As the region continues to brace against a much severe and deadly wave of Covid-19 pandemic, Bhutan too is beginning to feel the pressure.

From the plains of Phuentsholing, Samtse, and Samdrupjongkhar, the virus has now reached the highlands of Merak in Trashigang.

In an address to the nation last night, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering reminded people of the threat the pandemic still posed even after a year and half of its emergence in the country.

Lyonchhen said that many in the country thought that after experiencing two episodes of Covid-19 outbreak, the worst was over. The vaccination programme also came as a ray of hope for many, he said. “But look where we are at today.”

Lyonchhen said that it was inevitable that Bhutan too felt the impact of the worsening situation in the region and especially in neighbouring India.

He said that despite all the preparations, there was no guarantee that Bhutan would not experience what India was going through. “The threat from the southern borders has now reached the east. If we are not careful, we will suffer the same fate as our neighbours.”

Lyonchhen said that this was because the SARS-CoV-2 virus was fast mutating and it was becoming more transmissible and overwhelming. He said that the country was being slowly surrounded from all corners and if adequate control measures were not put in place and if people did not adhere to the preventive measures, the country would be overwhelmed within no time.

“We will be wiped out in no time if we cannot control the spread now,” the prime minister said.

Leadership is the key

Lyonchhen said that it was His Majesty The King’s guidance and efforts that had shielded the country from the impact of the pandemic so far. Even as Lyonchhen spoke to the nation last night, His Majesty was in quarantine after recently returning from the high-risk areas.

The Royal Institute for Governance and Strategic Studies (RIGGS) building which was offered by His Majesty as a Covid-19 ward in Phuentsholing had reached its limit. With concerns to house additional patients, Lyonchhen said that His Majesty Commanded that the new Druk Green Power Corporation’s (DGPC) office be used as a new Covid-19 ward.

The DGPC office can accommodate around 150-200 patients. Works to convert the facility into an isolation ward had begun. The RIGGS Covid-19 ward could accommodate about 65 patients.

The prime minister said that even before any experts predicted, it was His Majesty The King who warned that hospitals and crematoriums would run out of space if people are not careful and take the disease seriously.

“We must not let our guards down now. If not for anyone, we must think of the sacrifices made by His Majesty in keeping the people and our country safe during the pandemic.”

Imminent lockdown

With rumours rife about a possible lockdown in the capital city, Lyonchhen warned that lockdowns could happen anytime and it was not something that could be pre-planned.

He said that until the pandemic status of Covid-19 existed, lockdowns could happen anytime. “People should be prepared for this and if they are not, they will never be prepared for anything in life”

Lyonchhen explained that every day more than 15,000 tests were conducted in the country. “If someone from this lot tests positive tonight, there will be a lockdown the next day.”

In the meantime, Trashigang was put under a lockdown starting at 7pm last night. All flights to the Yonphula domestic airport were also suspended.

Lyonchhen said while the investigation to trace how people in Merak contracted the disease was ongoing, those who had travelled from Trashigang in the past three days were asked to come forward and get tested.

By  Younten Tshedup