No plans to ban tourists amid heightened COVID-19 scare

Govt. to focus on strengthening  surveillance system

Choki Wangmo

The government will not ban tourists or Bhutanese travelling out of the country, but would focus on enhancing its surveillance system in the wake of increasing Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in the region.

Despite calls on social media to ban tourists until COVID-19 is contained, health minister Dechen Wangmo at a press conference yesterday said the government’s decision to not ban tourists from coming to the country was guided by what is good for the country in the global community.

“The government is criticised for not banning tourists, but we are part of the global community and should be in solidarity. Bhutan does not have a single case and on what basis should we issue travel restrictions?”

Lyonpo said that out of 11 regional countries where coronavirus cases were confirmed, only one country issued travel restrictions “We have to consider our global standing pre and post COVID-19 outbreak,” she added.

As of March 3, the number of confirmed cases in countries with direct flight links with Bhutan is recorded as zero in Bangladesh,   five in India, one in Nepal, 108 in Singapore, 43 in Thailand and one in Sri Lanka.

On the 21 new cases reported in India yesterday, the health minister said that the new cases were not confirmed by the World Health Organisation.

Lyonpo said that the government’s focus was on early detection, containment, clinical management and that measures were put in place in case of an outbreak.

To prevent coronavirus reaching the country, travellers from all affected countries are being followed-up for one week. As of yesterday, a total of 205 cases were followed-up. When suspected cases were noticed, the case was investigated at the airport and quarantined.

Quarantine and isolation facilities with health screening facilities at point of entries were identified. For instance, in Thimphu, the Department of Youth and Sport, Royal Institute for Tourism and Hospitality, Wangbama HS School, Genekha School, Yangchen MS School and Institute of Zorig Chusum were identified as facilities for screening.

The health ministry had trained health workers in 12 hospitals at the points of entry along the southern border on COVID-19 clinical management while daily reporting was initiated from all point of entries with deployment of additional health staff.

More than 60,000 people were screened for the virus at various point of entry across the country.

Medical supplies and equipment such as thermal guns, alcohol hand rubs and other required disinfectants worth Nu 49.52 million were procured in case of an outbreak.

The country’s COVID-19 status is in the yellow stage according to the four levels of staging, ranging from green (low risk) to red (high risk). It means that the country did not record any outbreak but is at risk.

However, the minister said that Bhutanese should take individual responsibility by maintaining health and hygiene. “Individual citizen have the responsibility to prevent the outbreak.”

Health secretary, Dr Ugen Dophu, urged people to fill up health declaration forms responsibly as most people did not do it properly at the point of entries, further complicating the process for officials.

Meanwhile, the ministry had issued public notification last week asking people to avoid unessential travel to the affected countries until the outbreak was contained.

Globally, there were 90,870 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of March 3 of which about 90 percent is in China.

On February 28, the World Health Organisation has increased the global risk level for COVID-19 to “Very High”, putting every country in the world at the risk of disease transmission.

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