If the first two days of the nationwide lockdown were a test of our preparedness and response in an emergency, the results would say we need a lot of improvements.
From the empty streets to small towns and even villagers not venturing out, the lockdown is implemented successfully. People are cooperating, even if they have no choice but to follow the rules. However, if it is responding to the needs of the people, the problem, it seems, is the lack of coordination.
Soon after the lockdown that caught many people off guard, governments – central and local and other authorities were quick to share information on how to ease the inconveniences caused by the lockdown. Telephone numbers, toll free numbers, name of officials responsible and locations of centres were shared to calm the panic of those running out of stock at home. The implementation, many say failed miserably.
The thromde has been overwhelmed with telephone calls and the thrompon with complaints ranging from officials not delivering goods, not answering calls or switching off their mobile phones. The biggest complaint in the last two days was on supplying essentials.
Perhaps those responsible coordinating delivery of essentials thought a lockdown, two days after the weekend, would not send people rushing for essentials. Most do their shopping during the weekends to last for a week. But the people surprised them.
Authorities and officials could be more coordinated as they have learnt from the overwhelming experience in the past two days. In Phuentsholing, people breached the lockdown rule when they had to come out for essentials.
Without answer to how long the lockdown would last, the concern is also about hoarding. We cannot run out of rice completely overnight. Some may be genuine, but some may be acting smarter. With better coordination, we can sail through the lockdown easily.
Some are suggesting that delivery of essentials should be left to the private sector. From the experience in some of the dzongkhags where distribution has been successful, it makes sense. The thromde has already found some solutions. The use of information and communication technology, which is already being explored, would solve a lot of problems.
Outside Thimphu, there are instances where villagers were even restricted to go out and feed their cattle or tend to their fields. Some are complaining of crops being attacked by the wild. As fruits and other crops start becoming ready for harvest, without people to guard fields, farmers will lose their fruit of their hard work.
The Prime Minister has provided some clarity. Farmers could now go out and tend to their fields, obviously not in groups, or take their cattle to graze. A lockdown is to prevent the spread of the disease. A remote village with a few households and no case of Covid-19 or outsiders visiting the village need not be locked down completely.
These are the experiences we learnt from the first two days. As days pass and more issues arise, we will also come out with solutions. What we need is better coordination. Those on the grounds will be confused when there are different commands from different authorities.
The other major complaint was from people who got stranded in between their homes and destinations. This was because when they left homes, there were no warnings of a lockdown.
A nationwide lockdown was not expected. Proper coordination can, without jeopardising our Covid-19 protocols, help stranded people.