Phub Dem | Paro

The 309 passengers who returned from India and the Maldives yesterday were sent directly to the facility quarantine in Thimphu.

Those who came in the two special Drukair flights from Delhi were mostly students and the flight from the Maldives carried mostly those working there.

The government arranged two flights from New Delhi to bring home mostly students stranded in India whereas, Bhutan airlines flight was chartered according to the passengers.

A Bhutanese working in the Maldives, Kadam said that after resorts shut down and their work was discontinued, ‘Bhutanese in the Maldives’ group decided to return home.

The group approached the embassy and talked with both the airlines.

Although there was no work, the companies still paid salaries on time. “We had no problem there. Everything was sufficient.”

Most of the Bhutanese in the Maldives worked in the tourism sector, said Kadam.

With the resorts in the Maldives closed for three months, the Bhutanese working there decided to come home, according to him.

However, some Bhutanese including health officials and those under observation, who came into direct contact with tourists with symptoms, remained behind.  

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) issued a notification on April 3 stating that following the government instructions the ministry would facilitate the evacuation of Bhutanese who expressed interest to return home.

Bhutanese residing in Bangalore, Amritsar and Chandigarh will be evacuated on April 11 to 13.  The government is exploring ways to evacuate Bhutanese from other parts of India as well.

With the majority of Bhutanese in the Gulf and the Middle East either completing their contracts, been laid off or concerned due to the continuous rise of infections in the region, special flights for them were planned from April 16 to 24, according to the ministry.

As per the ministry’s plan, medical students stranded in Colombo along with referred patients in CMC Vellore and Bhutanese students in Chennai will be brought home today on the flight which returns from Sri Lanka.

It states that the ministry is exploring options to bring home Bhutanese residing in Australia since the airlines lacked the technical capacity to take long-range flights.

The government has no plans to evacuate people from Asia Pacific region, Europe, the United States and Canada because only a handful has expressed interest to return home as per the notice.

“However, if Bhutanese from the US, Canada and Europe can travel to the Gulf countries from where special flights are planned, they could be accommodated as per the availability of seats.”

Individual travellers should bear the cost of travel or special flight proposed by Airlines. But MoFA would ensure that the cost of the special flights were kept minimal to cover only the operational expenses.

“The government will bear the travel cost only for patients and their attendants referred to India by the national referral hospital- JDWNRH.”

Although the government wanted to bring all Bhutanese home, it requested the Bhutanese residing abroad to understand the complexity.

The government assured to render possible assistance through embassies and missions abroad if the situation deteriorates.

In order to avail special flights for evacuation, the ministry advises all Bhutanese living abroad to register with the nearest Bhutanese embassy, mission or consulate.

However, the ministry placed certain conditions on the evacuation.

As per the notification, the ministry would study the number of Bhutanese who have expressed strong concerns and interest to return home citing the prevailing health situation in the countries of residence including access to the health care system for foreigners.

The government’s priority would be to bring home medical apprentice and health professionals, among the stranded Bhutanese who could help with their services to tackle Covid-19 related issues upon their return.

One of the conditions is that evacuees should be able to secure necessary clearances from the respective countries to undertake special flights.

The ministry also stated that the evacuation would depend on the availability of adequate quarantine facilities to absorb the number of returnees, and the availability of health care personnel.

“If a positive case emerges from the returnees, this will affect the planning of the subsequent special flights for evacuations as the health response system and airline crew deployment will be disturbed,” the notification stated.

The ability of the two Bhutanese airlines to undertake direct flights to the destination countries, or the availability of international airlines to undertake chartered flights to the nearest countries of transit would also be considered.