Covid-19 Updates: Bhutan Travel Announcement (as at 11 Aug 2021)

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

As of 11 August 2021, Bhutan is currently open to tourists. Travelling to Bhutan is currently allowed but the Bhutan government has implemented several criteria for all incoming tourists.

What are the travel restrictions in Bhutan? How to visit Bhutan during the pandemic?
1. You need to book your trip through a licensed Bhutanese tour operator.
2. Bear charges for the 21 days quarantine (food and room).
3. Pay a Sustainable Development Fee of USD65 per person per night for the 21 days.
4. Entry is only for those travelling to Bhutan by air.
5. Minimum Daily Package Rate will be applicable for the entire tour duration after your quarantine.
6. Bear the cost for all COVID-19 tests.
7. You need to follow the COVID-19 protocol and TCB guidelines when you're in Bhutan.
8. You need to purchase travel insurance with COVID-19 coverage.
9. Produce a COVID-19 negative RT-PCR test certificate by a certified laboratory no more than 72 hours before embarking from the country of origin.
10. You are encouraged to be fully vaccinated. 

To get updated on Bhutan’s latest travel restrictions and situation in Bhutan, subscribe to Druk Asia’s newsletter.

UPDATES ON BHUTAN COVID-19 RESPONSE (3 August 2021)
On the auspicious day of July 26, Bhutan held the second nationwide vaccination campaign. More than 95% of the eligible population (65.5% of the total population) are now fully vaccinated in Bhutan, making it one of the countries with the highest vaccination rates. 

95% of the people opted for the heterologous vaccines (AstraZeneca vaccine for the first shot and Moderna vaccine for the second shot), while 5% opted for the homologous AstraZeneca vaccine for both shots. 

More than 38,000 children aged 12 - 17 years old have received their first dose of vaccines. Home-based vaccination was carried out for people who have mobility issues and those living in hard-to-reach areas.

UPDATES ON BHUTAN COVID-19 RESPONSE (5 July 2021)

As of 5th July, Bhutan has 2,133 positive cases with 1,820 recovered. Bhutan is currently preparing for the second nationwide vaccination drive. The government has thus far secured some vaccines from donor countries. Bhutan required at least 500,000 doses of vaccines for the second boosters. The government of Bhutan is confident that it will be able to inoculate the eligible population soon. 

Bhutan is also hopeful of lifting tourism restrictions after the second vaccination drive. The Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) is hopeful that by October 2021, the kingdom will be able to receive some visitors.

June 2021 Updates
As of 1st June, Bhutan has 1620 positive cases with 1308 recovered. There are community outbreaks in the border areas, mainly in Phuntsholing, Samdrup Jongkhar and Trashigang districts. The government has been swift in contact tracing and ring-fencing the cases. Lockdowns were implemented in the red zones to curb further transmission. Right now, Bhutan is still well under control. 

In view of the COVID-19 spike and situation in India, Bhutan has reached out to 15 other countries for assistance with the second dose vaccines. On June 1, 2021, Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji shared that there are high chances of allowing few tourists to enter Bhutan after the second dose vaccination program.

On May 11, 2021, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering went on LIVE interview with CNN International (First Move with Julia Chatterley) to share about Bhutan's COVID-19 handling


UPDATES ON BHUTAN COVID-19 RESPONSE (7 April 2021)
Bhutan has successfully completed its nationwide vaccination program from March 27 to April 4. The turnout from the public was very encouraging with 469,664 vaccinated as of 6 April. Bhutan will continue to provide vaccination for those who are unable to travel to the vaccination sites, and the front liners. 93% of the eligible population has been inoculated with Covishield (AstraZeneca). Bhutan has one of the highest percentage of vaccinated persons by population.

UPDATES ON BHUTAN COVID-19 RESPONSE (24 March 2021)
The government of Bhutan aims to vaccinate the entire Bhutanese population beginning from March 27. 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. 

As of 22 March 2021, Bhutan has a 99% COVID-19 recovery rate with 869 positive cases with 867 recovered. 

Check out the CNN video feature on Bhutan's COVID-19 success story.

UPDATES ON BHUTAN COVID-19 RESPONSE (22 March 2021)
On 22 March 2021, Bhutan received the second consignment of 400,000 doses of Covishield from India. The Kingdom is currently preparing for the nationwide vaccination rollout that is set to begin on 27 March 2021. 

(As at 20 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.  

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. 

REPATRIATION OF BHUTANESE DURING COVID-19

Even though tourism is currently on halt, Drukair 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, 3 October 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 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.

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 Motithang. 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 of the 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

  • Bhutan is in orange zone where precautionary measures are to be implemented.
  • The government imposes a two weeks restriction on all incoming tourists until Mar 20, 2020.
  • 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 issue 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 reporting.
  • 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 swiftly 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
  •  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.

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