Non-emergency travellers from high to low risk zones must undergo seven-day quarantine

Travellers with emergencies, both medical and death-related, while moving from high risk to low risk areas would be tested and released on the same day while others have to follow the seven-day mandatory quarantine,  said Health Minister Dechen Wangmo in a press-brief yesterday.

“Anybody who violates the protocols would be prosecuted as per the law,” she added.

The health ministry has recorded around 10,000 travellers from high to low risk areas. Currently, there are 800 in the quarantine centers across the country.

At this time, Lyonpo said the health ministry is not confident about there being no COVID-19 risk and there is no way of knowing with 100 percent surety that there is no local transmission. “There is always a certain risk.”

For emergency travel, Lyonpo said the traveller is tested for antigen before release. The results take half an hour and samples are collected for the RT-PCR test.

Moreover, for medical travel emergencies, the ambulance drivers and health staffs if convenient are asked to return on the same day otherwise they are accommodated in separate lodging.

While for death-related emergency travels, only the immediate family members are allowed, she added.

Lyonpo said for emergency travels, the traveller must return for the test again after eight days.

Lyonpo said the country is differentiated into low and high risk areas, and it is not a political or social issue but the main reason is epidemiological risk of the place.

Additionally, Lyonpo said Bhutan shares 700 kilometers of porous borders that are not sealed completely and there are continuous violations and interactions across the borders.

She also said the first local transmission case in the country was from the mini-dry port in Phuentsholing and as an import-driven country while facilitating import there is certain risk of transmission.

“We cannot monitor every single individual,” said Lyonpo.

Moreover, she said there are also chances of the virus transmission from the asymptomatic COVID-19 patients.

The disease prevalence and testing protocols of other countries are not known, said Lyonpo.

She shared that it is not true that those who have authority or affiliation can travel. Everybody must follow the protocol.

“We would like to apologise for any inconveniences caused, yet their sacrifices are making the country little safer,” said Lyonpo.

Lyonpo assured that the government would go for certain relaxation once it has a very good system and adequate surveillance in place.

The health ministry discourages people to travel unless necessary and requests them to avoid gatherings, avoid travelling and wear face masks.

Thukten Zangpo from Thimphu