Bhutan to stick with current international travel guidelines

Bhutan to stick with current international travel guidelines

While India has changed the international travel guidelines, Bhutan is keeping a close watch and there are no plans now to change the existing travel Guidelines

The Embassy of India in Bhutan has announced on its social media platform (Facebook) that RT-PCR test will be made mandatory for passengers coming to India from China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Thailand from 1st Jan 2023. This is in line with a letter from the Department of Health and Family Welfare, the Government India (GoI), dated December 29, 2022 which states that the country would revise the existing guidelines for international arrivals. It underlines that the existing guidelines for international arrivals need to be updated, in the context of the evolving trajectory of COVID-19 cases in some countries, especially in China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Republic of Korea, Thailand and Japan and reports regarding the circulation of variants of SARS-CoV-2 virus in the above countries.

However, the health minister of Bhutan, Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that, currently, there are no similar plans for Bhutan to change the guidelines and make it mandatory for travelers to have RT-PCR tests.

“Nonetheless, the ministry and the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) is keeping a close watch on all five ports of entry and exit in the borders, and doing random testing as per the ongoing surveillance program,” she said, adding that if a positive case is detected during the random testing then there will be mandatory COVID testing.

Meanwhile, Doctor Sithar Dorji, a member of the TAG said that there has been no discussions to make the testing mandatory for Bhutan because of some reasons.

“First thing, our vaccine coverage is in huge numbers, along with both the booster dose which makes the immunity of humans higher and is able to fight the virus,” he said, adding that India has 90% coverage of fully vaccinated population which is a good number. “But India’s booster dose coverage is low as per the media reports in India,” he said.

Additionally, he said that full vaccination means the completion of two doses of vaccine, excluding the booster doses.

Doctor Sithar Dorji also said that another reason for Bhutan not to worry is because the outbreak of BF. 7 variant of Omicron is the sub-lineage of BA. 5 variant.

“We have been exposed to BA. 5 variant at the beginning of this year only, which has made our immunity strong and as this variant, BF.7 is a part of BA. 5, our immunity has been developed due to exposure to the BA. 5, as of now, there is nothing to be worried of,” he said.

He also added that, although the recent case of increasing death in other countries due to COVID-19 has been on the rise right now, India has successfully isolated a sample of SARS-CoV-2 virus containing the BF.7, a sub-lineage of the Omicron variant, which is suspected to be behind the surge in Covid-19 cases in several countries including China

In an earlier interview too, Dr. Sithar had said that China has a very low vaccination rate, and because of their zero-covid policy, they haven’t had much exposure to the early omicron’s version. He informed that although China has a high hospitalization rate, other nations like South Korea and Japan have lower hospitalization rates.

“Due to prior infections and possibly vaccinations, the Chinese people may not have developed adequate immunity, which may account for its widespread occurrence in China,” Dr. Sithar had mentioned.

Nonetheless, he underlined that the Bhutanese government encourages the use of masks in public places and in gatherings. Highlighting that currently nothing can be said concerning the presence of the BF 7 variant in Bhutan, Dr. Sithar had underlined that people should take the 4th dose of the vaccine.

“We are concerned and watching out, but due to the high vaccination coverage, we shouldn’t be worried much,” he had said.  

Meanwhile, media reports from India say that international passengers from the above mentioned countries will have to undergo mandatory RTPCR tests before departure and upload reports on the Air Suvidha portal from 1st January, 2023. This requirement is in addition to the random 2 per cent tests of all international passengers in all incoming international flights on their arrival to India irrespective of the port of departure.

The Indian media has also said that a” sudden spike in Covid cases in Japan, China, and some other countries has triggered fears of another wave of the pandemic. India has taken measures to detect any new variant, which might cause a sharp rise here in the country.

Additionally, the Indian media has also said that on Wednesday (December 28, 2022), some experts in the government had mentioned that India might see a spike in January.

Further, data from the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention shows that he BF.7 subvariant, which descended from the BA.5 strain, is extremely adept at evading immunity and is believed to be driving China’s current surge.

Earlier this week, Reuters reported that Japan on Wednesday, 28th December 2022, recorded 415 COVID 19 deaths, the highest ever count for a single day. The country also counted 216,219 newly confirmed coronavirus cases.

Tshering Pelden from Thimphu