Talking at the Asia Economic Dialogue (2022) on February 23, Finance Minister Namgay Tshering spoke on government’s response at public health and economy aspects during the COVID-19 crisis.
For this year, the Asia Economic Dialogue 2022 was hosted around the theme “Resilient Global Growth in a Post-Pandemic World”.
As a landlocked country, Bhutan did not experience a full-blown outbreak, otherwise, most of the scenario was nothing different to the rest of the world, said Lyonpo.
At the public health front, Lyonpo shared that Bhutan imposed one of the strictest containment protocols and norms immediately upon the detection of the first case of COVID-19 in March, 2020. “We immediately suspended the arrival of international tourists in the country, closed international borders and established national and regional COVID-19 taskforce,” said Lyonpo Namgay Tshering.
As is the case elsewhere in the world that countries were caught off-guard by the threats of SARS-CoV-2, Bhutan was baffled yet moving on Bhutan put additional mitigation measures in place. “We had to again impose mandatory 21-day quarantine, this is above the requirement of World Health Organization’s requiring maximum of 14-days quarantine,” said Lyonpo.
Lyonpo highlighted about the free expense facilitation of the 21-day quarantine for the travelers. “We still continue the mandatory 21-day quarantine for international arrivals,” said Lyonpo.
Elaborating further on mitigation measures, Lyonpo highlighted on the zoning of the country into RED, GREEN and YELLOW colours as per surveillance and cases emerging from the respective districts. “The country also imposed 7-day quarantine for domestic travelers particularly individuals travelling from high-risk areas to low-risk areas,” said Lyonpo.
Lyonpo added that thousands of people travel on a daily basis and the quarantine expenses were being met by the government to ensure that livelihoods are protected at the same time when a lot of emphasis is given on protecting lives. “I would call it a Gold Standard Protocols, this has really helped us to contain the spread of virus,” said Lyonpo.
Above all, the mitigation measures were prominently set tone by His Majesty The King, Lyonpo told at the virtual event. “At the forefront of this battle against the pandemic, His Majesty The King mobilized more than 25,000 uniformed volunteers (De-Suups),” said Lyonpo. Elaborating on it, Lyonpo said that De-Suups aided the country a lot during the nationwide lockdown and at times of disaster across the country, and that they were truly instrumental in our country’s response towards the fight against the pandemic.
As Bhutan embarked on the fight against the COVID-19 outbreak, the country’s objective was to ensure and prioritize ‘lives over livelihoods’. “Livelihoods was also not totally undermined,” said Lyonpo. He further elaborated that to sustain livelihoods of more than 47,000 individuals laid-off from the service sector, they were taken care with monthly income from His Majesty’s Relief Fund.
Lyonpo also informed at the virtual event the tireless efforts of His Majesty to sustain livelihoods for individuals laid-off from the service sector. “His Majesty has done so much that he has even sacrificed his personal savings and went on to float his shares to meet the monthly income support for the laid-off individuals,” said Lyonpo. “Now the number is crossing more than 55,000 and this number is huge in our country’s population context,” added Lyonpo.
Lyonpo also thanked the Government of India and People of India for India’s unwavering support to Bhutan’s COVID-19 response efforts by donating 500,000 COVISHIELD vaccines. “It set a tone for accelerated vaccination drive for Bhutan, and today we have achieved about 95 percent vaccination coverage for above 12 years,” said Lyonpo.
On the economic front, a lot of measures were put in place like economic contingency plan back in 2020, Lyonpo said at the virtual event. On monetary and fiscal measures, Lyonpo said that just like in India, Bhutan also initiated National Credit Guarantee Schemes as a counter cyclical policy measure to support CSIs and start-ups.
Meanwhile, Lyonpo said that despite many mitigation measures to protect lives, livelihoods were also disrupted in Bhutan like elsewhere.
Lyonpo also highlighted on different areas of collaboration with the neighbouring countries and countries beyond the region in the world. “We need to have enhanced investment and balance of payments, and there lot of opportunities to have collaborative move forward to ensure resilient recovery during the post-pandemic,” said Lyonpo.
The Asia Economic Dialogue (AED) 2022 was held virtually this year from February 23 to 25. The event hosted by Pune International Center is the flagship geo-economics conference of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), India.
Over 50 speakers, including prominent policymakers, central bankers, economists, industrialists, strategists and experts from various fields participated and shared their views. It is the sixth edition of the annual conference and the theme for the year’s conference is “Resilient Global Growth in a Post-Pandemic World”.