelenting virus—Covid-19. That was the first lesson. We were compelled to connect and close the many gaps and linkages in the ways we organise our society. The government did all it could in its capacity, but the services weren’t reaching the people entirely. That was the second lesson.
April 2020. The Royal Command—not a single Bhutanese must die from Covid-19. The distribution of multivitamin and Vitamin C began immediately, particularly for the elderly population.
Bhutan so far has recorded just one death from Covid-19. In the many weeks since the second nationwide lockdown in the country, there has not been a single Covid-19 positive case. What Bhutan could do to keep its citizens safe in these dangerous and uncertain times reflects the efficacy and responsiveness of its leadership.
Where it not for His Majesty The King’s personal initiative to protect his country and people against the pandemic, the entire health system in the country could have collapsed. Many people lost jobs as tourism had to be closed. Hotels took the economic beating immediately; thousands in the sector lost employment. Hundreds of Bhutanese had to return home. But they were taken care of through direct and indirect kidu programmes from the throne.
For a country like Bhutan, small as we are, our biggest strength is in keeping ourselves together. Fortunately, we have been blessed with outstanding leadership from the throne since the founding of the modern nation in 1907.
HM’s address at the Madhavrao Scindia Memorial Lecture on December 23, 2009 sums up the kind of leadership that His Majesty The King wishes for the country. “It is a constant reminder that we must strive for a caring leadership so that as the world and country changes, as our nation’s goals change, our foremost priority will always remain the happiness and well-being of our people—including the generations to come after us.”
Right after the first Covid-19 positive case in the country, His Majesty toured the nooks and corners of the country repeatedly to ensure that the people are safe, leading from the front, inspiring the whole nation to come together for a common purpose.
Deeply touched by the King’s selflessness, even today, Bhutanese from all walks of life are playing their part, each in their capacity, to contribute to the nation’s fight against the pandemic.
Of the many recent Royal kidus, the multivitamin package for the elderly stands out. The country’s health system would have missed it totally.
In fact, here is what Prime minister Dr Lotay Tshering said: “Vitamin supplement was beneficial. That has, in fact, given us a good lesson that we had not realised that subclinical vitamin deficiency [situation] that we have [in out country]. After taking a month’s course they [the elderly] started feeling better, could sleep better, eat well, and felt light and clean.
“We’re now carrying out representative screening for vitamin supplement. HM’s initiative to provide vitamin supplements to boost the immune system of the people has led to a long-term policy, change” the prime minister said.
When His Majesty The King ascended to the Golden Throne, he said this: “Throughout my reign I will never rule you as a King. I will protect you as a parent, care for you as a brother and serve you as a son. I shall give you everything and keep nothing; I shall live such a life as a good human being that you may find it worthy to serve as an example for your children; I have no personal goals other than to fulfil your hopes and aspirations. I shall always serve you, day and night, in the spirit of kindness, justice and equality.”
This is the King and leadership that made all the difference.
Leadership matters; it matters more when the country and people need the most. Here is the King, who cooks for school children. He sleeps in a bare village kitchen in Drametse, Mongar. In Wamrong, Trashigang this is what His Majesty said to the people: “I cannot ask you to stop weeping or grieving, because I know you are hurt and are in pain. But I can tell you that we will begin to rebuild your lives immediately.”
Aap Lama from Paro had this to say: “I could walk, even run, eat well and breathe fine; the Royal Kidu gave me a new lease of life.”
Covid-19 would have taken the nation by storm. Where it not for the many Royal initiatives, the whole nation would have come undone, entirely.