UPDATES ON COVID-19 : IS BHUTAN OPEN FOR TOURISM?

Updated on 09/February/2021

UPDATES ON COVID-19 : IS BHUTAN OPEN FOR TOURISM?
As of February 2021, Bhutan is not open to tourists. Travelling to Bhutan is currently not allowed as the Bhutan government has implemented a travel restriction for all incoming tourists until further notice. The government is closely monitoring the pandemic situation within and beyond the country and updates will be provided progressively as the global situation unfolds.

The government of Bhutan aims to vaccinate the entire Bhutanese population after March. Upon the nationwide vaccination program, it is hopeful that Bhutan will slowly ease into reopening for tourism this year. The government is progressively updating on the situation.

To get updated when Bhutan is open to tourists, subscribe for Druk Asia's newsletter here.

As of 9 February 2021, Bhutan has a 99% COVID-19 recovery rate with 861 positive cases with 854 recovered.

On 20 January 2021, Bhutan became the first country to receive a consignment of 150,000 doses of Covidshield vaccines from neighbouring India. Bhutan is planning to vaccinate all the targeted population at the same time after March 13 2021.

UPDATES ON COVID-19 : IS BHUTAN SAFE FOR TRAVELLING?
Travelling to Bhutan is currently not allowed as the Bhutan government has implemented a travel restriction for all incoming tourists until further notice. The government is closely monitoring the pandemic situation within and beyond the country and updates will be provided progressively as the global situation unfolds.

UPDATES ON BHUTAN COVID-19 RESPONSE (22 January 2021)
On 20 January 2021, Bhutan became the first country to receive a consignment of 150,000 doses of Covidshield vaccines from neighbouring India. It is a gift from India to its South Asian counterpart, just four days after India’s own massive roll out of the vaccine. An AN32 glided its way into the Paro International Valley and was received by Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, the health minister Dechen Wangmo, Foreign secretary Kinga Singye and a few other senior officials.
Representing the friendly neighbour was the Ambassador of India to Bhutan, Her Excellency Ruchira Kamboj and the embassy officials who handed over the vaccines the Oxford-Astra Zeneca vaccine, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India.
The Indian government has assured to cover the two doses requirement of Bhutan's target population of slightly over 533,500 and has committed to deliver the remaining consignments soon. Bhutan is planning to vaccinate all the targeted population at the same time. A nationwide vaccination program will be rolled out when there are sufficient doses for all the targeted population.
Meanwhile, the country has begun to ease the lockdown in the various districts and continues to monitor the pandemic situation within the Kingdom.

UPDATES : 23 DECEMBER 2020 - NATIONWIDE LOCKDOWN
On 22 December 2020, the government announced for a seven day nationwide lockdown upon detection that several close contacts linked to the 25-year-old were tested positive. Designated shops will be allowed to open only after the shop personnel are tested and found to be negative. The public is requested to follow all other COVID Safety and Zoning protocols when coming out of their houses. Meanwhile, relevant agencies will ensure that there are no disruptions in supply of goods, vegetables and other essential items, including animal feed, within the country. Government will also facilitate and ensure minimum disruption in import and export of all goods.
The lockdown across the nation will enable the government to control the spread of the disease and also discern the extent of transmission in the communities.

20 DECEMBER 2020 - LOCKDOWN IN THIMPHU AND PART OF TRONGSA
In the morning of 20th December 2020, the government of Bhutan has implemented a complete lockdown in the capital city of Thimphu and peripheral areas of Debsi, RTC area, Gangchey, Nyezergang in the south, Kabesa, Begana and Changtagang in the north. Until further notice, all shops, offices, schools and institutions in the Thimphu Super Zone must remain closed. During the lockdown period, there will be no delivery of essentials. Depending on the surveillance outcome, the zone wise relaxations and essential supplies will be carried out in the coming days. All inter-district travel of both vehicles and people will be stopped with immediate effect. Essential movements and exit of export materials will be facilitated with close monitoring of Royal Bhutan Police. This is the second lockdown implemented in the Kingdom of Bhutan. The announcement came after a 25-year-old who visited the flu clinic at the National Referral Hospital in Thimphu was tested positive for COVID-19. Since then, the health ministry has been conducting intensive contact tracing to test all possible contacts. Close to 400 samples have been collected within the past three days.

TEMPORARY CLOSURE OF DRUK ASIA OFFICE DURING COVID-19
In line with Singapore's government direction of phased resumption of activities, Druk Asia's office at 60 Albert Street, OG Complex will also remain closed until further notice. The safety of our employees and guests are our utmost priority and we sincerely look forward to welcoming you again soon. For any enquiries, drop us an email at hello@drukasia.com and we will respond to you within 2 working days.

REPATRIATION OF BHUTANESE DURING COVID-19
Even though tourism is currently on halt, Druk Asia has been actively working closely with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in Bhutan to coordinate for repatriation flights. Thus far, we have assisted in four repatriation flights on 15 April, 17 June, 29 June, 27 July and 22 August for Bhutanese residing in various countries such as Australia, Malaysia, Japan, London, France, Italy, Poland, Macau, Germany, Canada, New York and the Philippines.

Aside from ensuring that these Bhutanese return home safely, these flights also act as cargo flights that send essential medical supplies to Bhutan.

Should any Bhutanese residing overseas require any assistance in repatriation, you can send an email to homecoming@drukair.com.sg.

COVID-19 SITUATION IN BHUTAN - FIRST NATIONWIDE LOCKDOWN

The Bhutan government has imposed a nationwide lockdown following a report of a COVID-19 positive case outside the quarantine center in Gelephu since Aug 11. There was also a cluster of positive cases from a mini dry port quarantine facility in Phuntsholing town, a commercial hub in southern Bhutan. Many initiatives have been undertaken to further curb the community transmission of the virus.

As of August 31, 2020, there are 195 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Bhutan. Majority of the cases are imported cases from Bhutanese returning to the country and are detected during the quarantine period upon testing. Of the 195 cases, 135 patients have recovered and been discharged. There is currently no community widespread and zero COVID-19 mortality in Bhutan. Bhutan takes the safety of its people very seriously with His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck at the forefront personally seeing through the national preparedness measures. There is a mandatory 21-day quarantine for all Bhutanese who return to the country. All the citizens will be isolated in the designated quarantine facilities where meals are provided and tests are conducted regularly.

From July 1 2020, to August 11 2020 Bhutan has transitioned from Orange zone to Phase 1 reopening. Schools have resumed for most of the classes and all students are required to wear masks. While all parks and public spaces will reopen, huge gatherings of crowds including tournaments and spectators will still be prohibited. Wearing of face masks is required at all gatherings and safe distancing protocols are to be followed.

Upon the detection of the first COVID-19 case in Bhutan on March 5, 2020, Bhutan government has initially imposed a two-week ban for all incoming tourists into the country. The government has further extended the travel restriction until further notice in view of the escalating COVID-19 situation in some countries.

TIMELINE OF BHUTAN’S COVID-19 PREPAREDNESS MEASURES
Bhutan has acted swiftly when the global pandemic outbreak was reported. Prior to the country’s first detection of the coronavirus case on March 5 2020, all incoming tourists were required to submit travel history and health declaration upon arriving in Paro International Airport.

The first COVID-19 patient, a 76-year old US citizen, was flown back to the United States on March 13, 2020 via a special Phoenix air ambulance N163PA. He has recovered and is doing very well. The daughter of the patient has written an email to express her gratitude towards His Majesty, the Prime Minister Office and all the healthcare workers who provided the utmost care to her father when he was in Bhutan.

Below is a history and timeline of Bhutan’s preparedness measures that has been in place.


MAR 29

  • Tests continue in the Kingdom. Of 58 performed at the Royal Center for Disease Control at Thimphu yesterday, Mar 28, one returns positive. Infected individual is a student who was in quarantine; the case has been isolated and all possible contacts in a quarantine facility. This takes the number of positive cases in Bhutan, to four.

MAR 27

  • Prime Minister's Office - PMO, Bhutan issues press release on restrictions for:
    • Public gatherings
    • Travel (non-essential and leisure travels, public transport locally)
    • Business and entertainment
    • Games and sports
    • Workers in civil service, corporate, private sectors, and other agencies to follow 'work from home' system

MAR 26

  • Tests continue in the Kingdom. Of 25 performed in Thimphu and Phuentsholing yesterday, Mar 25, one returns positive. Infected individual is an imported case; immediate contact tracing procedures carried out. This takes the number of positive cases in Bhutan, to three.

MAR 23

  • Starting 6am, Mar 23, 2020, Bhutan closes its international borders.
  • No locals are allowed out of the Kingdom.
  • For non-Bhutanese, exits are allowed. Incoming non-Bhutanese will be scrutinised and quarantined where applicable.

MAR 20

  • The partner of the first Covid-19 case tests positive. Results are informed at a press briefing today. Their guides and driver's tests remain negative, but their quarantines are sustained at the quarantine facility in Mothithang. Both are doing well. This takes the number of positive cases in Bhutan, to two.

MAR 18

  • Prime Minister's Office - PMO, Bhutan's Facebook page updates: Restriction on incoming tourists sustained until further notice. "While the situation back home is under control, the global trend of coronavirus is not encouraging for us to lift the ban."
  • Temporary closure of drayangs, nightclubs, discotheques and other joints where huge crowds may gather.

MAR 15

  • Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering joins India's Prime Minister, in a video conference to discuss and coordinate in tackling COVID-19 outbreak in the region.
  • PM Tshering also sits with representatives country’s holding and investment arm, the Druk Holding and Investments (DHI), in discussing ways to take Bhutan's economy forward and running. “If we don’t have a clear strategy, we will not be able to make the best use of our resources under this thick cloud of coronavirus,” prime minister said. “Let us work closely so that when the cloud clears, our nation stands benefitted.”

MAR 11

  • Prime Minister's Office - PMO, Bhutan's Facebook page updates: The Kingdom is in the 'Orange' zone.

MAR 8

  • The Prime Minister and teams at the health ministry discuss intensifying preparedness should the Covid-19 situation worsen. 34 samples picked up through health surveillance today are confirmed to be negative.

MAR 6 to 20

  • The government imposes a two weeks restriction on all incoming tourists until Mar 20, 2020.

MAR 6

  • The Prime Minister's Office - PMO, Bhutan announces first Covid-19 case in Bhutan, confirmed 11pm on Mar 5. Results were validated on Mar 6.
  • Contact tracing of the 76-year-old patient from the US was immediately set in place, covering his itinerary including places visited and people he had associated with. The PMO indicates that the traveller's partner, driver and guide are asymptomatic for now, but are quarantined. All 8 Indian nationals on his flight from Guwahati are also quarantined.
  • Service staff on the flight, hotel staff associated with the traveller's accommodations have been put on home quarantine, until all checks are cleared.

FEB 5

  • Bhutan holds second press briefing on Covid-19 at the Ministry on Health.

JAN 29

  • Bhutan’s leaders hold their 3rd internal coordination meeting.
  • Bhutan holds first press briefing on Covid-19 at the Ministry on Health.

JAN 27

  • Bhutan’s leaders hold their 2nd internal coordination meeting.

JAN 22

  • Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH) increases surveillance at their Outpatient department, and Emergency department.
  • Apart from mandatory health checks on all passengers arriving from China at Paro International Airport, Immigrations initiated a separate line listing of Chinese passport holders – where authorities collected information of travellers’ contact in Bhutan.

JAN 21

  • Bhutan’s leaders hold their 1st internal coordination meeting.

JAN 17

  • Starting today, all in-flight announcements on board Drukair and Bhutan Airlines have included a section asking passengers to notify crew should there be any one who’s unwell, or with travel history to affected areas. These passengers are duly informed to report to the airport’s health unit for thorough screenings and investigation.

JAN 15

  • Bhutanese leaders issues cautionary notifications to the public and health centers.
  • Paro International Airport installs infrared fever scanners, steps up surveillance measures.


NATIONAL PREPAREDNESS: WHAT BHUTAN'S DOING

Bhutan takes her citizens’ safety, as well as that of all travellers entering the Kingdom, of utmost importance. As such, The Ministry of Health, Bhutan has enforced a detailed list of actions to enhance the preparedness of the Kingdom against the Covid-19 outbreak.

AIRPORT

  • Paro International Airport has stepped up surveillance measures. Infrared fever scanners have been put in place since Jan 15, 2020.
  • Since Jan 17, 2020, in-flight announcements on board Drukair and Bhutan Airlines have included a section asking passengers to notify crew should there be any one who’s unwell, or with travel history to affected areas. These passengers are duly informed to report to the airport’s health unit for thorough screenings and investigation.
  • On Jan 22, 2020, apart from implementing health checks on all passengers arriving from China at Paro International Airport, Immigrations initiated a separate line listing of Chinese passport holders – where authorities collected information of travellers’ contact in Bhutan.

GOVERNMENT MEETINGS

  • Bhutan’s leaders held the 1st internal coordination meeting on Jan 21, 2020 to discuss national preparedness plans and response planning for Covid-19.
  • The 2nd internal coordination meeting was held on Jan 27, 2020.
  • The 3rd internal coordination meeting was held on Jan 29, 2020.

LABORATORIES & MEDICAL PERSONNEL

  • All health centers are currently following strict instructions to step-up on surveillance. Also, a reporting system was established with Bhutan’s Royal Center for Disease Control (RCDC) to facilitate reportings.
  • RCDC has readied their BSL 3 lab to handle the Covid-19.
  • Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH) has set aside patient isolation rooms, medical team and critical units on standby should the need arise.
  • Surveillance has also been increased at JDWNRH’s Outpatient department, and Emergency department since Jan 22, 2020.

MOVING ABOUT IN BHUTAN

  • All health facilities at points of entry into Bhutan (Gelephu, Paro, Phuentsholing, Samdrup Jongkhar and Samtse) have readied isolation rooms, stepped up infection control measures, as well as placed personnel on standby for the triaging of patients.

TRANSPARENCY

  • When news of the Covid-19 emerged in January, Bhutanese leaders acted swift to issue cautionary notifications to the public and health centers on Jan 15, 2020.
  • The public is consistently updated through Bhutan Broadcasting Service announcements, TV talk shows, radio programmes, as well as various social media
  • To date, two press briefings have been held on Covid-19 at the Ministry on Health. The first was on Jan 29, and the other on Feb 5, 2020.

Planning to travel to Bhutan during a festival?

On popular dates of travel such as during festival time, flight tickets tend to get fully reserved 5 months prior. Due to limited flight and seats available, we recommend you to reserve your ticket as early as possible. You can reserve your ticket for free with us and plan your trip to Bhutan with a peace of mind knowing that you will have a spot on your flight to Bhutan.


 

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