About 312 Bhutanese return today

Yangchen C Rinzin 

About 312 Bhutanese are returning to Bhutan today. Another 1,000 or more are expected to return including those in Australia and in the Middle East countries soon.

The government has arranged two government coordinated special flights from New Delhi and a Bhutan Airlines chartered flight from Maldives carrying 72 people, especially immigrant workers, will arrive today, according to foreign ministry officials. The Delhi flights will bring in 240, mostly students stranded in India.

All those returning will be quarantined for 21 days on their arrival exerting pressure on quarantine facilities. However, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering during an informal meeting with the media on Tuesday said that the government is prepared with additional facility to accommodate all those who return.

Lyonchhen said that His Majesty had commanded to help those Bhutanese who want to come back, especially on government scholarships, and are unable to come back.

The number is not fixed as of yesterday evening and the foreign ministry is confirming.

A Kuensel source in Australia said that many Bhutanese in Australia decided to stay back as they have paid the tuition fees and travelling to Bhutan and back would be expensive.

With 123 hotels are already in use as quarantine facility, there are 3,537 currently quarantined including 297 under home quarantine as of April 7.

Cabinet Secretary, Sangay Duba, who is overseeing the quarantine facility said that majority of those quarantined are in Thimphu with almost 1,700, another 1,000 in Phuentsholing, and more than 700 in Paro.

There are more than 100 quarantined in Sarpang, Samtse, and about in 40 quarantined in Samdrupjongkhar.

While there are none in Punakha except for two under home quarantine, there are only one or two in facility quarantine in other dzongkhags as of April 5.

“We’re prepared and ready to accommodate all in quarantine facility,” the Cabinet Secretary said. “We’ve hotels on standby that have come forward to offer as facility quarantine earlier.”

Sangay Duba said that another 78 hotels are already on standby in five dzongkhags, which means it would be used as quarantine facility, as the number increases.

Of the 52 hotels that have offered as quarantine facility in Thimphu, 26 are occupied while 26 are on standby, another 16 out of 25 hotels in Paro are on standby, and 11 out of 45 hotels in Phuentsholing are also on standby.

A total of eight hotels in Paro will be vacant by today after discharging all those quarantined.

As a backup, a total of 15 hotels in Punakha and 10 in Wangdiphodrang have been also readied and kept on standby.

“We’re also exploring to create facility quarantine at CST and Gedu colleges in case if the number of cases increase in Phuentsholing,” the Cabinet Secretary said.

He added another 4-star hotel in Thimphu has offered as isolation room, while another 4-star hotel in Paro also agreed if the government runs out quarantine.

“By April 13 many would be completing 21 days and almost 400 people would be discharged so, we’ll have enough facility,” the Cabinet Secretary said. “We have focal officers in almost all the dzongkhags and is ensuring quarantine facilities are kept ready.”

After agreeing with the Prime Minister, it was decided that the government would pay hoteliers, as a support and to avoid laying off of staff.

The rate was fixed at Nu 1,000 for a single bed (sb) and Nu 1,500 for a double bed (db) for budget hotels, Nu 1,200 for sb and Nu 2,000 for db for 3-star hotels, while Nu 1,500 and Nu 2,500 for 4-star hotels. The rate is inclusive of three meals, evening snacks, and rooms.

Although the Cabinet Secretariat is yet to work out on the total expenditure, the Secretary said that the rates would be paid on a per person per day basis.

“Not many hotels have come forward to claim the bill as of now except a few hotels who availed advance payment,” he said. “We’re expecting they would claim once they complete 21 days’ quarantine period.”

A total of 14 hotels in Thimphu claimed the advances amounting to Nu 6.9 Million as of yesterday.

Meals are provided based on the menu set by the health ministry.

On the complains on food quality, the Cabinet Secretary said that the focal persons are intervening and monitoring hotels. However, he said the complaints are from a few hotels and a majority of the hotels are doing good.

“We found out it was because of limited chefs, limited variety of vegetables available in the market and some were not used to preparing three vegetarian meals a day, every day.”