National Situational Update on COVID-19 in Bhutan

National Situational Update on COVID-19 in Bhutan

as of 15th May 2020

Shekhar Chhetri
Lecturer, Dept. of Animal Science, College of Natural Resources,
Royal University of Bhutan

In Bhutan positive COVID-19 cases were reported from the visitors only (both Non-Bhutanese & Bhutanese) coming in from abroad. The tourism industry of Bhutan has been hit hard by this global pandemic leaving approximately fifty thousand Bhutanese tour guides and operators lose their job. As of now there has been no secondary transmission in the community within the country and that’s the reason why there is no complete lockdown in Bhutan. However, precautionary measures such restriction of travelling within and outside of country, closure of schools and work-from-home strategy, restriction of mass gathering, launch of contact tracing app called “Druk Trace”, closure of commercial hubs after 7PM daily, physical distancing and practice of personal hygiene by hand washing with soap for 20 seconds and application of hand sanitizers with higher concentration of alcohol are already practiced as a preventive measure in Bhutan. As of 15th May 2020, the total number of positive COVID-19 cases recorded in the country is 21 with 5 recovered and 0 mortality.

Isolation Center
Figure 1: Monthly Report on Positive cases for COVID-19 from January 1 to May 15, 2020.

Despite of thorough preparedness plans and screening of travelers in the entry and exit points of Bhutan the first positive case of COVID-19 was confirmed at 11PM on March 5 by Royal Centre for Disease Control (RCDC), Thimphu and it was announced to the public on March 6. The patient was a 76 years old male tourist from United States of America who was accompanied by his partner aged 59. Since then Bhutan entered into the Orange Zone of Pandemic Stage according to WHO. Contact tracings of the tourist couple were launched as per the patient’s itinerary starting from Paro International Airport to the places they visited. The people of contact identified from contact tracing were quarantined in designated COVID-19 hospital and kept under observation. The second positive case from the 59 years old partner of the American tourist was reported on 20th March 2020. The 76-year old American tourist left the country in an air ambulance on 13th March 2020 as it was his family's choice to take him back to his home in the USA.

Public awareness on personal hygiene

A huge number of Bhutanese students and workers in abroad countries were asked to return back to Bhutan. They were quarantined on their arrival for a period of 14 days which has now been increased to 21 days with all the expenses beared by the Royal Government of Bhutan. This is how a series of positive COVID-19 cases started to come up in Bhutan. They get tested as soon as they reach back from abroad, quarantined and isolated if the RT-PCR reveals positive result for COVID-19.

Number of cases Dates recorded Subject details & Travel history
1 5thMarch 2020 A 76 years old American male tourist
2 20thMarch 2020 A 59 years old partner of American tourist
3 25thMarch 2020 A Bhutanese student returning from Europe
4 29thMarch 2020 A Bhutanese student returning from India
5 1stApril 2020 A Bhutanese student returning from USA
6 20thApril 2020 A Bhutanese returning from Middle East country
7 22ndApril 2020 A 27 years old Bhutanese male returned from Middle East country
8 & 9 10thMay 2020 Two Bhutanese, male 27 years and female 28 years old returning from Middle East country
10 & 11 11thMay 2020 Two Bhutanese, male 25 years and female 27 years old returning from Middle East country
12, 13, 14 & 15 13thMay 2020 Four Bhutanese, 2 males (32 & 33 years old) and 2 females (23 & 26 years old) returning from Middle East country
16, 17, 18, 19 & 20 14thMay 2020 Five Bhutanese, four females (24, 27, 29 & 31 years old) and a male (30 years old) returning from Middle East country
21 15thMay 2020 A 29 years old Bhutanese female returning from Middle East country

Table 1: COVID-19 update as of 15th May 2020 in Bhutan

Out of 21 positive cases, 2 were recorded from foreign nationals and 19 were recorded from Bhutanese nationals returning to Bhutan from abroad. Maximum number (16) of positive cases of COVID-19 were reported from Bhutanese Nationals returning from Middle East countries.

Bhutan is working hard to fight against global pandemic under the dynamic leadership of His Majesty The Fifth King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck and Prime Minister Dr. Lotay Tshering. Numerous isolation centers, quarantine facilities and flu clinics are already recognized throughout the country. The preparedness plans are in place with the focal personal/groups identified and also who volunteered to serves as task force members of COVID-19 frontline responders.

I am glad that I am living in this generation to experience what it’s like to survive during a GLOBAL PANDEMIC when SCIENCE and HUMANITY is way more advanced.” – Author