COVID crisis & accountability

Presently, we are witnessing a crisis of sorts.

Thimphu and Paro have been declared red zones while the rest of the dzongkhags are allowing restricted movement under smart lockdown. We have been under lockdown, the second one, for 20 days now. And instead of the situation improving, we recently saw massive levels of complacency from certain quarters: a COVID patient had visited many friends and relatives in Thimphu and primary contacts have been placed under quarantine. The health minister also announced that 44 households have been affected pretty badly.

Is the government failing to do its job? Or is it the public that has overtly high levels of entitlement and cannot bear to withstand discomfort even if means containing a pandemic? Or is it that both have failed in working together in synergy to combat a virus that has turned into a full-blown epidemic? Where does the problem lie?

While playing the blame game during such moments does no good for anybody in particular, let us take a look at some hard facts here.

Awareness campaigns and advocacy to mitigate the risk of the virus began after the first COVID case (an imported one) was intercepted but nobody was really serious about the threat. It was something only the “others” got. Then suddenly, like a bolt from the blue, a nation-wide lockdown was declared from August 11-September 2 at the first possibility of community transmission. This time things got difficult as the authorities were not prepared to tackle such a move that entailed major disruption of services and movement. Complaints poured in from dissatisfied consumers about service delivery. But the authorities did it-one step at a time-systems were put into place and we saw people like volunteers, health personnel and Desuups rising to the occasion. Ordinary people did their best to contribute to the common good.

But then, things went back to “normal” (not the new one). While some people used masks and apps like Druk Trace, there were others who still wanted to “be hanging with the crowd,” who advocated against the use of face masks especially on social media and even lockdowns. Then just as suddenly as the previous one, a second lockdown was imposed in Thimphu on December 20 which extended nationwide and is ongoing. In fact, this might be one of our worst nightmares coming true: raging community transmission in Paro and Thimphu.

In the midst of this, who should be held accountable? The nation is not about the ones in the upper echelons alone, the authorities. Neither is it only about the public and the underdog. Every citizen, leader and system is a microcosm of Bhutan. If we say, the government is not trying, we might be passing too harsh, critical and hasty a judgment on a new one-term (so far) government that has admittedly acted swiftly to put in place short-term measures to prevent the virus from spreading. But they can certainly do better in long-term and pro-active planning including implementing strategies to recoup the economy and procuring vaccines. On the other hand the people have certainly not helped by virtue of their own complacency as well. Despite repeated warnings and reminders from the government, we continued to do as we deemed best and now, the results are for all to see.

Only fools do not learn from their mistakes. Let us not be the proverbial idiots.