Tourist ban likely to continue after two weeks

Schools to reopen as scheduled

Yangchen C Rinzin

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering announced that the government could continue the restriction on all incoming tourists.

The government imposed a two-week restriction since March 6 after the first COVID-19 positive case was detected in the country. The government put the restriction to enable rigorous monitoring, source assessment of infection, and to mitigate the situation.

Prime Minister yesterday said that opening the country for tourists would be difficult given the situation right now. “We’ll look at the situation globally and study the condition. But with the disease worsening globally, it would not be wise to reopen for now or till the global situation stabilises.”

He said that only a few days were left to complete the two-week ban and considering the global situation at the moment there was no reason to let in  tourists. 

Lyonchhen also said that the country incurred an estimated loss of USD 2.2 million so far since the ban came into effect.

Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that there were about 209 tourists in the country as of now, in 12 dzongkhags. Lyonpo said that they were in constant touch and recorded the number of  tourists leaving daily.

A total of 92 tourists have already left Bhutan according to the Tourism Council of Bhutan situation report on COVID-19 as of yesterday.

“Since India and Thailand has now imposed a restriction on entry and exit point, we’re doing everything possible to help these tourists and is in touch with the Embassies,” Lyonpo said. “Since most of these tourists will have to leave via/transit through Thailand and Delhi but these countries do not have issue with transit travels, so, we’ll keep following up.”

However, Lyonpo said that if Bhutanese must travel outside, for instance to Thailand, then visa on arrival would not be allowed. Bhutanese will have to get visa from the local Thai Embassy and produce health certificate indicating a person is free of COVID-19.

India has also banned travel from outside. However, upon consultation with the Indian Embassy, Foreign ministry has confirmed that the ban did not include Bhutan including Bhutanese travelling for medical treatment.

However, if a person has returned from COVID-19 affected countries and shows any symptoms then a person would be put to quarantine.

Foreign minister said that during such ban Indian Embassy assured support in case Bhutanese students or people faced any problem while coming to Bhutan from India.

“Those Bhutanese travelling by Indian highway through Assam will have to declare their travel history and if any symptoms detected, it would be dealt as per the case,” Lyonpo said. “Since there is no positive cases detected in Assam, travelling is allowed and quarantine if necessary.”

Lyonpo added that since many countries were cancelling visa exemptions, Bhutanese planning to travel abroad must check with respective countries’ travel advisories issued by foreign ministry.

After the recent news about discrimination against tourists, Lyonpo advised people to refrain from stereotyping tourists as virus carrier.

‘This will have a negative impact in the country in future that will also impact tourism,” Lyonpo said. “This is not the time to joke and make fun of the situation and call names, as the existing tourists are not infected.”

Lyonchhen also announced that schools could reopen as scheduled. However, if a child falls sick, parents should report early to hospital or stay at home until recovery. “I would advise people to maintain distance but do not make any kind of derogatory comments.”

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