Yangchen C Rinzin

Many people, in Bumthang and outside, questioned why the debate for Chhoekhor-Tang by-election candidates had to be held closed-door last night when there were numerous mass gatherings conducted in the two gewogs.

A Bumthang resident, Tshering Dorji, said that when Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering was in Bumthang, campaigning for Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) candidate, Dawa, meetings were conducted in all chiwogs with not less than 50 people. “In some places, there was no physical distance maintained.”

He said that if the dzongkhag was following the Covid-19 physical distancing protocol during the debate, dzongkhag officials should have also monitored the party president’s meetings.

“We don’t understand why the debate should be behind closed door when the dzongkhag is not even a risk zone. We see many gatherings or trainings happening in places where Covid-19 cases are reported,” Tshering said. There are meetings every day in Thimphu.”

Bumthang dzongdag Pasang Dorji, who is the incident commander of dzongkhag Covid-19 taskforce, explained the debate was held without audience as a preventive measure for Covid-19 and to discourage public gathering.

Only the debate moderator, two candidates with five participants for each candidate besides election officials were allowed to attend the debate.

“The hall could accommodate only about 25 people and we must also keep in mind the Covid-19 protocol. People can watch the debate Live on television for better coverage,” the dzongdag said.

He also said that common forum was conducted in 24 different places to avoid gatherings. “We had briefed both candidates on the protocols to conduct campaigns and to avoid large public gatherings.”

But this is not the first time where physical distance protocol was not uniformly followed.

Teachers in Lunana were not allowed to teach in classes with only 40 students because of protocols and vegetable vendors were relocated from Centenary Farmers’ Market to decongest the area but several gatherings are still taking place including some religious events, personal events like khadhar ceremony, birthday celebrations, and recent campaigns in Bumthang. Sports were also allowed without spectators.

While the government continuously appeal the public to follow Covid-19 norms like wearing masks and to observe physical distance by avoiding any kind of gatherings as a precautionary measure to stop the Covid-19 from spreading in the country, public gatherings, including several official meetings and events have been conducted.

A Thimphu resident, Thukten, said he attended a khadhar ceremony and met many people.

He said it is just two months since the country came out of lockdown but complacency has already set in and physical distance is no more taken seriously in any kind of gatherings or in the street.

“In some cases, people have also stopped using a facemask.”