COVID-19 Bhutan
An Overview of Bhutan’s Recovery Efforts

Bumdrak Trek

Bumdrak Trek

© Karma Choden

Bhutan managed to avoid large-scale domestic COVID-19 outbreak in the country through a series of proactive and well thought of actions, such as,  stringent containment measures which included two nationwide lockdowns since 2020.

As a first, it suspended all tourist visas and closed schools following the detection of the first imported COVID-19 positive case in March 2020. Bhutan also rolled out a rigorous response to contain the spread of the virus with a mandatory 21-day quarantine and tests for all Bhutanese returning to the country. The expenses for the quarantine were paid for by the government; by November 2020, Nu. 289,653 million was spend on quarantine facilities.[1]

The closure of international borders since late March 2020 has impacted the economy adversely with the tourism and service industries coming to a standstill. Based on the Royal command to counter the effects of the downturn, a National Resilience Fund (NRF) was established in April 2020 with a fund size of Nu. 30,000 million, under which the Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu (DGRK). This funded brough relief and provided income support to people whose livelihoods were affected by the pandemic. Financial support was given to 34,384 beneficiaries and over 25,000 children.[2] Numerous fiscal and monetary measures, such as the deferment of loans for a period of two years until June 2022 with full interest waiver for six months from April-September 2020 were also made available.

Availability and access to undisrupted supply of essential commodities posed a challenge with the potential to cause wide-spread social and economic difficulties. A working capital at 5 percent interest was provided to wholesalers and major retailers from 28 March 2020 to procure essential commodities and ensure undisrupted supply to retailers. Wholesalers were also encouraged to purchase locally manufactured products to encourage local production.

A National Credit Guarantee Scheme (NCGS) launched in October 2020 as a counter cyclical policy measure aimed to enhance access to finance with 100% debt financing for startups, removal of the requirement for collateral replaced by minimal equity in the cottage and small category and cheaper interest rates on working capital loans to encourage businesses. As part of renewed emphasis on the construction sector to generate employment opportunities by mobilizing, creating and managing a pool of skilled workforce, a Build Bhutan Project was initiated to engage over 7000 people over a period of two years.

The Health Ministry also championed preventive measures such as stringent hygiene and safety protocols, the use of the newly launched Druk Trace app and the Check Post Management System (CPMS) to track the movement of people and vehicles. The mandatory safety protocols in public spaces and the registration for vehicle and people movement were the first line of defense against the virus. The daily situational updates and notifications on Health Ministry’s website and frequent press conferences went a long way in keeping people informed on where covid cases were emerging. Likewise, citizens also participated either by donating funds or volunteering; the citizen volunteers of over 22,000 desuups[3] reinforced efforts by conveying public messages and supervision throughout the country.

Prior to the vaccination, the Health Ministry launched the Bhutan Vaccine System where individuals could register for shots and download certificate post the vaccination. With over 3000 health workers in 1200 vaccination centres, 60% of the population or 470,000 adults were inoculated with Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on 27th March 2021. Already missing the 8-12 weeks during which time Bhutanese witnessed the second wave devastated lives in its neighboring country India, the second drive from 20th July resulted in a higher turnout. After getting vaccines from other nations, 90 % adults were jabbed in a week during the second drive.[4] Following the approval of Moderna vaccine for children, Bhutan vaccinated children of ages 12-17 years with 32,600 children receiving their first shot by late July.[5] At the end of August, more than 97% of the population were vaccinated. As of 24th August, the record stated 33 active cases and 2555 recovered cases and only three covid related deaths.[6] It is still early days for the booster shot, though it should be explored, especially for vulnerable groups.  Also, in order to continue the fight against COVID-19, Nu. 1,000 million was earmarked for the fiscal year 2021-2022.[7]

All the efforts that prevented a crisis continues to be applied post-vaccination. While the authorities remains alert to infractions, the public and private agencies are innovating in the new normal. Though weary, the Bhutanese people know and attribute its pandemic success to its leadership as well as the unending spirit of generosity in the community.

 

[1] Retrieved from https://kuenselonline.com/govt-spends-more-than-nu-289m-on-quarantine-facilities/ on 25th August 2021.

[2] Information retrieved from The State of the Nation 2020.

[3] Members of Desuung, The Guardians of Peace, an organization established by the King of Bhutan to promote volunteerism in the Bhutanese community.

[4] Information retrieved from  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COVID-19_pandemic_in_Bhutan on 24th August 2021.

[5] Information retrieved from https://kuenselonline.com/children-in-nine-dzongkhags-receive-covid-19-vaccine/ on 24th August 2021.

[6] Information retrieved from https://www.gov.bt/covid19/ on 24th August 2021.                                                                                                                      

[7] Retrieved from https://kuenselonline.com/transforming-education-and-health-for-economic-stability/ on 25th August 2021.

[1] Retrieved from https://kuenselonline.com/govt-spends-more-than-nu-289m-on-quarantine-facilities/ on 25th August 2021.

[1] Information retrieved from The State of the Nation 2020.

[1] Members of Desuung, The Guardians of Peace, an organization established by the King of Bhutan to promote volunteerism in the Bhutanese community.

[1] Information retrieved from  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COVID-19_pandemic_in_Bhutan on 24th August 2021.

[1] Information retrieved from https://kuenselonline.com/children-in-nine-dzongkhags-receive-covid-19-vaccine/ on 24th August 2021.

[1] Information retrieved from https://www.gov.bt/covid19/ on 24th August 2021.                                                                                                                      

[1] Retrieved from https://kuenselonline.com/transforming-education-and-health-for-economic-stability/ on 25th August 2021.