Younten Tshedup | Gelephu

Should Bhutan seal its entry and exit points to tourists in the light of the ongoing global coronavirus outbreak?

Not at this moment, according to Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering.

Speaking to hospital staffs of the regional referral hospital in Gelephu yesterday, Lyonchhen said that although he acknowledges the concerns shared by public on social media platforms to temporarily seal off entry and exit points, the current situation do not demand such drastic measures.

“We have not resorted to this because we have put all necessary measures in place including various screening measures at the entry points,” he said. “We would definitely use it should the situation get worse and the need arise. But for now, the country has not reached to that level of threat from the virus.”

Lyonchhen said that the government is doing all it could to prevent the virus from entering the country. “But we don’t want to go overboard and be unreasonable right now. We are monitoring the situation on an hourly basis,” he said, adding that the reason for not closing tourism business temporarily was not for revenue. “It is about being professional. And should the threat level go up, we would do whatever is necessary”

Although Bhutan is geographically located near China, where the outbreak occurred, Lyonchhen said that Chinese tourists coming into the country are negligible. “Moreover, since the exit for Chinese people from the epicenter of the outbreak is sealed, we would not receive people from there anyway.”

 However, as precautions, Prime Minister urged the people to minimise or avoid unnecessary travels outside the country. He said that people should avoid travelling to places like Nepal and Bodhgaya for pilgrimage and to Bangkok.

Lyonchhen reminded the health official to carry out their duties responsibly and take extra steps to inform the public about the outbreak.

“These are the times when professionals like you must step up and give public suggestions and advises,” he said. “For a non-medical individual, it is only right to worry at such times, but as a medical professionals, it is your duty to calm their worries and share the correct information.”

The Prime Minister added that health professionals cannot afford to ‘add salt to the wound’ and in the heat of the moment, share rumours and an unconfirmed information on the social media platforms.

Lyonchhen also informed that in the event of an outbreak, the government has identified Gidagom hospital in Thimphu to function as an interim hospital to treat all those who are infected.

“Even otherwise Gidagom hospital would soon be converted into a dedicated 100-bed international level infectious disease hospital with support from JICA,” he said. The hospital would function as a headquarters to treat any kinds of outbreak, which is currently missing.

The Prime Minister added that coronavirus is of top most priority today and official concerned are coming up with measures on a daily basis.

Lyonchhen has also shared his personal number to answer queries about the outbreak. “At times of emergency, there is no protocol. It is also the time where public should agree to the central decisions and should there be any differences in the opinion, come forward to discuss.”