Staff Reporter  

The government yesterday announced a revision of the Covid-19 safety protocols for inbound travellers, business opening hours, and sporting activities with immediate effect.

The three-week mandatory quarantine period will be reduced to two weeks for inbound international travellers who have proof of full vaccination. Those who have not taken the vaccination or got incomplete vaccination have to observe the 21-day mandatory quarantine.

A press release from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) stated that the health ministry has been advised to re-design and decide the testing strategy to heightened health surveillance during the two weeks in the quarantine. The surveillance team has also been advised to devise the testing pattern and facilitate the exit of those who have completed two weeks quarantine, if eligible. The team would devise an effective testing pattern and facilitate an exit of individuals who complete two weeks quarantine, after the validation of the authenticity of vaccination status.

The existing business operation time is also extended from 9pm to 10pm for low-risk areas and from 8pm to 9pm in high-risk areas. The business outlets have to maintain the highest level of Covid-19 protocols. “Everyone must practice the crowd size of 25 or 50 percent, whichever is minimum.”

“All indoor and outdoor sports will be allowed in full strength throughout the country. Tournaments and matches are allowed without spectators but those in the high-risk areas will require clearance from local task forces,” the press release stated.

Organisers have to ensure all Covid-19 norms and dissuade any sort of gathering of non-players in the vicinity at all times.

“Match organisers are to confirm vaccination status of the players and disallow participation of those who have not taken the vaccine despite being eligible. It is only reasonable and professional to do so, given the risks involved for the individual as well as other players,” the press release stated.

Relaxations would be further reviewed and considered upon the completion of vaccination of children from 12 to 17 years, which is due by mid-September.

“In the event of any indication of local transmission, these changes in COVID-19 protocols will be immediately withdrawn,” the press release stated. “It is important to note that we are taking measured, conservative steps without compromising the benefits we have accrued until now to secure our nation from the pandemic.”

It has been two weeks since the last outbreak in the communities of Phuentsholing and Samtse. Moreover, close to 8,000 tests carried out in Phuentsholing alone in the past 15 days did not reveal any positive case in the community. A few that were reported were either travellers or primary contacts in the quarantine centres.

So far, according to the PMO, 65 percent of the total population have completed their vaccination and 76.5 percent of the total population have received the first dose. In the last one month, 79,332 tests have been conducted across the nation, which includes the enhanced surveillance of frontliners and students.

The PMO stated that the changes are being introduced at a time when some countries are imposing more restrictions amid the increasing spread of the disease. “We are able to do so with due veneration to His Majesty’s leadership and concerted efforts of all frontline workers and the solidarity of the people of Bhutan.”

“Here, we also thank all those who came forward to make the nationwide vaccination campaigns a success and well-wishers who were part of Bhutan’s Covid-19 prevention efforts. As we intensify the surveillance and continue to monitor the situation closely, we urge everyone to observe basic Covid-19 health instructions of wearing masks, hand washing and avoiding crowds with sincerity and diligence.”

It stated that with the emergence of newer viral variants, each more aggressive than the other, this is not the time to let down the guard. “Please take care of yourself and your loved ones.”

Meanwhile, a person who travelled to Thimphu from a high-risk area tested positive to Covid-19 on the last day of his seven-day quarantine yesterday.

Observers said that while it might be expensive and tiring on those travelling out of high-risk areas, such measures remain necessary given that the risks still remain high.

Edited by Tshering Palden