Country is COVID-19 free as of today

Younten Tshedup

Bhutan is COVID-19 free, but the government is preparing for the worst after a single positive case was reported in West Bengal, the Indian state that borders Bhutan.

Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering, at a press conference yesterday, said that lone positive case in the West Bengal is an imported case similar to the one Bhutan had.

“Measures to treat the patient and contact tracing is underway in Kolkata and should there be any more positive cases, we would be informed. Then accordingly we will have to strategise.”

As the disease is reported in places closer to the country, Lyonchhen said that stricter measures would be put in place.

In its effort to ensure continuous food supply in case of a complete lockdown, the government is stocking fuel and essential food items to last for at least 12 days or until the movement of vehicles across the border is restored.

However, he said that the public should not worry since the Indian government has assured continuous supply of essential food items, fuel and medicines even in the worst-case scenario.

With schools across the country closed indefinitely, Lyonchhen said that learning contents would be uploaded online and students could download them to continue their study.   

He said that the government is in talks with the two telecom service providers to slash internet charges even as government explores solutions to teach students using IT when schools remain closed.

IT specialists are also engaged at the Thimphu Techpark to explore methods to help in online learning and in building a contact-tracing app.

On the Bhutanese living abroad, Lyonchhen said that while there are no plans to charter a flight to bring them back, all necessary measures and support are being provided for those who are returning home.

He said that Bhutanese returning home should get in touch with Missions and Embassies in their country of residence and also plan their travel carefully since most of the country have imposed travel restrictions.

The government has also extended the travel restrictions indefinitely. The two-week restriction imposed on tourists earlier ends today.

To discourage gathering and close contact among people, the government also suspended business operations of all drayangs, nightclubs, discotheques and other joints that draw large crowd.

The primary concern for now, the Prime Minister said was to prevent the entry of the disease in the country. For this, he said strict restriction on travels including incoming tourists were imposed.

“The second major concern is to monitor and contain the spread of the disease should there be any more positive cases inside the country,” he said. “This is why we have asked to close all schools and institutions including entertainment centres as a preventative measure.”

Lyonchhen said that although keeping schools open was important, the current situation demanded a temporary closure. Closing the schools and institutions was not due to the detection of any new positive cases, he added. “There is no reason for us to hide information. Believe and trust the government on information it disseminates on COVID-19. This is the time to come together.”

The main reason for taking all these measures according to Lyonchhen was due to the deteriorating scenario in the region and across the world.

The Prime Minister explained that this is not a lockdown situation for Bhutan but a strategic maneuver in case of a worst-case scenario.