The world is faced with an unprecedented challenge due to the spread of the novel coronavirus. The risks unleashed by this pandemic are escalating by the day. Realising that Bhutan will not be an exception to the adverse effects of this global pandemic, we have planned and implemented various strategies to cope with the threat in a timely and effective manner.
Adopting a cautious approach, Bhutan stopped the entry of tourists to prevent the virus from entering the country. We have quarantined every Bhutanese returning home for 3 weeks to eliminate all possible risks of local transmission. Given the vulnerabilities arising from unchecked movement of people along our long and porous borders, we have also sealed the borders and enhanced vigilance.
It is inevitable that such measures will have an adverse impact on the lives of our people. For example, businesses of small shopkeepers have declined, and the tourism and hospitality sector is at a standstill in the absence of tourists. Similarly the future prospects of people working in other sectors such as construction, mining, transport, etc., are uncertain.
During my recent visits to the Dzongkhags, I was deeply moved to see the solidarity and support shown by our people despite the numerous difficulties they face. For example, our farmers in the rural areas came forward to offer their farm produce to the armed forces and Desuups as an expression of appreciation for their selfless services. Contractors have offered their trucks and machineries free of charge. Although many businesses are in debt and likely to suffer, they have made cash contributions. Yet others, like taxi drivers, have offered their vehicles and also volunteered to serve physically if they are needed. Similarly, hotels have offered their properties and services as quarantine facilities.
The response of our people in these difficult times has revealed, firstly, that our people are well-informed and understand clearly the devastating impact of an outbreak in our country.
Secondly, I was deeply reassured to see that our people fully appreciate the value of unity, and the spirit of fidelity and harmony. If we – the King, government, and people, work together like members of one family, we can emerge unscathed from any adversity that we may encounter.
That our people from all backgrounds are ready to make personal sacrifices, despite facing difficulties themselves, shows that they place the interest of the nation above all else. I will forever appreciate the unwavering support of our people during this ordeal.
The government, led by the Prime Minister, has successfully shouldered its responsibilities. In particular, I commend the Ministry of Health and the numerous health personnel across the 20 Dzongkhags for their tireless service during this time of need.
Our public servants working in various ministries and departments in Thimphu, and in the Dzongkhags, Dungkhags, Thromdes, Gewogs and villages – are all rendering exceptional service to the nation in these trying times. I would like to extend my deep appreciation to all of you, for working round the clock and shouldering your responsibilities in an exemplary manner. I urge you to remain alert and keep up your efforts.
As long as the virus continues to spread across the world, there is every risk of the transmission of coronavirus in our country. To be totally successful in preventing local transmission, we can neither be complacent, nor can we let our guard down.
The reckless action of a single person who clandestinely crosses the border for trade, or to meet acquaintances, or to bring someone to Bhutan, risks spreading the coronavirus in their community and in the country. It will completely undermine all our national efforts. Therefore, to be 100 percent successful in our fight against the coronavirus, it will require the unstinted cooperation of each and every person.
Ensuring national security is of paramount importance, especially in these uncertain times. With no definite medical solution in sight, we are not sure how long it will be before normalcy can resume. Our health professionals, armed forces and Desuups, along with the public, are serving to the best of their abilities. However, if the situation prolongs, it is certain that fatigue will eventually set in. To supplement their efforts, we have instituted an accelerated Desuung programme to train 2,500 Desuups simultaneously at seven centres, which will be followed by another batch of 2,500 Desuups. We have made preparations to train more Desuups if necessary.
One of our biggest concerns is the burden on the economy arising from the measures imposed to control the transmission of the virus. I am also deeply worried about the impact the global economic downturn will have on our country and the lives of our people. Besides health concerns, our people are now worried about the loss of jobs and income, and the wellbeing of their families.
Under ordinary circumstances, we have always exercised extreme prudence and carefully weighed the costs and benefits of every expenditure, to ensure the most judicious use of our limited resources while constantly keeping the long term interest of the nation at heart.
However, the situation we are in today is extraordinary, and unlike any we have experienced thus far. We are confronted with a dangerous global pandemic of an unprecedented scale posing an imminent threat to our people. Therefore, building the resilience, confidence and security of our people must take greater priority over conserving our resources.
With the risks posed by coronavirus confounded by the economic uncertainties, the resilience of our people may also gradually diminish. Moving forward, it is imperative for the King, government, and the people to join hands and work together so that our people are inspired and ready to face this adversity with fearless courage.
The State on its part must immediately provide its resolute support to the people to pursue this paramount national objective.
With this in mind, a team of specialists has been assigned to work with and support the government to establish a National Resilience Fund. The Fund amounting to about Nu. 30 billion will be deployed to finance various economic activities to provide relief and economic stability.
The government has formulated numerous plans, policies, and strategies to fast track the implementation of the 12th Five Year Plan. This includes the plan to front load investments and provide stimulus to boost growth and enhance economic activities for the wellbeing of our people.
One of the biggest concerns of our people and businesses is the difficulty they are facing in meeting their loan repayment obligations. The Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) is working with the financial institutions to defer the loan repayment period and waive interest payments for three months. I commend the RMA and the Financial Institutions for understanding the interests of the nation and people, and proposing the right responses.
Many of our people working in the tourism and hospitality sector, including small restaurants, entertainment centers, truck drivers, taxi drivers, etc., have suffered loss of jobs and income, and are finding it difficult even to pay house rents. It is of utmost importance to extend immediate relief to the vulnerable people before the situation deteriorates. Therefore, the Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu will be granted to support the people, provide relief, and enable them to withstand their ordeals through this period.
Our country is a special land blessed by Guru Rinpoche and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, and further strengthened by the vision and hard work of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo. Our country has faced and successfully overcome numerous hurdles in the past.
I am confident that, with the blessings of the Triple Gem, the protection of our Guardian Deities, Kurims conducted by His Holiness the Je Kenpo and the monastic community, and the unwavering bond of fidelity and unity among the King, country and people- we have the fearless courage to overcome all adversities. Let us rise to the occasion in the service of our nation.