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Tshering Palden 

Bhutan’s two airlines have been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak in the region with losses running into millions as of yesterday.

Drukair has already lost about Nu 20 million in revenue as 600 tickets were cancelled as of yesterday. This includes both incoming and outgoing passengers since most tickets purchased are for return journeys.

Drukair’s head of the commercial division, Tshering Wangchuk said, “Many have cancelled, and more cancellation requests continue to come in. This is, without a doubt, going to impact not only Drukair but our whole tourism sector if the situation does not improve in the near future.”

Bhutan Airlines’ Chief Executive Officer Phala Dorji said that the rate of passenger flow is worrying.

“The tourist season is just beginning and if the cancellations come at the rate they are coming now, losses will be huge,” he said.

He said for a private company airline having to pay rent for the leased planes, running five stations, and with huge overhead costs, it is going to be difficult.

Tshering Wangchuk said for the convenience of the affected passengers, the company has authorised all its sales outlets, including its agents globally, to process refunds immediately. “The full amount is refunded as these are unfortunate times for our passengers,” he said.

He said that the company will entertain the cancellations depending on the coronavirus status or situation, and the travel advisories or restrictions placed by various authorities in our region.

Airline officials fear they are most likely to lose more.

The deadly coronavirus discovered in China has travelled by air to about 25 other countries. Internation airlines have reportedly cancelled flights to and from China and other affected areas.

In Bhutan, residents have been urged to cancel travel plans unless extremely necessary.

The officials said they are taking all necessary precaution to prevent the spread of the virus.

They said that they ensure the staff regularly sanitise, wash their hands, and wear masks. There are more initiatives taken by our health ministry the airlines supported.

Health declaration forms are distributed onboard to all incoming flights, display health ministry’s notices at all check-in counters, Covid-19 videos are played at the arrival hall for better awareness, and passenger arrival and departure details provided to a designated health official.

Phala Dorji said that the airline is also considering buying thermometers to check passengers onboard. “Then, we also need to think of what next after that so it’s ongoing,” he said.

The last time the aviation industry faced this kind of crisis was back in 2003, when the SARS outbreak cost Asia Pacific carriers $6 billion in revenue, according to the International Air Transport Authority (IATA).

Bhutan Football Federation (BFF) cancelled the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck Memorial Gold Cup after the health ministry asked the federation to extend the tournament until the situation gets better.

Update:

A person who was admitted to JDWNRH and died yesterday of pneumonia tested negative for Covid-19.

RCDC head, Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that by definition the case did not qualify as a suspected case. “But the health officials did not want to take any chances, so a test was done,” he said.

This is the second test after the Chinese tourist woman who was brought from Bumthang with a mild fever and test results were negative.

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