Thimphu devises measures from the lockdown lessons 

Yangyel Lhaden

Thimphu dzongkhag charted a long list of things to do after meetings with officials who served during the recent lockdown to improve the arrangements for a future lockdown.

The standard operating procedure (SoP) Thimphu dzongkhag had drawn out before the lockdown came in handy when the lockdown was announced. But there were still many issues the SoP did not cover.

There was no guideline to address issues such as stranded people and vehicles, and the overwhelming phone calls without a proper toll-free number. The livestock feed was not included in the essential items list.

Some of the services provided during the lockdown by the dzongkhag were essential items delivery, livestock feed, movement of stranded people and vehicles, communication and information desk, and health check-ups.

Officials catering services, during a feedback session, said that there was a need for multi-sectoral approach and coordination among agencies with information and direction from a central agency.

The officials also said that an efficient call centre with more manpower and vehicles for service delivery was needed. The dzongkhag has plan to set up one such call centre by November.

Mobile numbers of a few officials were given as contacts for various services but there were too many calls. A toll-free number was installed but it could handle only five mobile numbers.

There were too many contact numbers, officials said, and residents complained the numbers were always busy. They were unaware of the two separate delivery task force for thromde and dzongkhag administration. Vegetable vendors and shops were not identified before the lockdown for service delivery which posed challenges for essential items delivery.

The dzongkhag is now identifying shops, wholesalers, vehicles and drivers for the delivery of essential commodities especially during the complete lockdown and to cater isolated areas during the unlocking period.  The dzongkhag task force will also fix standard rates of vegetables.

During the lockdown, farmers would be provided with transportation to harvest crops or for any important agriculture work. Surplus products would be exported by Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCBL) and Department of Agricultural Marketing and Cooperatives for distribution.

If there happened to be another lockdown Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) would monitor uniform price and stock liquid petroleum gas in the main branch.

Delivery of liquid petroleum gas became a challenge with poor monitoring on uniform price and limited stock at the main branch. Additionally, the delivery to far-flung gewogs such as Soe and Lingzhi was difficult.

Local leaders said that FCBL outlets did not have the required variety and that delayed essential items delivery. The gewogs did not have the cash to procure directly from FCBL.

There was no proper guideline on the distribution of tobacco products and led to hoarding.

By the second week of October, FCBL would replenish essential items in identified shops or gewog store, and coordinate with Bhutan Duty-Free Ltd shop on tobacco distribution.

The health team lacked a plan to address some of the issues that surfaced during the lockdown.

There was plan to deliver essential health care services but there was no plan to deploy vehicles for essential health care services. In the first week due to the shortage of vehicle, the delivery of essential medical services was delayed.

Health officials did not have individual movement pass when they were stopped on road by the police and de-suups which delayed attending emergency cases. Hereafter, they would be given movement passes immediately after lockdown is announced.

A hotline number would be set up for each health centre.

Refilling medicines for chronic patients also became an issue.

During the lockdown, the dzongkhag’s health team identified shops for chronic ailment patients to drop and pick their prescription and medicine. However, lack of cooperation between shopkeepers and front liners on-duty lead to loss of prescription and delivering medicines to the wrong location.

The health officials would personally drop the medicines if there happened to be a lockdown.

Livestock farms and agents hereafter are required to stock feed to last at least a month.

Cold chain facility is expected to be improved for livestock products by 2021. During the lockdown livestock products spoilt due to lack of cold storage facility.

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