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Updated: 1 hour 24 min ago

Reserbu hospital without X-ray for 10 months 

Tue, 07/07/2020 - 11:22

Neten Dorji | Wamrong

For more than 10 months now, the X-ray machine in Reserbu general hospital in Wamrong, Trashigang has been defunct. Patients travel to Kanglung BHU or Trashigang hospital. Sometimes they are referred to Pemagatshel hospital to avail the service.

The machine broke down on August 27, 2019. This has affected patients who come from remote areas to avail the service.

Tashi Yoezer, who fell down the stairs, was referred to Kanglung BHU for an X-ray last week.

He said he went to Kanglung BHU but he was referred to Trashigang hospital since the machine at Kanglung was not working. 

Tashi Yoezer, said now that the monsoon has arrived, it is risky to travel. “We have to travel about 85km from Wamrong to Trashigang. Only serious patients are ferried by ambulance. It is difficult for those who don’t own a vehicle,” he said.

Local residents said they are forced to travel either to Kanglung or Trashigang to get the X-ray done.

“It is an extra burden for the people who are economically disadvantaged,” she said. “Some cannot afford to go to Trashigang or Kanglung to get these services.”

Since August 27 last year, the hospital referred 44 patients from its ward and around 40 patients from out-patient department to other hospitals.

Health officials said that the hospital has become like referral hospital for two neighbouring gewogs of Thrimshing and Kangpara. Patients from parts of Pemagatshel dzongkhag are also referred to the hospital for further treatment.

Chief Medical Officer of the hospital said once a technician from biomedical engineering division from Thimphu came and checked the machine.

He said the machine was obsolete and recommended seeking a new X-ray machine as the required spare parts of the old one were not available in the market.

“There is lot of pressure from the public and they are raising issues on social media,” he said.

It was learnt that the hospital has written four letters to the health ministry for a replacement. However, the hospital administration has not yet received information on the replacement.

“We have no option other than to refer patients to Pemagatshel hospital and Kanglung BHU which cost extra fuel budget and TADA budget for the hospital,” one of the Chief Medical Officer’s letters to the ministry stated.

Meanwhile, health ministry officials said because of Covid-19 procurement has been delayed.  “We try to mobilise internally but because of non-availability of resources in the country, we could not do that.  Since it is a top priority in the hospital, as and when the lockdown eases, we will buy and replace,” said Media focal person, Tandin Dendup.

He said, for the time being, the hospital is referring serious patients to the nearby hospitals with ambulance.

Covid-19 will not affect Bhutan’s graduation from LDC: PM

Tue, 07/07/2020 - 11:22

MB Subba

The Covid-19-induced economic disruptions will not affect Bhutan’s plans to graduate from the club of the United Nations’ Least Developed Countries (LDC) in 2023, the prime minister said in a recent interview with Kuensel.

This means that the 12th Plan is Bhutan’s last plan as a LDC. The graduation as per the plan entails addressing the last mile economic challenges in all the sectors during the remaining two and a half years of the government’s term.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said, “I don’t expect much changes in terms of our deadline to graduate from the LDC as we actually qualified for graduation a couple of years ago. It was in keeping with our request that the UN body kept 2023 as the graduation year for Bhutan so that we could time it with the 12th Plan.”

Bhutan had qualified to graduate from LDC in 2021. The country’s request for extension of the graduation timeline by two years was endorsed by the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly held in New York on December 13, 2018.

Graduation from LDC means that the country will not receive foreign aids as LDC thereafter. However, the country will continue to receive other foreign aids that are not tied to the LDC status.

The thresholds for the three criteria for graduation are a gross national income (GNI) per capita of USD 1,242 based on a three-year average, a human assent index (HAI) score of 66 or more and an economic vulnerability index (EVI) score of 32 or below.

However, the formulation of the 21st economic roadmap is expected to be affected due to Covid-19. The prime minister said that experts were working at various levels on the economic roadmap.

“No cabinet members, except me, are directly involved in drafting the roadmap and all other stakeholders including representatives of all political parties are there. Because we want it to be a national document,” he said.

The proposed goal of the economic roadmap is “High Income GNH Society by 2030”, the threshold of which is a GNI per capita of USD 12,375.

According to the earlier timeline, drafting of the roadmap should be completed by October this year and launched on February 21, 2021.

Scrap business comes to a halt

Tue, 07/07/2020 - 11:21

Could worsen the waste problem

Yangyel Lhaden

If waste is a problem, it could get worse with waste collectors, scrap dealers and exporters all  experiencing their line of business come to a halt.

Scrap dealers in the country have stopped buying papers, plastic bottles, and cardboard boxes without being able to re-sell the recyclables across the border. They have not exported to India since the lock down. Within the country, only scrap items such as metal scraps and beer bottles are sold to the Pasakha Industrial Estate.

The recycling market at present is heavily dependent on the scrap dealers across the borders, according to the National Waste Management Strategy (NWMS), 2019.

Wholesale dealers, big and small groceries and marts generate truckloads of cardboard waste every month. Without collectors, they are lost of ideas where to discard their waste.

The owner of Shopper’s Store in Thimphu said that it had been more than five months since no scrap dealers had come to collect her waste. She said that she was storing all the boxes in the store and re-cycling to pack eggs and as a substitute for plastics.

With limitation to re-sell, scrap yards in the capital are overflowing with wastes. The proprietor of AS Scrap dealer in Olakha, Aita, said that people are dropping their paper and bottle waste at his yard. “We had to buy it before,” he said.

Aita tried to sell the recyclable within the country, but could not even get the cost price. “Both people and scrapyards are facing challenges to manage the waste,” he said.

If the situation prolongs, Memelakha would be the destination for the waste. Scrap dealers like Aita are planning to dump it at the Memelakha landfill.

In Phuentsholing, scrap dealer Tashi Wangchuk ran a lucrative business exporting pet bottles, other plastic wastes and cardboard before the closure of the border. Without export, he is not receiving these scraps, he said.

Scrap dealers used to export one to two trips of metal scraps, three to four trips of rubber scraps and at least a truckload of cardboard scrap in a month to India.

In Thimphu, the few scrap collectors have stopped collecting. A shopkeeper said without buyers, the collectors are out of work. “We even offered money to the collectors to come and collect our recyclable wastes,” he said.

According to the NWMS, municipal solid waste in Thimphu in 2018 consisted of 9.2 percent- paper, 2.2 percent glass and electronic waste, 13 percent plastic, 4.3 percent leather and rubber, and 0.2 percent metal and aluminum.

Additional reporting by Rajesh Rai in Phuentsholing

Preventing dengue a collective responsibility 

Tue, 07/07/2020 - 11:20

If the images of places officials from the malaria unit in Phuentsholing visited are anything to go by, there is a lot of work to be done to contain another outbreak of dengue in the border town.

Phuentsholing is crowded, the vegetation thrives around this time and maintaining the surrounding clean, without water clogging, is a huge task. But then, these are the most effective and the cheapest measures to not let mosquitoes breed.

The simple logic is there wouldn’t be dengue if mosquito breeding can be controlled.

However, it seems like we know how to kill the mosquitoes, but not how to get rid of the indifference that is the main cause of the problem. Unlike last summer, the border gate is sealed and movement restricted. The porous border and the free movement of people was a problem last year when Phuentsholing recorded 77 percent of the 5,489 cases in the country.

Only three cases have been reported so far. The town is better prepared with an army of volunteers, including youth, to create awareness and remove potential mosquito breeding grounds. Surveillance systems have also been put in place.

The message of the awareness is simple and clear. Destroy the breeding sources and keep the surroundings clean.  Last year, the Phuentsholing hospital staff, together with DeSuups, visited each and every household to inspect potential mosquito breeding sites and to destroy them.

The problem is that either the message was not effective or residents are waiting for volunteers to come and clean their surroundings again.

The thromde had decided to penalise people if they fail to keep their surroundings clean. Severing water connection was one. It would be the most effective punishment. Living in Phuentsholing without water in summer would be difficult. Have the thromde officials started doing that? Or, are they waiting for more cases to implement the rule?

At a time when the Covid-19 pandemic is draining all the resources and energy, indifference of the residents, the property and business owners could add more pressure on our prevention efforts. How long can we leave simple things like cleaning our surroundings to the government? It is blatantly being irresponsible.

Our resources would be stretched should there be another outbreak. It would derail on-going efforts by the frontliners who have been successful in stopping community transmission of Covid-19.

It is not late. We have only three, not so serious, cases. Dengue is not contagious. An infected human becomes the main carrier and multiplier of the virus. Residents cannot identify if the mosquito coming into their room is an Aedes or Anopheles but they can identify potential breeding sources.

The responsibility should not be left to the thromde or the hospital. Residents and property owners, businesses that are potential breeding grounds like automobile workshops and many others should take part in keeping the city safe and free of dengue.

Mongar dzongkhag demolishes illegal structure in town 

Tue, 07/07/2020 - 11:19

Tshering Namgyal | Mongar

The Mongar dzongkhag administration dismantled a two-storey structure constructed attached to a four-storey building in Mongar town on July 3.

The building, commonly known as round building, is located at the entrance of the town from Gyalpoizhing.

Officials said that the building owner failed to honour the Supreme Court’s judgment issued on April 27 to dismantle the structure.

The structure was built without the approval from the concerned authority.

Dzongkhag took nearly three days to remove the major portion of the structure. A JCB machine attempted to bring it down for days. Finally, an excavator completed the demolition on the third day.

Following the Supreme Court’s judgment on April 27 to dismantle it, the dzongkhag administration gave five days from the day of implementation order issued by dzongkhag court on May 5. Then it was extended until June 30. 

However, the family members of the building owner said they requested an extension until October in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic and risk of slide given the peak monsoon season to dismantle it manually.

The building owner Tashi Tobgay, said when the dzongkhag team headed by dzongdag came with a bulldozer to dismantle in May, he requested for an extension until October. They gave him only one month.

So he said he appealed to the higher authorities since June 10.

The two-unit structure was built in 2016 in the family plot without approval from the dzongkhag.

The dzongkhag legal officer filed a case at Mongar court, and in 2017, the court ruled that the defendant had constructed the extended structure breaching the LG Act 2009 and Bhutan Building Rules 2002. He was also charged with not complying with the dzongkhag’s notifications to stop the construction.

The court ordered the new construction to be demolished immediately. The case was appealed to the High Court and then on to the Supreme Court.

Upholding the judgment of the lower courts, the Supreme Court issued an order on April 27 this year.

Tashi Tobgay said he submitted to the court that he constructed the structure without approval but the dzongkhag did not stop it until the posts and slab for the second floor were done.

“Since there were labourers waiting and when approval didn’t come, we went ahead with the construction thinking that it would possibly get approved.”

He claimed that a provision of the municipality act also allows fines and penalties to be levied without dismantling the structure if it is on private land, and thought this would be allowed.

Tashi Tobgay said the vibrations from the machine could possibly damage the main building and the dzongkhag should take the risk.

Dzongkhag administration officials said they had to enforce the Supreme Court’s judgment and dismantle it. 

The women guards of Dekiling

Tue, 07/07/2020 - 11:18


Migma Lhamo Sherpa is a community volunteer from Sarpang. At the watchtower in Dekiling, on the Sarpang-Gelephu highway, she is having a late lunch. Her friend has left for an urgent medical check-up. They are on Covid-19 duty.

Today, Migma’s son brought her lunch from home.

“We take turns to go for lunch because we can’t afford to keep the highway and the border unattended,” she said.

This is how women from Dekiling are ensuring that border crossings do not happen as Covid-19 cases increases in India.

Over 45 women from the gewog have volunteered for the job. There are seven makeshift observation points. They are mostly located near the information routes.

The gewog has also built a temporary gate at Yangchenphug. The women on duty ask people to wash their hands and to declare their travel history before entering the gewog.

“Many appreciate our effort. Our job is to not allow anyone cross the open borders,” said Sonam Lhamo, a volunteer from Dekiling. “If everyone took care of their backyard, it would be much easier to fight the pandemic.”

The risk of the disease reaching our village was very high, said Sonam Lhamo. “We are able to assist the police stop people trying to smuggle tobacco products also.”

The gewog administration in collaboration with the public built the observation points. Men are on duty at late hours. Women watch the border during the day.

The volunteers said their role was more important with the situation in the Indian states worsening by the day.

The women are at the observation points by 6:30am. Their duty ends at 7pm when the men return for night duty.

Dekiling gup, Padam Singh Mongar, said the volunteers would be on duty until the pandemic ends.

He added that the volunteers might need the support of police or DeSuup for safety.

“We do not know what kind of situation they might encounter while ensuring the places are monitored round the clock. They feel vulnerable,” he said.

Sporting events resumes albeit slowly

Tue, 07/07/2020 - 11:16

ToD and Dragon Fury race to take place next year

Thinley Namgay 

The 11th edition of the  Tour of the Dragon (ToD) competition scheduled in September is cancelled.

The highly sought-after one-day mountain biking race among riders, both locals and international, have been deferred until next year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Similarly, the organisers, Bhutan Olympic Committee (BOC) have also cancelled the Dragon Fury race, otherwise conducted on the same day.

Starting next year, BOC and its international partners have decided to conduct these two annual events once in two years.

ToD is the world’s toughest one-day mountain cycling race in the country, covering 268km from Bumthang to Thimphu. The Dragon Fury race stretches from Punakha to Thimphu covering around 60km.

The pandemic continues to affect other sport federations and associations.

The finals of the fourth Mewang Gyalsey traditional archery tournament is yet to be played between the teams from Trashiyangtse and Samdrupjongkhar. The match was initially scheduled on March 7.

Although the government has allowed the resumption of sports activities, Bhutan Indigenous Games and Sports Association (BIGSA) is taking extra precaution.

BIGSA’s Tshewang Namgyal said that the association could have conducted the finals in a closed-door set-up. However, given the ongoing concerns they wanted to wait. “The association respects the relentless effort of the government in battling the pandemic. We want the situation to get better.”

He said that after the finals, other pending competitions including the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck Memorial Archery tournament, National Sorsum tournament and Coronation Silver Jubilee National Archery tournament would also be conducted.

Meanwhile, another major competition cancelled due to the pandemic is the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck Memorial Gold Cup at Phuentsholing. With the deferment of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Bhuntan’s lone participant in recurve archery, Karma awaits her moment at the world’s grandest stage – the Olympics.

Tshering Wangmo from Bhutan Shooting Federation said that the federation is going to conduct in-country shooting activities in July and August if the Covid-19 situation improves. The activities include awareness coaching camp in Paro, summer coaching camp and monthly control match in Thimphu.

The Bhutan Premier League is all set to begin from next month.

Other federations and associations are currently involved in training their athletes.

Promotion assessment strategies ready: REC

Tue, 07/07/2020 - 11:14

There will be no ranking and SUPW grading this year

Yangchen C Rinzin

Allaying fears that students would not be assessed and promoted to the next class, the Royal Education Council (REC) has prepared assessment strategies based on three options considering student’s accessibility to online education.

REC’s Dean for curriculum development centre, Wangpo Tenzin, said students without access to online education would be assessed based on a few questions assigned to them. They could also give assignments and evaluate them.

In remote schools, teachers could conduct mobile examinations, meaning teachers can go to students and conduct class tests in a small group based on objective type questions with three choices.

“At the end of every video lesson broadcasted on BBS, there are questions assigned including in the Self-Instructional Materials (SIM), the teachers can make students answer and assess them,” he said. “This is to do with understanding lessons and not about the content knowledge or subject.”

Classes PP-IX and XI are taught based on the adapted curriculum, which is  theme-based and delivered covering two to three subjects. Wangpo Tenzin said for PP-VI, emphasis was based on literacy and numeracy and theme-based and subject-wise for rest.

For Classes PP-VI, promotion of students will be based on instructions and assessment tasks provided through video or radio or SIM or other social media platforms.

Meanwhile, teachers were asked to continue maintaining records of activities and assignments submitted by individual students.

Promotion for Classes VII-IX and XI will be based on short assignment/objective questions/conventional tests or video lessons questions and radio lessons assigned through Google classroom.   

Wangpo Tenzin said schools would issue the progress report and that there would not be ranking of students this time. He added that the socially useful productive  work  (SUPW) would also be not graded. “There will be no mid-term and trial examinations in order to make up for the lost instructional time. We decided not to rank individuals, as this is not an academic assessment but only to provide assessment based on certain evidence to promote students.”

However, if the government directs to reopen Classes VII-IX and XI in the second phase, Wangpo Tenzin said that REC would discuss with the education ministry whether to teach students based on the adapted curriculum or prioritised curriculum.


Prioritised curriculum for Classes X and XII

The prioritised curriculum selects important chapters from each subject and is taught formally in the class. “If classes start from August, we would advise to go with the adapted curriculum. Otherwise, it would not be able to complete the syllabus in the priority curriculum on time,” Wangpo Tenzin said.

Prioritised curriculum for Classes X and XII was already implemented. If the prioritised curriculum is implemented for Classes VII-IX and XI, examination will have to complete before the start of board examination.

As per the Education in Emergency guidelines, the timing of the examinations for different classes should be planned to maintain social distancing. Practical exams will also be conducted.

For board examinations, exams will begin with practical from mid-November and theory examination from the end of November. However, it will be left to the Bhutan Council for Examinations and Assessment to prepare questions based on prioritised curriculum.

The respective subject teacher will have to conduct viva voce and project work validation to avoid movement of teachers. SUPW grading will be based on the class IX and XI SUPW respectively.

Some of the areas of assessment will include maintaining health, hygiene, sanitation of the school and behavioural aspect.

All schools would be also asked to practice the Covid-19 safety protocol measures in whatever manner the assessment will take place including wearing of face mask and sanitiser.

Wangpo Tenzin said if the situation improves and the next academic session starts on time next year, schools must take a month or two to help students with bridging curriculum to reinforce learning. “This will ensure that students learn and are prepared for the new class.”

Police decides not to pursue Khat case

Mon, 07/06/2020 - 11:52

Rinzin Wangchuk

The Narcotics Drug Law Enforcement Unit (NDLEU) of Thimphu police has given the benefit of doubt to 11 people, who were involved in illicit trafficking of Khat leaves in the name of Moringa tea, by not pursuing the case further.

This decision came after the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) dropped the case and returned to the NDLEU on April 22 stating that the case of Khat dried leaves Bhutanese exporters or courier services repacked and exported to foreign countries did not merit prosecution.

Labelled as Moringa tea, Khat dried leaves consignments were airmailed through different courier services from Ethiopia using Bhutan as a transit and repackaging hub, which was then couriered to other foreign destinations.

Khat is a flowering evergreen shrub native to East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. The plant contains two alkaloids, cathinone and cathine. Cathinone is a naturally occurring stimulant that is found in the Khat plant.

In Bhutan, cathinone is a Schedule II controlled drug and listed as psychotropic substances with no medicinal value under the Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Substance Abuse (amended) Act of Bhutan (NDPSSA) 2018.

NDLEU’s officials said that they had to give benefit of doubt to 11 accused who were initially implicated.   

Police’s further investigation revealed that the accused were not aware of the Moringa tea consignment to be Khat.

For example, according to a police officer, one driver, who was also involved in the export of Khat leaves, travelled all the way to Samtse and few other places to explore Moringa tea since he saw a good market outside Bhutan. “If he had known that it was Khat leaves, there was no reason for him to explore it,” the police officer said.

Police’s investigation also established that the people involved in repackaging and exporting the consignments had charged nominal fees from the consignors. “They could have claimed or charged high commission given the high risk involved if they were knowingly trafficking illicit drugs like cathinone,” police officer said adding that the consignees kept US dollar five to 20 depending on the size of consignment after paying import and export taxes as well as custom duty.

An official from DHL courier service said that the shipping charge of consignments varies from destination to destination. For instance, if someone sends a consignment of 10kg to the Middle East, DHL charges around US Dollar 540 and Dollar 126 for 1kg package as shipping charge.

However, police had already cautioned Bhutan Post and other courier services to be vigilant and institute a proper declaration of contents of the consignments.

On the grounds of dropping the case, OAG stated that the suspects did not know that the Moringa tea consignment, which they were exporting to be Khat, as identified and confirmed by the Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority (BNCA) during the course of investigation.

It also stated that the agriculture ministry of Ethiopia had issued phytosanitary certificates to the Bhutanese consignees to make them believe that the consignment was Moringa tea, which also led officials to believe that it was Moringa tea. BAFRA did not carry out any testing measures at the point of entry solely because there was a certificate to authenticate the product’s origin.

OAG found that exporters misled trade officials by declaring that the so-called Moringa tea was produced in Bhutan, when both trade officials and the Bhutanese exporters knew they weren’t.

OAG letter to police also stated that the failure on the part of the trade officials to examine and comply with the rules of export and import has resulted in exporting the Khat under the guise of Moringa tea which led to believe that both trade officials and exporters were acting in good faith and had no knowledge of the consignment to be Khat.


How Khat came to limelight?

Tamu Worldwide Shipping company based in Thimphu reported to BNCA on December 19 last year that the company received a suspected consignment of four kilogrammes.

Officials from BNCA and police found that the consignment was labelled as Moringa tea. BNCA conducted a presumptive test and found cathinone.

Traffickers use websites of courier /shipping service companies and other social media platforms in Bhutan to build network contact and send their consignments. Once the traffickers established contacts with the employers and individuals, they ship Khat labelled as moringa tea to different individuals in Bhutan. The consignments are packed in cartons of various sizes between 8kg to 20kg.

The packaging is changed once Bhutanese receive it and re-sent to the designated foreign countries. As instructed, receivers remove the packages, buy new boxes from Bhutan Post, re-pack them and send it by air services.

During the investigation period, police seized about 1,600kg of Khat sent via courier service and interrogated 19 individuals based on the consignments addressed to them. Of the 19 people, police implicated six men and five women under a felony of first degree for illicit trafficking of cathinone.

The suspects were from seven courier services or shipping agencies, including Bhutan Post and e-commerce ventures, based in Thimphu. One tyre dealer was also involved.

The offence of illicit trafficking of substances under Schedule I and II of NDPSSA is a felony of the first degree if the quantity is equal to or more than two times the quantity and the defendant can be sentenced to a minimum of 15 years and a maximum of life imprisonment. The quantity determined for cathinone is five grams irrespective of purity and formulation.

Bolstering safety measures in Damphu

Mon, 07/06/2020 - 11:52

Chimi Dema | Tsirang

Adhering to the government’s notification on additional measures to prevent the local transmission of Covid-19 in the country, Tsirang dzongkhag administration and police have enforced mandatory use of face masks for vendors and customers at the weekend vegetable market in Damphu.

Following a three-day multi-stakeholder meeting last week, a team comprising police, dzongkhag health and municipal officials, DeSuup and Bhutan Red Cross Society members visited all the shops and financial institutions in the town to create awareness on the safety measures.

Other mandatory measures like using Druktrace App, marking floors to maintain physical distancing and installing hand-washing facilities were also strictly implemented in the town since July 1.

While most of the shops and offices in the town premises have all safety measures in place, officials said that people do not use them.

The initiative came after concerns that the easing of some of the restrictions by the government might make people complacent.

A senior dzongkhag health officer, Lobzang Tshering, said that although the town residents ensured all precautionary measures, the people were relaxed due to the prolonged pandemic. “We, therefore, reminded them to re-take all the safety measures and also informed them that it was mandatory to use face masks and Druktrace App.”

The officials said that the individual’s role in combating the pandemic was decreasing with time. “It is difficult to control people coming from other dzongkhags.  The outsiders were reluctant to comply with the precautionary measures,” one said.

The team has also sensitised bus and taxi drivers to follow proper safety measures.

Besides other safety measures at the weekend vegetable market, customer markers to represent one direction path were also introduced since last month to encourage social distancing among visitors.

Teachers build hand-washing stations in Punakha 

Mon, 07/06/2020 - 11:47

Phurpa Lhamo | Punakha

Students of Punakha dzongkhag resumed their academic session in clean classrooms, and with new hand-washing stations, cleaned and built by their teachers.

After schools closed in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic, over 430 teachers in Punakha repaired footpaths, whitewashed school walls, cleaned the surroundings and fixed broken furniture.

At Punakha Central School, five hand-washing stations and an additional drinking water station were built.

Punakha Central School Principal Sherab Tshering said that the teachers planted about 200 trees, and cleaned the campus. “Because the school is near the road, we need to clean often. The classrooms have also been cleaned.”

Teachers of 23 schools in the dzongkhag constructed hand-washing stations, which were mandatory to open schools.

Punakha’s Chief Education Officer Lemo said when the dzongkhag received the budget for the construction of the stations, she suggested the schools to build them and not contract it out.

“We worry about youth and other groups but nobody talks about teachers. Teachers miss their students a lot and nobody thought about the emotional troubles the teachers were going through.”

Most of the schools began work in June and completed it within two to three weeks.

“If the work was tendered out the process would have taken longer,” Lemo said.

Apart from aligning the hand-washing station designs with the requirements of the schools, the dzongkhag engineers also helped simplify the tap designs for the teachers to construct.

“Many schools could save money and construct more stations from the same budget because they didn’t have to pay for labour,” Lemo said.

Lemo’s initiative was also aimed at skilling the teachers and to build a sense of belongingness between teachers and their students and schools.

Sherchok Women, SABAH Bhutan’s big dream dies

Mon, 07/06/2020 - 11:43

Nima | Gelephu

Sherchok Women, a group that was supposed to become a model project to engage and empower home-based workers in the country, is not operational now.

Sherchok Women was an informal food production group formed in 2013 by home-based workers in Gelephu. The group produced natural food products, candies, and spices.

The group had been operating a food-processing unit for over five years with the support from SABAH Bhutan since 2015.

The facilitation centre worth more than Nu 3 million, over Nu 500,000 worth machinery, raw materials, and food products costing more than Nu 400, 000 are lying idle.

The group used locally available raw materials to make organic pickles without using preservatives.

The member of the group and SABAH Bhutan staff, Nidup Zangmo, said the group started losing interest after it was asked to process loans for the community facilitation centre at the industrial service centre.

“The budget support from the European Union couldn’t cover the construction cost. And it was also not convenient for the women to process the loan,” she said. “They stopped coming to work then.”

The group, she added, produced the highest amount of pickles and related products in 2018. But, the products could not be sold because of a poor market.

“So we did not have the confidence to process the loan,” said Nidup Zangmo.

SABAH Bhutan’s chairperson, Phuntshok Chhoden, said the organisation’s aim was to empower the home-based workers to run the enterprise as their own while keeping doors open to other home-based workers in the dzongkhag.

Before the group registered with SABAH Bhutan, the Sherchok Women were paid wages like daily workers and it continued after the group was registered as cooperative in 2018.

“I found it to be a disempowering practice because HBWs get subordinated as beneficiaries instead of becoming owners of SABAH-Bhutan and Sherchok for example,” Phuntshok Chhoden said.

She added that the Sherchok Women group refused to apply for a low-interest loan when the facilitation centre’s construction cost exceeded the budget.

“They did not want to take the risk,” she said

Phuntshok Chhoden said the office invested heavily from the start to help the group grow.

She said the group was on the verge of closing in 2015. “The group was facing managerial, financial, and professional expertise. They approached SABAH Bhutan to intervene.”

The number of women joining the group increased annually and, with it, revenue. But, the lack of trust among the members and staff led to closure of the group after 2019.

The group recorded the highest sales record in 2017 and generated over Nu 1.4 million.

Sherchok Women was first formed by a former civil servant, Chimi Dema, with a vision to empower and help women in the locality to gain economic independence.

The production dropped drastically after the founder of the group resigned from the group last year. The number of women in the group decreased almost by half. The group couldn’t produce and sell their products too.

“The group should not have failed. But, it’s not properly managed,” she said.

Chimi Dema said that she was not paid for the work she did in the group until 2018. “I invested over Nu 500,000  from my own to run the unit but the income generated went to the group,” she said. 

She added that she had to quit her job because of the project.

Today, Chimi Dema runs her own organic products enterprise.

Keeping an eye on CCTVs

Mon, 07/06/2020 - 11:42

The close circuit television (CCTV), a simple technology, has changed the way people do surveillance. It is one device that has now almost become a necessity, as it helps in preventing thefts, burglaries, vandalism and littering.

It is not only government buildings or big private properties that have resorted to the technology. CCTV cameras monitor small shops, residences and offices and even in many cases the whole town or city.  Many claim that the technology has helped in policing and led to the reduction of crime rates. Some even claim that CCTVs, even if non-functional, deter miscreants with the fear of getting caught on the camera.

Last week, Kuensel found out that while the technology is simple, there are problems with it. Some towns have replaced the entire cameras, with better ones while some are planning to replace or restore after the cameras become defunct. In the meantime, even small towns are demanding the technology knowing its effectiveness.

Eventually, we will, unfortunately, see most public places needing cameras to monitor people. The problem, however, is not with the technology, but with the quality of devices and decisions made. If the purpose is surveillance, there should be quality. A blurry image captured by a cheap camera and not being able to recognise the miscreant is as good as not installing them at all. If most or all the cameras start malfunctioning not long after its installation, it is a waste of public money.

There are cheap CCTV cameras and there are very expensive ones. What we choose and how much we spend depends on the purpose of going for the technology. The new cameras in Bajo town have also come under scrutiny, albeit from a private company, who alleged that goods supplied have not met specifications. The contractor claims otherwise. The dzongkhag would conduct an independent review if authorities felt the need for one.

Procuring goods had always been a problem. To ensure public resources are not wasted and to prevent nexus between suppliers and the procuring agency, a lot of goods are purchased through open tenders. However, our procurement rules, even after several amendments, are not totally foolproof. The government has learnt that, in procurement, quotes that are lower than the cost usually mean cheap goods. And we also learnt that those supplying goods have tricks up their sleeves to fine-tune rules.

The onus is on those sitting on the committee. Awarding works or procuring goods do not end with the tender committee making the final decision. In many cases, the problem starts after work is awarded.

Without inspection during work and quality check later, and in some cases, asking for warranty, public service is affected. That is why, for instance, our blacktopped roads are not lasting longer or developing potholes and our equipment start giving problems not long after purchasing it.

Dobji Dzong tries to shake off central jail tag

Mon, 07/06/2020 - 11:41

Phub Dem | Paro

From serving as the main centre to propagate Drukpa Kagyu Buddhism to housing Dobji Penlop and later as a central jail, Dogar Dobji Dzong has transitioned with changing times.

The dzong is today undergoing a major face-lift. Built in 1531 by Ngawang Chogyal, the brother of Drukpa Kuenley popularly known as the “Divine Madman,” Dobji Dzong is located about 30-minute drive from Chuzom towards Haa.

It is believed that Ngawang Chogyal followed the spring originating from the throne of Jetsun Milarepa in Druk Ralung, Tibet, to select a suitable site to establish a Drukpa Kagyud centre in Bhutan.

The suitable site is located where the Dobji Dzong stands today.

The utse (tower) which previously served as Dogar Penlop’s residential and later the central jail is being renovated into a Jetsun Milarepa’s Lhakhang.

It has been a year since renovation work began.

The project is worth Nu 36.4 million (M)  funded by His Majesty The King. The renovation work includes restoration of the tower, parking space and classrooms for the monks.

Project manager of the dzong, Tshering Penjor said that the renovation was essential for the monastic school and in preserving the age-old historical monument.

The shedra has 35 monks including lams.

The sacred statue of the temple near the dzong—Jetsun Mila—was believed to be brought from Druk Ralung in Tibet.

The dzong, today houses a monastic school and receives hundreds of devotees.

Dogar Dobji Dzong, according to Chencho Tshering Dorji’s PhD research article was discontinued as the central jail after the residents expressed grievances and the dzong had suffered structural defects.

Chencho Tshering Dorji, the former chief research officer of the National Museum of Bhutan briefly mentioned that the dzong was modified into a central jail in 1976 and the locals appealed for discontinuation in 1997.

History has it that nobody dared to visit the sacred temple to offer butter lamps, as numerous police personals and prisoners in handcuffs, shackles and neck-ring move freely inside the dzong.

It has been more than two decades since the central jail was moved to another place. However, the legacy remained.

Dobji Dzong’s Lam, Yeshey said that only a few visitors used to visit the dzong when he was appointed as the dzong’s Lam seven years ago.

He said that visitors usually get excited about the whereabouts of prisoners rather than the sacred relic. “We carried out numerous awareness programme to educate the people about the sacred Lhakhang.”

Besides, there were incidences where people discriminate and refuse support by aligning the dzong with jail, Yeshey said.

With the completion of the renovation, Yeshey is hopeful that the dzong will regain its original fame.

UNDP and GNHC sign project on Covid-19 response and recovery

Mon, 07/06/2020 - 11:40

Staff Reporter 

The Gross National Happiness Commission and UNDP Bhutan signed a partnership agreement on July 2 to mark the start of a new UNDP-supported Covid-19 response and recovery project funded by the Government of Japan (GoJ). The Ambassador of Japan to Bhutan, Satoshi Suzuki joined the signing remotely from New Delhi, India.

The project “Innovation for a Smarter, Greener and More Resilient 21st Century Bhutan” is worth USD 1.9 million out of which USD 1.55M is programmable budget.

It is part of a global UNDP project geared towards Covid-19 response and recovery and Bhutan is one of the 11 countries in the Asia Pacific, and 29 globally, selected for the funding, a joint press release stated.

The project, which will be implemented over the next nine months, will strengthen the country’s health systems and address socio-economic impacts of the pandemic.

UNDP will partner with the health ministry to introduce innovative solutions, such as mobile cardiotocography, in select hospitals. These will help take healthcare services closer to the people, particularly expectant mothers living in far-flung corners of the country.

Ensuring safer and more efficient medical waste management is another area of support under the health systems support. The project will support procurement and establishment of incinerators to manage hazardous waste, capacity development of medical waste handlers and explore partnerships with the private sector.

The socio-economic response is the other area of support. Technical support will be provided to strengthen the government’s macroeconomic framework for policy impact analyses, while also providing support to improve the Cottage and Small Industries (CSIs) through a value chain analysis of essential products and identifying appropriate business solutions.

The project will provide livelihood and upskilling and reskilling opportunities to vulnerable populations.

It will provide technical support and guidance to establish the Bhutan Innovation Hub (BIH) and in identifying a strategic direction for the country’s innovation eco-system.

The project will support the establishment of a 200KW solar farm at Rubesa, Wangdue in partnership with the Department of Renewable Energy and Bhutan Power Corporation Limited.

“The support is very timely as this will help the government’s rebuilding efforts towards a new normal for which we would like to thank the Government of Japan for the generous contribution made through UNDP,” said a GNHC official during the signing.

When the abusers and abused stay home

Mon, 07/06/2020 - 11:39

Mitigating the risk of ‘Intimate Terrorism’ in the time of Covid-19 and other crises

“Stay home, be safe” is the mantra these days. Lockdown, work-from-home, physical or the social distancing, isolation and quarantine are the buzzwords. While we can distance from our friends, neighbours and strangers, can we distance ourselves from our families, spouses and partners? Is home a safe place for all of us?

During the outbreak of the epidemics, people are not able to go out much. It means confinement with the abusers; and being the victims of ‘intimate terrorism.’ Prolonged isolations and lockdowns means interpersonal conflicts grow bigger and more frequent. Psychological trauma may follow when people are kept together for a long time within a confined space. People are vulnerable as many are not at work and don’t have the protective cover of other family members and colleagues. The movement restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus may make violence in homes more frequent, severe and dangerous. The increasing tension may lead to escalation of tension in the relationship due to proximity and monotony.

As in every calamity and national crisis, His Majesty the King has been at the forefront of fighting the spread of the virus in Bhutan. His Majesty has commanded us to demonstrate solidarity and to take care of each other in these challenging times. The government, law enforcement agencies, De-Suups and our people should be commended for rallying behind the leadership of His Majesty the King in containing the menace of the pandemic and maintaining social order in the country.

The United Nations Secretary General António Guterres called for an urgent action to combat the worldwide surge in domestic violence. “I urge all governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic,” he said. 

The renowned medical journal, The Lancet recently published data from around the world, revealing a stark spike in reports of domestic violence. There is anxiety over joblessness and economic hardship, which poses a threat to the masculine identity when men are no longer able to ‘provide’ for their families. Afflicted with a high level of rage due to losing income, abusers are likely to vent out emotions on the people around them. Studies show that some men will react with aggressiveness and force to regain a sense of power and control. Others resort to drinking more alcohol as a coping mechanism. 

Even in normal times, conflicts and domestic violence go up whenever families and friends spend more time together. Women and girls are at an increased risk of all forms of abuse-based violence as they are trapped with their perpetrators. Trends indicate when we lockdown our towns and cities we reduce crimes in the streets, i.e., there is drop in the crimes between the strangers and acquaintances; but at the same time, when we put people in close proximity at homes, we also ‘create’ opportunities for conflicts and crimes. Normally, the perpetrators might have been going out to work, playing sports, socialising, etc. The lockdowns close all these exits and compel people to spend more time together – exposing more people to violence. 

There will also be increased opportunities for perpetrators to exert control about leaving the house, access to financial resources or enforcing certain behaviours. What is worse, the crucial state and social support services such as the courts, police, NGOs, shelters and family members become out of reach; i.e., the resources and services that we usually rely on to tackle abuse and violence are likely to be hampered in times of crises. Moreover, victims may not want to go to a domestic violence shelter and live with fellow-victims and strangers during the public crisis. 

The common tools of abuse seem to be isolation from friends, family and employment; constant surveillance; strict, detailed rules for behaviour; and restrictions on access to such basic necessities as food, clothing and sanitary facilities. According to media reports, perpetrators use the isolation and fear about the coronavirus to control and intimidate their victims. Some abusers are reported to be telling their victims that if they leave homes they are going to contact the virus; some are even stopping them from visiting hospitals for medical check-ups. 

Since the lockdown-restrictions were placed, according to the media, the domestic violence figures have risen and women and girls especially are vulnerable to the increasing domestic violence – where husbands, fathers and partners are the principal suspects.  The question is, is the Corona virus to be blamed for the increasing domestic violence? Has the pandemic created more numbers of violent perpetrators?  Actually, the virus has not produced more number of violent people. But it has indeed changed the situations in which, especially men can indulge in the abusive conducts. Some men justify that they are pushed to violence due to ‘Corona pressures.’ 

People don’t seem to need serious reasons to hurt and kill these days. Telling our partners to leave the house for the suspected symptoms of Corona virus is enough. However, since Corona virus itself hasn’t created more killers we cannot exonerate the behaviour of violent men by blaming the virus. The media has rightly placed the blame on the violent men instead of the virus. Men’s controlling and domineering behaviour, their sense of entitlement and belief that women are there to serve them seem to exacerbate the situation. 

There has already been a spike in women seeking help and support from domestic abuse worldwide. But more than that, we can anticipate a rise in number of complaints of domestic cases when the lockdown measures end and normalcy returns. This is because lockdowns make it more difficult for women to seek help and access grievance forums. Often, it is difficult even to make phone calls when they are trapped in the same house as the abusers. In worst cases, some women might not even have access to telephone or the internet services. The face-to-face support services which they have been accessing are often not readily available during the crises. 

Our judiciary has also taken swift measures to adapt to the new situation by adopting a Covid-19 Response Plan. The Plan entails practical ideas how courts can continue to keep the ‘wheel of justice’ moving with minimal physical contacts between the judicial personnel and the consumers of justice. 

Furthermore, the judiciary is also developing rules and regulations for electronic litigations. It is envisaged that most judicial procedures from the registration and filing of a case, all the way through to the actual hearing and orders could be done remotely. This will not only minimise the risk of spreading infectious diseases, but it will also greatly enhance access to justice. In some respects, Covid-19 has accelerated our ambitions to move into a future in which we use less paper, travel less, and become far more efficient with both time and resources.

The Covid-19 crisis has also underscored the need to reinforce the resilience of our communities by nurturing our cultural practices of peacefully addressing and resolving the disputes. While our legal system continues to resolve disputes which reach courts and take swift actions against the perpetrators, it is perhaps even more important to seek to prevent the violence from occurring in the first place. Besides, we are not a litigious society. We have always resolved our differences and disputes amicably for ages with the help of Nangkha Nangdrig – a customary dispute resolution system with the help of community leaders. This assumes importance at a time when the state services and social forums are disrupted. We can mutually compromise our disputes swiftly with little or no face to face meetings and contacts, over the telephones between the parties or with the assistance of the mediators.

Perhaps Bhutan can prove to the rest of the world that we are, indeed a nation steeped in the timeless Buddhist values of compassion, tolerance and peace; that we do not have to accept that violence and abuse will inevitably follow in the wake of pandemics, earthquakes or floods. Most importantly, those suffering domestic abuse and violence should be able to seek emergency help and be able to leave house to escape an abusive relationship and ‘intimate terrorism’.

Contributed by 

Lobzang Rinzin Yargay and Marcus Baltzer 

P’ling records first three dengue cases

Mon, 07/06/2020 - 11:38

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Phuentsholing hospital has reported three confirmed dengue positive cases until yesterday, the first positive cases this year.

The most recent one was reported on June 30.

Most of the cases have been treated as home-based management, it has been learned. The patients were not admitted because they did not have severe symptoms.

Phuentsholing hospital’s management has also confirmed that these cases are sporadic in nature. This means there were no links to the patients’ history of time and places of being infected.

Unlike last year, Phuentsholing was better prepared to tackle the dengue outbreak this year.

The health ministry had trained 25 prime movers and 107 youths and volunteers from various organisations, who are deployed under the Phuentsholing thromde.

Prime movers are the key members who move around creating awareness, keep track of households in different dengue prone zones and help in removing mosquito breeding places. They also communicate with all other volunteers. This year, the thermal fogging has also been initiated early on.

Meanwhile, in case of probable and confirmed cases, a surveillance system is also in place to investigate further.

“We do a case-based investigation,” a doctor said. “It is to figure out where and when the patient was exposed.”

If the particular patient doesn’t have any travel history, the residential area and workplace will be investigated. A 100-metre radius in the locality is then properly investigated and necessary actions are taken. All these surveillance have been conducted in areas where the three confirmed cases were reported.

Health officials also said that residents have a big responsibility to control and prevent dengue outbreak in Phuentsholing.

Residents have to maintain their indoor and outdoor environment clean and those beyond their reach and capacity have to be reported to the relevant authorities.

A health official said that a dengue mosquito (Aedes) takes a week to become an adult and lives about three to four weeks.

“It is very important for people to clean their surroundings every week,” the health official said.

Flower pots, vehicle tyres, and buckets are some of the most potential breeding centres.

In 2019, the first case of dengue was reported in July and it soon spread to 19 dzongkhags, except Lhuentse.

By November, there were 5,489 positive cases. Of that 77 percent of the cases were reported in Phuentsholing and most were reported from those living in Jaigaon.

Six people died and two maternal deaths were also reported from dengue complications.

Bhutan’s Covid-19 status so far so good: Health Minister 

Mon, 07/06/2020 - 11:34

Younten Tshedup

While the country’s Covid-19 tally has been increasing, there has been zero death. The country recorded 34 new Covid-19 positive cases last month, but the country’s recovery rate is 83 percent.

Of the 78 Covid-19 positive cases as of yesterday, 51 have been declared recovered.The figure however, is taking into consideration the most stringent practice to prevent any local transmission of the virus.

In Bhutan, besides testing negative twice in 24 hours, a person has to complete a mandatory two-week de-isolation period outside the hospital’s isolation ward to be declared as recovered. At the end of the two weeks, if the person does not have any symptom, they are considered recovered.

With the current record of all individuals testing negative after the two-week de-isolation period and considering the general idea of recovery, which is testing negative twice in 24 hours while at the isolation ward, the country today has only eight active cases.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that all the eight patients at the isolation ward were in stable condition. Lyonpo said that on an average positive the patients stayed for 11 days at the isolation ward.

The longest stay was recorded at 32 days. Minimum was six days.


At the isolation

The high rate of recovery of Covid-19 patients, according to medical superintendent with the national referral hospital, Dr Gosar Pemba, is the age specific.

Majority of the patients have so far been between the ages of 25 and 30 years with a comparatively stronger immune system.   

He said that most of the patients were asymptomatic or with very mild symptoms, meaning the patients did not require any critical support.

Dr Gosar Pemba said that so far only three Covid-19 patients had to be put on supplementary oxygen support, as they had shown symptoms of mild pneumonia.

Of the three, two have been removed to the de-isolation facility. The one at the isolation has also been taken off the oxygen support.

He said that the stages of pneumonia differed from one patient to another. “We have mild, moderate and severe pneumonia cases and we have to treat them accordingly, step by step,” the medical superintendent said.

He explained that it was medically not recommended to place a patient directly on a ventilator. “Only if the supplementary oxygen supply is not enough we then consider putting the patient on the machine.”

Dr Gosar Pemba said that there were risks of introducing ventilator-associated pneumonia and other infections if ventilators are directly used on the patients. The machine support is provided as a last resort during a treatment.

So far, none of the Covid-19 patients in the country had to be put on the ventilator.

Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo described the country’s current status as ‘good’ for now.

However, Dr Gosar Pemba cautioned that should there be a community transmission and a large segment of population gets infected, the current understanding that young people recover from the infection could change as health support could come under pressure due to overwhelming cases.  

34 new HIV cases detected in six months

Sat, 07/04/2020 - 16:02

Health minister urges people to test to know their HIV status 

Younten Tshedup 

Heterosexual act or sexual intercourse with an opposite sex is the common mode of transmission among the 34 new Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) cases detected in the last six months.

The victims of the virus include a mother to a child transmission (MTCT) with 15 male and 19 female among the infected. Of the total new cases 23 (68 percent) of them are between the ages of 25-49 while nine (26 percent) of them are above 50 years.

Among the new cases, majority (13) are farmers and eight are housewives. All the new cases have been put on care and treatment at the national referral hospital.

Health officials said that although there is a sign of stabilisation of HIV epidemic in the country, with an average case detection of 55 cases for six years, there is a detection gap of 45 percent as of June this year.

 This shows that only 55 percent of the estimated 1,300 people living with HIV in the country know their HIV status. The remaining 579 people living with HIV are still unaware of their HIV status.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that one of the biggest challenges in responding towards the prevention and control of HIV is that people do not come forward for testing despite making testing services available in all the health centers across the country.

The services are also made available in the private diagnostic clinics and at the standalone Health Information and Service Center (HISC).

“It is the individual responsibility to know one’s HIV status to keep yourself and your sexual partners healthy.” Lyonpo said. “If diagnosed you will have a better chance of living a long and healthy life through quality treatment.”

The minister said that if a person tests positive for the virus, treatment could start early. “With treatment, the probability of transmitting the virus to your sexual partner is very minimum. But if you are not aware of your HIV status there is a possibility of spreading the virus to others including your own child.”

On the MTCT, the minister said, “Personally, a mother to child transmission is very unfortunate. Unnecessarily you give the virus to your child, how sad is that?”

The minister urged all those visiting hospitals for other illnesses to test for HIV. All tests are kept highly confidential, she added.

Director with the Department of Public Health, Dr Karma Lhazeen said that the ministry is also looking forward to introducing community lead testing to reach the unreached high-risk populations as a pilot project.

She said that such innovative measures are needed with changing times to encourage more people to get tested on time. “HIV partner notification or contact tracing is one of the most effective methods to identify those undiagnosed people who may have been exposed through positive partners.”

The director also urged all the newly diagnosed HIV positive individuals to extend full support in identifying their sexual contacts or injecting drug use partners for timely diagnosis and treatment.

Meanwhile, the total cumulative HIV cases reported from 1993 until June this year stands at 721 (374 male and 347 female).

Like many other countries in the region, the majority (70 percent) of the reported HIV cases in Bhutan is between the ages of 25-49 years while 15 percent are between the ages of 15-24 years.

This shows that HIV in Bhutan primarily affects the economically productive age group.

Officials said that of those infected about 93.8 percent of them have acquired the infection through the heterosexual route, while 5.4 percent were from mother to child transmission, 0.4 percent each from injecting drug and blood transfusion (outside Bhutan).

Officials added that one of the aspects of HIV prevention and control is to reduce stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV.

In the early 1980s when AIDS was first diagnosed there was very little known about how HIV is transmitted, and all the HIV/AIDS awareness are always associated with death, said an official.

“The situation worsened when there was no appropriate treatment during the initial stage of the epidemic. At present, as a result of more scientific evidence the high-quality antiretroviral treatment has been introduced to help HIV positive people.”

Timely testing is the only means to know one’s HIV status to initiate early treatment to prevent one from getting into the AIDS stage, officials added. 

New testing procedure for emergency cases in high risk areas

Sat, 07/04/2020 - 16:01

Younten Tshedup 

In addition to the two existing tests–rapid diagnostic test (RDT) and the reverse transcription- polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR)–the health ministry will start conducting rapid antigen tests in the country.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that starting this week the antigen test would be conducted along the border areas, among high-risk populations and in emergency cases.

Lyonpo said that the antigen test is more specific in comparison to RDT that detects the antibody in response to an infection. The antigen test detects the actual antigen, a foreign body and, in this case, the Covid-19 virus.

Lyonpo said that the test was as specific as the RT-PCR with an added advantage of providing fast results. While the confirmatory RT-PCR takes around six hours, the antigen test takes about 30 minutes to show the results.

She said that the test would be most effective during emergencies when the results need to be obtained at the earliest. “Besides some exceptions generally if the antigen test is negative, RT-PRC would also be negative. The test is antigen specific for Covid-19.”

However, compared to the RDT, the antigen tests are expensive with each test costing around USD 30. The provision would be made available in all health facilities across the country in the coming week.

The new testing protocol is a part of the ministry’s community transmission mitigation strategy which has become crucial as community transmission was inevitable. Intensifying testing procedures is one of the four key pillars under the strategy.

The fourth RT-PCR testing laboratory in Gelephu was operational since July 2. The facility will cater to the central dzongkhags. The facility in Thimphu will cover the western region, Mongar in the east and Phuentsholing in the south.

Enhancing surveillance by engaging village health workers and the local government officials to conduct community surveillance and report cases to agencies concerned is the next pillar under the strategy.

Surveillance would also be enhanced in schools and institutions. The school health coordinators would be trained to deal cases should there be a possible outbreak in the schools. All institutions including government, corporate and private will have to identify a Covid-19 safety officer to be the focal point in an event of an outbreak.

Lyonpo said that the objective was to prevent or slow down the spread of Covid-19 in the event of a community transmission through early detection, which would then translate to early isolation and treatment.

The ministry has also identified differentiated management of positive cases to enhance the surge capacity in the event of a local transmission.

People who have tested positive to the virus but if they are asymptomatic, instead of moving them to the hospital, they would be placed in an isolation facility outside the hospital.

For those positive cases that are symptomatic and need clinical support the ministry has arranged 635 beds in the hospitals. And for serious patients there are 54 intensive care unit (ICU) beds with ventilators in the four regional referral hospitals.

Lyonpo said that with no vaccines and treatment for Covid-19, the only best option available for now was to follow the health preventive measures.

She said that regularly washing hands, wearing face masks in the public space, maintaining physical distance and avoiding crowds has been scientifically proven to be effective and should be followed by the public.

She said that promoting a behavioural change among the public and encouraging people to practice the preventive measures was essential in the absence of a vaccine and treatment. This is the fourth pillar of the mitigation strategy.

With a recovery rate of about 83 percent, the minister said that the country’s status for now was “good”. “Our primary objective in the event of a community transmission is to maintain zero deaths.”

For this, she said that the ministry had identified the vulnerable groups including elderlies, people living with comorbidities and disabilities. Schools have been asked to submit the record of students with comorbidities and disabilities.

These groups of people would be evacuated and receive priority if there is a local transmission.

“With His Majesty The King personally guiding us all and with the blessing of our protective deities and the support of all volunteers, we are prepared,” she said. “But in the end it is how each individual takes the responsibility to safeguard the country and its people.”

Lyonpo said that with the experts predicting a spike in positive cases in India in the coming months, the option to reopen the border remained uncertain. There are no reopening options for now.