People gather for meetings and campaigns

MB Subba

The government has advised the public to avoid mass gatherings as a precautionary measure to stop the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) from spreading in the country.

However, public gatherings, including Dzongkhag Tshogdu (DT) sessions and Covid-19 sensitisation meetings, have not stopped. Religious activities that involve gatherings have not stopped totally.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that the idea of advisory on mass gathering was about social distancing. She said that a distance of one metre should be maintained between two people if people needed to come together.

“In the traditional Bhutanese context, a meeting of three or more people could constitute public gathering. The idea is to practise social distancing,” she said, adding that the definition of mass gathering was subjective.

However, the health minister added that all kinds of gatherings, including training programmes were “highly discouraged” unless they are absolutely necessary.

The health minister said that meetings such as DT and Gewog Tshogde (GT) sessions could be held, as they did not involve many people.

According to dzongkhag officials, DT sessions had to be held as dzongkhags needed to submit their budget proposals to the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) by within this month and that local governments also needed to discuss issued related to Covid-19.

The health minister also said that it was not a right time to carry out activities involving groups of people, such as the recent cleaning campaign organised by the Guide Association of Bhutan, due to high risks of contact.

The joint parliamentary committee formed to advise the government on Covid-19, also on Monday recommended the government to clearly define the number of people that would constitute a mass gathering.

“Mass gathering is considered one of the risky modes of transmission as evidenced from the spread of the virus in several countries,” the committee stated.

The definition of mass gathering differs from 50 to 1,000 people, according to the committee.

Nepal, which also confirmed only one Covid-19 case, banned gathering of more than 25 people from March 18, Kathmandu Post reported. It reported that the ban was imposed as a precautionary measure although the only coronavirus patient had recovered.

Similarly, the Indian union territory of Delhi on March 16 announced a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people till March 31 in view of the growing number of Covid-19  cases.

Bhutan is technically does not have a Covid-19 case as the only Covid-19 patient, who was a 76-year-old American tourists has been evacuated to his country.