Bhutan’s Response to COVID-19 and Disaster Risk Reduction
Bhutan confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on March 6, 2020. A nationwide lockdown was announced with immediate effect to contain the community spread of the virus. The RGoB put in place every measure necessary to safeguard the people of Bhutan from the pandemic and their response to the pandemic was recognized internationally.
Until July 30, 2020, active cases had flattened, with no evidence of community transmission and no deaths. However, on August 11, 2020 the RGoB announced its first nationwide lockdown, following report of a COVID-19 positive case in a traveller who had been released from quarantine. Bhutan is currently at Level 3 (Orange) stage which indicates that there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 but there is no local transmission of the virus.
A National COVID-19 Task Force (NC19TF) was constituted with the Prime Minister as the Chair. It endorsed a guideline which ensures that every zone is a self-contained unit with access to essential shops and services. During the lockdown, all schools, offices, and commercial establishments were asked to remain closed. Since the start of the pandemic, the economic impact of COVID-19 has been substantial, driven by the adverse impact it has had on the tourism industry and related services sector. Relevant agencies like Ministry of Finance (MoF),
Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA) and Royal Monetary Authority of Bhutan (RMA) studied ways to minimize the economic impact. The Prime Minister has also designated individuals to carry out studies and provide best practical solutions.
The pandemic and its ramifications have posed some debilitating challenges. Education has been interrupted this year. The national development process, economic activity, and the everyday lives of people have been disrupted. The RGoB has taken appropriate prevention and preparedness measures with an emphasis on critical medical services and advisories.
Schools and public space closures, work from home and social distancing measures have been put in place.
The Public Finance Act of 2007 in Bhutan provided the legal framework and allowed the Ministry of Finance to use public funds for emergency expenditures. The MoF notified the procedures on how activities related to the pandemic would be implemented. This is to ensure proper budgeting, timely disbursement of funds, proper accounting, and finally, audits of the COVID-19 related expenditures.
Leading the national efforts to confront this challenge, His Majesty the King has travelled extensively across the country to ensure the highest level of preparedness. Further, His Majesty commanded that utmost priority be given to prevent the loss of any life; provide good care for the patients and those quarantined in Bhutan including those living abroad; and maintain public confidence by alleviating the difficulties faced by the people and ensuring the uninterrupted supply of foods and essential commodities.
Upon the Royal Command, the government implemented numerous measures to strengthen the healthcare system by expanding public health education; implementing strict quarantine and surveillance; improving facilities for the care of patients; and expanding COVID-19 testing facilities amongst others. The government also acknowledges the critical role played by the frontline health personnel, armed forces and Desuups or volunteers for providing exemplary service.
The Ministry of Health is responsible for the stewardship of health sector in Bhutan. The country adopted and followed all technical guidance provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) to respond to the pandemic. The Health Emergency Operation Center (HEOC) was activated at the Ministry of Health immediately. The government reprioritized and consolidated savings from non-essential activities including international travels and meetings from all sectors and are investing these in COVID-19 response and actions.