The Kingdom of Bhutan has offered Buddhist prayers and pledged to supply life-saving liquid oxygen to India as it confronts a national healthcare crisis brought about by a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen total infections in the country climb above 25 million.
India is in the midst of its second and most deadly wave of COVID-19, which emerged in February. The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that the highly transmissible SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.617.2, first detected in India, has been spreading across the country and around the world. Although the current wave of infections in India is now believed to be peaking, daily deaths remain above 4,000, according to government data.
Bhutan’s government has announced that the country will offer a supply of liquid oxygen to India, which is facing critical oxygen shortages across the country, from a new plant in Bhutan’s Motanga Industrial Estate, Samdrup Jongkhar District, close to the border with India.
“Every day, 40 metric tonnes of liquid oxygen produced by the oxygen plant will be exported to Assam using cryogenic tankers,” Bhutan’s government announced. “The oxygen plant has domestic investment of 51 per cent by M/s SD Cryogenics and an FDI component of 49 per cent by Meghalaya Oxygen Pvt. Ltd., an Assam-based Indian company.” (The Economic Times)
On 15 May, Bhutan’s monarch, King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, visited the site of oxygen plant to oversee progress at the industrial park. Bhutanese Prime Minister Lotay Tshering shared a call with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on 11 May, during which Tshering expressed solidarity with the people of India in their struggle against COVID-19 and Modi conveyed his thanks to the people and government of Bhutan for their support.
At the time of writing on 20 May, India had reported a total of 25.77 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 287,122 related deaths, and had administered 186.98 million vaccine doses.* However, experts have expressed concern that a dearth of test kits in many parts of India, particularly in rural areas, means that large numbers of deaths and infections have not made it into official data, and that the actual situation on the ground is almost certainly much worse. India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, is also running desperately short of vaccine doses in the face of massive demand, with less than 3 per cent of its population of some 1.35 billion people fully vaccinated, according to government data.
Following a royal command from the king, the Zhung Dratshang, Bhutan’s central Buddhist monastic body, on 12 May offered a thousand butter lamps and prayers of dedication for all those who have lost their lives to the COVID-19 pandemic around the world, and in particular to Bhutan’s closest political ally, India. The ceremony, attended by the Queen Mother Thinley Choden, was conducted by more than 100 monks at Talo Sangngak Chholing Monastic College in the former capital Punakha, and presided over by the principal of the college. Similar ceremonies were also carried out at monastic centers across Bhutan.
A group of singers from Bhutan, G. R. Upreti, Pashupati Diyali, Ashis Pokhrel, and Matrika Prasad Sharma, have even offered a song of hope for India, with a warm prayer for strength and speedy recovery against the pandemic.
As of 20 May, Bhutan had reported a total of 1,322 COVID-19 infections and one death, and 482,192 vaccines administered.* The kingdom’s sole COVID-19-related death, recorded on 7 January, was a 34-year-old man with pre-existing health conditions who died after being diagnosed on 21 December.**
Bhutan was quick to adopt a comprehensive, evidence-based tracing and testing regime soon after the SARS-CoV-2 novel coronavirus began spreading around the world, putting in place strict border controls and a three-week quarantine procedure for all returnees to avoid overloading its healthcare system. The coordinated response has been bolstered by Bhutan’s traditional communal values and the country’s free universal healthcare system, a key aspect of the kingdom’s Gross National Happiness (GNH) philosophy.
Earlier this year, Bhutan became the first country to receive a free shipments of COVID-19 vaccines as part of India’s vaccine diplomacy efforts, receiving a consignments of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from India’s domestic production in January and March. A subsequent national inoculation campaign saw the country distribute vaccines to more than 90 per cent of the population in just 10 days.***
Remote, landlocked, and perched in the rarified air of the eastern Himalaya, Bhutan is the world’s last remaining Vajrayana Buddhist kingdom. The ancient spiritual tradition is embedded in the very consciousness and culture of this remote land, where it has flourished with an unbroken history that dates back to its introduction from Tibet by Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rinpoche, in the eighth century.
Roughly 75 per cent of Bhutan’s population of some 770,000 people identify as Buddhists, according to the Washington, DC-based Pew Research Center. The majority of the remaining 25 per cent, mainly people of the Lhotshampa ethnic group of Nepalese descent, practice Hinduism. Most of Bhutan’s Buddhists follow either the Drukpa Kagyu or the Nyingma schools of Vajrayana Buddhism.
** Buddhist Bhutan Reports First COVID-19 Related Death (Buddhistdoor Global)
Oxygen plant in Eastern Bhutan to supply liquid oxygen to India (The Economic Times)
From state to Centre to abroad: how India got Bhutan O2 supply (The Indian Express)
Modi thanks Bhutan PM for Covid support (Tribune India)
Bhutan has the highest quality of leadership: WHO (Kuensel)
Bhutan prepares to supply oxygen to India (Kuensel)
Bhutan to supply liquid oxygen to India to help combat Covid crisis (The Print)
Bhutan King at Motanga site, checks progress for oxygen supply to India (East Mojo)
Watch: Bhutan’s heartfelt prayer for India to win over COVID-19 (East Mojo)
Pictures: Bhutan offers 1,000 butter lamps, prayers for COVID-19 victims (East Mojo)
Bhutan lights lamps, offers prayers for COVID-19 victims in India (East Mojo)