Govt. announces relaxation on COVID safety protocol

In a press briefing titled ‘Transition to a new normal-Phase 1’, slight relaxation for schools, colleges and businesses in the country that were imposed following the outbreak of COVID-19 case in the country was announced by Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering yesterday. 

Talking to the local media in the afternoon, Lyonchhen announced the government’s decision of resuming classes X and XII in all dzongkhags from July 1 in the first phase of the reopening.

According to the PM, the two are the most important as class X students have to choose their streams and class XII students have to go to colleges.

However, schools and students will have to adhere to the health ministry’s safety measures strictly and those attending classes need to wear face masks.

Later in the second phase, Prime Minister said classes VII,VIII, IX and XI would be resumed. “We we will see in the coming month or months depending on how classe X and XII do,” Lyonchhen said.

However, the PM said classes PP to VI will not be opened within this year and that students will be assessed through online classes.

“There will be online assessment or for those who cannot, there would be some other way where either the teachers can come door-to-door or some other ways,” he said, adding that they would come up with ways with the education ministry to do the exam.

The PM reasoned that primary schools cannot be opened now as it will be difficult for young students to follow COVID-19 safety protocols such as washing hands, maintaining hygiene and other measures.

However, for colleges in the country, it was announced that learning and assessment will continue online for first and second year students. Meanwhile, students in the final semester, will have to come to the college, complete the semester and then sit for the examination.

“For those who can’t do online there will be a strategy by RUB and MoE to do actual exams,” the PM said, adding that it will be compulsory to wear masks in colleges.

And since the students in the TVET institutes are boarding students, it was announced that they would be called back to the institutes.

Lyonchhen also announced that businesses can now stay open until 9pm from July 1 from the earlier 7pm deadline. Further, snooker and video game parlors are allowed to open, but entertainment centers will remain closed.

It was also announced that all sports will be open and all kinds of games can be played from today. However, no tournaments and spectators would be allowed and people have been urged to avoid crowding. “You can have archery games, but you cannot have more than 15 people,” Lyonchhen said.

Further, it was announced that the government has decided to discontinue work from home for office workers. As there is no community transmission in the last three months, the PM said office workers need not stay away from office. “This will be implemented from RCSC which could make some exceptions,” he added.

And for those wanting to have rimdros and lochus (annual rituals), and tendrels, the government urged people to avoid large gatherings and ensure that only key people are there. Similarly, those visiting monasteries have been urged not to crowd.

“We can have important meetings but in line with COVID-19 norms and face masks,” Lyonchhen said, adding that it will be mandatory to use face mask while travelling by public transportation.

While some want to maintain the status quo and it is unknown when COVID-19 will go away, Lyonchhen said they have to put in relaxation measures from now and that they have to capitalize on the window of opportunity.

“Relaxation measures for businesses, schools and colleges will come into effect from July 1, but for others it can be right away,” he added.

The relaxation of measures will not result in local transmission, but Lyonchhen said there will be local or regional lockdown if the government sees any risks or identification of local transmission.

However, Lyonchhen said all have to comply by the health ministry’s advisories strictly.

Meanwhile, it was divulged that the Phase II of the transition will be announced in about a month’s time.

Namkhai Norbu from Thimphu