His Majesty The King’s Address to the Nation – 12 September 2020

“Last month, the threat of the pandemic became very real for Bhutan when the first COVID-19 cases were detected outside the quarantine facilities. It was extremely worrying to find several positive cases, in more than one place. Those who contracted the virus and their loved ones have suffered a great deal of anxiety.

“A nationwide lockdown was introduced with immediate effect to contain the virus. The entire population had to stay home for weeks, stopping work, losing income, and running out of food and essentials. Yet, our people fully understood the magnitude of the threat we face, and willingly endured the discomfort and hardship, extending their wholehearted support to the government. I thank our people for being concerned about the collective good and showing exceptional forbearance and resilience.

“We closed our international borders in March. But, in the following months, there has been no sign that the COVID-19 pandemic will end. It has continued to spread; bringing illness, death, and distress to so many people around the world. In comparison, we were able to lead reasonably normal lives in Bhutan with some disruptions caused by just a few cases. The government, led by the Prime Minister, Dr. Lotay Tshering, has worked tirelessly over the past six months. Many public servants have put in long hours of work. Health Minister Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo, the health ministry– secretary, doctors, nurses, technicians, and other health workers – have been serving without even a day’s rest. The armed forces – RBA, RBP and RBG – supported by Desuups and numerous other volunteers, have served with inexhaustible strength and energy. Most importantly, their work has been strengthened by the unwavering sense of civic duty of the people. All these efforts have culminated in our success so far.

“What we do next is critical. The road ahead will be arduous. The enemy that we are confronting is invisible. But we cannot afford to allow COVID-19 to spread unchecked among the population. It is a new virus and, therefore, still unpredictable. Our priority will always be the health and wellbeing of our people. We will continue to do everything to ensure that lives are not put at risk.

“As we battle the pandemic, we need to be aware that it will not disappear in a matter of months – we have to brace ourselves to deal with the impact of the pandemic for the next year or two. We need a cure or a vaccine to see an end to COVID-19. There will undoubtedly be a vaccine, but it will take some time before it is ready, and some more time before it becomes widely accessible. All our planning, at both the individual and national levels, must be based on this fact.

“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 the people have been disrupted. When I look ahead, I see a period that will be fraught with difficulties for our people.

“At the same time, however, I am confident that we will overcome this. All our national resources, accumulated over the years through the hard work of our Kings and ancestors, our national assets, the collective capability of our institutions, the knowledge and experience of our public servants, and the dedication and stamina of our people, are being utilised today.

“Indeed, an enormous responsibility faces us all – the King, the government, and the people. As in the past, if we think and act as one, and exert our concerted efforts, we will surely overcome every obstacle and prevail against all odds.

“Although we were confronted by unforeseen challenges this year, everyone has been outstanding in performing their services. We have come together and made sure that the national machinery is functioning well. This was possible because of the immense love and dedication that our people have for our country. Our commitment to the wellbeing of our fellow Bhutanese was clearly evident in the hard work, and what we have accomplished in the past six months.

“Moving forward, to further build on our achievements, we must now muster the active involvement and support of our youth. Demographically, we have a large proportion of young people who can make a significant difference if given the opportunity. The youth of Bhutan embody vigour and energy, and they are ready to serve without fear or hesitation when needed. I am always profoundly heartened when I hear their aspirations and see their enthusiasm.

“During such times, our most crucial national endeavour is to ensure the continued wellbeing of our people. One major challenge we face today is the shortage of workforce. Understandably, expatriate workers wish to return to their homes during the pandemic, and many have already left. It is up to Bhutanese citizens, therefore, to step in and serve wherever there are shortfalls. In a sense, this is a timely opportunity. At a time when our youth are ready to serve, we can translate this prospect into reality for the long-term benefit of the nation, and achieve the extraordinary.

“When we place such a mandate on our youth, we have to be, first of all, clear about precisely what we expect. Secondly, the task that we give them should be timeless and of such national importance that it will inspire and motivate them. And finally, what we ask of them must be pragmatic and achievable given the limitations of the current situation.

“For example, Bhutan has abundant water resources compared with most of the countries in the world. Yet, there is no water in many places where it is needed, leaving large tracts of productive land fallow. Water is also a cause of conflict between communities and a predicament for rural and urban settlements alike. Our food import in the past year was over Nu. 7 billion while about 78,000 acres of arable land remained fallow.

“An estimated half of the Bhutanese population is engaged in the agriculture sector. If with a well-designed programme, our youth were engaged in building a robust water management infrastructure, it would be of long term benefit to the country. While global conflicts and wars will be fought over access to water, if we can solve this problem once and for all in Bhutan, it will be a truly noble accomplishment. This would also ensure food security, an essential aspect of our overall national goal of self-reliance. What the youth of Bhutan achieves over a year or two during the COVID-19 pandemic, will remain as a mark of triumph– an invaluable asset and a lasting legacy for future generations.

“As we grapple with this pandemic today, our religious institutions continue to supplicate the blessings of our Guardian Deities, and the government will not relax in its efforts to contain the threat. Our institutions, armed forces, Desuups, public servants, and volunteers will continue to serve the nation. The elderly will remain safe, and the people thoroughly conscientious.

“We look to the youth of Bhutan to come forward – in this hour of need – so that, beyond overcoming the challenges posed by COVID-19, we build a stronger nation.

“During this pandemic, my only priority is the wellbeing and happiness of our people, including those living abroad. With the blessings and protection of our Guardian Deities, we will all remain safe. And, as I always say, if our people stay diligent and committed, united in purpose and spirit, all will be well.

Tashi Delek.”

Translation of His Majesty’s Address to the Nation, 10th April 2020

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 De-suups 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.

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.”

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 De-suups, 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 De-suung programme to train 2,500 De-suups simultaneously at seven centres, which will be followed by another batch of 2,500 De-suups. We have made preparations to train more De-suups 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 Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu will be granted to support the people, provide relief, and enable them to withstand their ordeals through this period.

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.