Tourists should undergo a mandatory 21-day quarantine

Yangchen C Rinzin 

More than a year after the tourism industry was hit because of the pandemic, the country will receive the first and lone tourist next week.

An American tourist visiting the country through an agent is expected to arrive in Bhutan on August 9. It will be the tourist’s second visit to Bhutan.

Since the first Covid-19 case was detected in the country, in an American tourist, 29,937 tourists gradually left Bhutan after the government banned the entry of tourists. The last tourist left on March 24, 2020.

Following several discussions and reviews with the government, Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) will now accept applications for tourists to visit Bhutan and tourists must apply through a licensed Bhutanese tour operator.

TCB officials said tourists must agree with the 21-day mandatory quarantine and follow certain conditions. “The tourist would also have to bear the quarantine cost and for all tests as per the Covid-19 requirement,” an official said.

The agent, which will have the first tourists next week, said that the tourist agreed to undergo the 21-day quarantine facility as long as the tourist gets to visit and go around Bhutan.

It was decided that a sustainable development fee per person per night will be levied on the tourist even during the 21-day quarantine period. The tourists would have to also follow seven-day quarantine if travelling from a high-risk area to a low-risk area.

However, the minimum daily package rate of USD 250 per person, which is applied for international tourists, will be applied only after the mandatory quarantine.

Meanwhile, tourists wanting to visit Bhutan would be required to produce a Covid-19 negative certificate issued by a laboratory certified to carry out an RT-PCR test not earlier than 72 hours before coming from the place of origin.

It was also learnt that only tourists coming via air and insurance coverage would be facilitated. Tourists would be also encouraged to have both the doses of Covid-19 vaccine.

Prime Minister, Dr Lotay Tshering, said that the government has never stopped tourists from visiting the country. “Tourists are welcome, but with strict Covid-19 protocol guidelines including mandatory quarantine.”

He said that there will be no exception in the 21-day quarantine and tourists will have to undergo designated quarantine facilities like Bhutanese returning to Bhutan.

Once completed, the tourist can decide how long they want to stay in the country as long as they test negative for Covid-19.

“However, we’ve not yet decided on the vaccination status or requirement or vaccination passport standard,” Lyonchhen said. “This is because we’re yet to discuss anything on the relaxation. For now, they’ll have to follow the existing protocols.”

He said that for the country, quarantine is important to see if the person has the virus or not. “Covid-19 test is also important even if the person had tested negative earlier.”

Meanwhile, foreign minister and chairman of TCB, Dr Tandi Dorji said that TCB is also discussing and reviewing the route permit.

He said that a route permit is an additional requirement where tourists require permits to travel from one place to another except in restricted areas.

“We are reviewing and discussing to come up with guidelines and standard operating procedures to identify a list of restricted areas,” he said. “Once this is done and approved by the government, tourists do not require route permits.”

Edited by Tashi Dema