Bhutan Tourism News Updates 08 Mar 2020

Bhutan comes together to battle COVID-19

All 39 samples of primary contacts tested negative

Tshering Palden

With the Royal Centre for Disease Control declaring all the 39 samples of people who had direct contact with the 76-year-old American tourist negative, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that the country has very little to worry now.

The samples included those of the partner of the tourist, who was tested positive for Coronavirus yesterday, the driver and the guide.

The RCDC carried out tests on all who came into direct contact with the American tourist traced overnight through contact tracing. Those who had direct contact with the tourist were from Thimphu and Paro which included hotel and  restaurant staff, emergency ward doctor who treated him twice, guide, driver, and co-passengers, among others.

Prime Minister thanked His Majesty The King for His personal supervision of the activities and direction to the core team involved in dealing with the case.

“If any of them tested positive, it would have been difficult to trace all the people who came into contact with the person,” he said. “It’s such a huge relief for us.”

“The individuals would now be monitored for the next 10 days, and samples tested again if any of them show any symptoms,” Lyonchhen said.  

He said that the individuals have now close to zero risks but they (government) would still be cautious.

“They will now be placed under watchful waiting, meaning they will still have to avoid crowds and take necessary precautionary measures.”

Prime Minister said that doctors treating the American at the isolation unit observed that his general health conditions were improving. Doctors started feeding the patient who has been admitted with severe diarrhoea and bloated stomach since yesterday.

“He called his relatives and even talked to his family doctor in the US,” he said.

According to the Prime Minister, the patient could not move around much since he was unwell which limited him from making contact with a lot of people.

The country woke up yesterday to the news of the first confirmed coronavirus case in the country.

Many took to the streets to buy face masks, sanitisers, food items, and fuel depots saw long queue throughout the day despite assurance from the government agencies that there would be adequate supplies. By the end of the day, medical shops have run out of face masks and sanitisers.

Department of Consumer Protection notified shops to refrain from charging exorbitant prices. The trade department sent  mass SMS saying, “There are adequate fuel, liquefied gas cylinders, and essential food stock available.”

The health ministry also sent out two mass messages to the public telling them that staying home is safer than visiting hospitals and public gathering to prevent the virus. The ministry also advised people to practice preventive measures properly.

Prime Minister and the health minister held a lengthy press conference live on national television and social media to update the nation of the COVID-19 positive case and the measures being taken.

As per the National Preparedness and Response Plan, with the detection of the first confirmed case of COVID-19, the country stepped into the “Orange” zone. It is described as “moderate disruption”, according to which the government has to isolate confirmed cases, quarantine suspects, carry out closure of schools, institutions and public gatherings in affected localities.

The government closed schools and institutes in Thimphu, Paro and Punakha where the tourist has visited for two weeks beginning yesterday. Lyonchhen said that parents have to closely monitor the health of the child. In case of any concerns, they are asked to contact health officials before visiting the hospitals.

Religious figures, meanwhile, took to social media instructing devotees to follow the directives from the government and not to convene any sort of meeting or perform rituals or religious ceremonies in groups.

The government imposed a two-week restriction on all incoming tourists with effect from yesterday. This is to enable rigorous monitoring, source assessment of infection and mitigate the situation. In addition, all international conferences and seminars to be held in the country in the two weeks are also postponed.

“The government will assess the situation after two weeks and accordingly decide,” Lyonchhen said.

Similarly, many government and other agencies cancelled their events in the light of the confirmed case of COVID-19.

Education ministry also convened the Education Disaster Response Coordination meeting with heads of all departments and divisions to prepare the Education Disaster Response plan for COVID-19.

The Education Emergency Operation Centre was activated today. The ministry alerted officials to remain alert and take preventative measures. A team to coordinate and lead Education Disaster Response Coordination in the ministry was formed.

The government identified quarantine or screening centers at the Royal Institute of Tourism and Hospitality in Motithang, Thimphu and Paro College of Education and prepared them besides other venues. Both the places are ready.

Social media was brimming with angry posts and comments as the information on the positive COVID-19 case caught more attention. There were also fake posts and information circulating online.

Many then stepped in calling for calm, not to resort to sharing unverified information, and not to panic and hoard essential items. By the end of the day, many of the posts and comments were thanking the leaders, health workers and the compatriots for how the country handled the situation.

One more test

A Bhutanese woman who had recently returned from Kuwait is quarantined in Kanglung basic health unit with fever. The RCDC will test her for COVID -19.

Prime Minister said that clinically it is not so much of a risk but the government is not taking any chance.

“Since she has come from an area affected with COVID-19 we want to carry out the test,” he said. “That’s the only reason.”


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