No mass gathering says home ministry

Rajesh Rai

No new permits for both tourists and foreign workers were issued yesterday following Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering announcing the two-week restrictions on entry of tourists to the country.

Although relevant offices in Phuentsholing didn’t receive any directives “in writing” until late evening yesterday, no new permits for both tourists and foreign workers were issued, sources confirmed.

A notification from the home ministry asked authorities to suspend issuing e-visa and e-permit to nationals from countries affected by COVID-19 or those persons that have visited or transited through COVID-19 affected countries. Further, the notification stated, “Issuance of new work permits to nationals from countries affected by COVID-19 or if such persons have visited or transited through COVID-19 affected countries stands suspended till further notice.”

However, renewal of work permit for foreign workers who are already in the country shall be facilitated. Re-entry of all foreigners holding valid visas, work permits and other immigration permits travelling to Bhutan from any of the affected countries or if they have visited or transited through affected countries has also been suspended.

The home ministry also notified authorities to suspend issuing clearance to host events like car rallies, seminars, trade fairs and workshops in the country. “All mass gatherings must be deferred till further directives,” states the notification

The border town, meanwhile, has also taken other initiatives to combat the virus.

Drungkhag Health Officer (DHO), Passang Tshering, said that they have now started disinfecting the point of entries (POE) with chlorine solution. Places that tourists have most contact with are also disinfected.

The DHO said that since some health staffs are staying with their relatives, they have identified guesthouses to accommodate them to encourage families of their safety.

After the news of the first case of COVID-19, people in the border town also rushed to buy facemasks and hand sanitisers. Soon medical shops in the town were out of masks and sanitisers.

A private firm employee, Pema said that he went to the shops in the town but did not get masks and sanitisers.

“They said their stocks are over and that they would have by tomorrow,” he said.

However, Pema said that masks were available across the border but sold at inflated rates. A mask that costs Nu 10 were sold at Nu 25, he added.

A private diagnostic centre’s proprietor, Sonam Tshewang, said he was waiting for the government guidance in case there is need of closing down offices.

“We are ready to close office for the welfare of all citizens,” he said. “Also, if government needs any assistance from us, we are ready to support. I think it is not the time to play blame games but work together.”

Sonam Tshewang also said that his diagnostic center would remain open to provide services.

Meanwhile, prior to first positive case, a German couple’s swab samples were also sent from Phuentsholing hospital to Royal Centre for Disease Control (RCDC) in Serbithang, Thimphu for suspicion of the virus on March 5. They tested negative.

The Germans were in Delhi, India and been to Sikkim before entering Phuentsholing.

Phuentsholing has also seen huge number of tourist inflow from affected countries. Until March 4, more than 200 tourists from affected countries such as Italy, South Korea, Germany, Singapore and France. Tourists from America, Belgium, Australia and Russia were also recorded entering into the town.

On March 2, five Italians entered Bhutan from Phuentsholing. Although they have come from the affected Italian regions of Lombardy, Emelia, Toscana and Veneto, none showed signs of the COVID-19 and were let into the country. The tourists are staying in the country until March 9.