Unlocking the frustrations

With the nation locked down for nearly a month, albeit some relaxation in 18 dzongkhags, the frustrations are growing and venting out. Everybody is waiting to return to normal.

The economy is battered, livelihood disrupted and normal activities (life) affected. The question on every mind is when will we return to office, send our children to school or playgrounds, open our shops and go on with lives as it was. Some are even calling the restrictions too strict or draconian while some feel the government has failed in its effort to save the country from the pandemic even with stern restrictions and largely law-abiding citizens.

The frustrations are valid. Everybody is allowed to be angry. We have missed a lot in the last three weeks. We missed celebrating Nyilo and Chunipa Losar. We missed to close our annual accounts, the planned winter break, the last bill to calculate our income or loss and many more. But we should not forget the larger interest. If we can, by staying home to lessen the burden on our health system, redesign our lives around the increasing spread of the disease, the inconveniences and sacrifices are worth it.

Those doubting the wisdom of lockdown measures accuse the government of valuing public health more than the economy. It is wrong. We say if there is health, there will be wealth. What if our economic activities are grounded because we fell ill to the virus? What if workers are scared to come out or in hospitals without a lockdown? Because we prevented a disaster, we are forgetting to take the disease seriously. If we had seen loved ones die in isolation wards and the government takes over their funeral rites, we would take the disease seriously.

Economic activities are important. No doubt. But if we can save people from the pandemic, they will return to work to keep the economy running. Most capitalist countries where economic growth is the number one priority are locking down, some for months and some for the third time. The logic is same. Economy can wait, public health is important.

In Bhutan, we take pride in being unique. Indeed, we had been. We might have experienced a second nationwide lockdown, but we fared well in containing the disease. We recorded only one death from the virus in more than a year. That too cannot be blamed entirely on Covid-19. As a nation driven by Buddhist values, the priority is to save lives. The rest can wait.

If there are genuine frustrations, it should be from the section of our society who cannot make their ends meet. The daily wage earners and those who lost the source of livelihood overnight, whether in Thimphu or in the dzongkhags, should be protected. If we reflect well, we have not ended a month in lockdown. There is the cushion of monthly salary for many staying home. It is different for some. They should be identified and protected.

What the government could do if the lockdown has to be continued is identifying this vulnerable group and coming up with interventions. Perhaps a new hotline and better-organised team behind could help protect the most vulnerable. They could file for unemployment or inability to feed their family. For this group, it is the worry of going to bed empty stomach. For many, the complaint is about boredom of staying home day and night!

The frustrations are not about the government’s failure to contain the disease; it is largely about being cooped up for nearly a month. However, it would be wrong to bask in our success thus far. There are loopholes emerging. The priority is to plug those holes and secure the health of the nation and thereby the wealth (economy).

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