Quarantine system for travelers from abroad questioned

The Foreign Affairs Minister says Bhutan has always taken a unique and different approach and cannot be compared with other countries

Questions over how long Bhutan will continue to maintain the 14 to 21 days mandatory quarantine for travelers entering the country have emerged in many forums in the wake of most Southeast Asian countries having done away with the quarantine system.

These countries have instead developed strategies to allow tourists to enter the country, such as the Test & Go scheme and no quarantine, while some only require a 72-hour RT-PCR negative test and the Covid-19 vaccination certificate.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, during his address to the nation on March 2, mentioned that Bhutan will complete the second round of vaccination of children between the ages of 5 and 11 by mid-April and that there would be major changes in quarantine and quarantine protocols.

Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Tandi Dorji clarified on social media that a complete elimination of quarantine is not envisaged.

However, he added that there is a possibility of reducing it, taking into account various factors, which is again subject to the advice of the Technical Advisory Committee. 

Speaking to Business Bhutan, Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that unlike other countries, Bhutan wants to avoid an increase in cases that could overwhelm the health system.

“Our health infrastructure and resources (manpower) are limited and we do not want to jeopardize this situation. We hope to proceed cautiously, ease restrictions and lift the quarantine gradually, in a well-planned and prepared manner,” he said.

The minister said Bhutan has always taken a unique and different approach and cannot be compared with other countries.

Meanwhile, the past two years have not been good for the tourism industry. In 2021, the first and the only tourist from America was received only in September.

The tourism revenue decreased by 41% in 2019-2020 compared to 2018-2019. By 2020, arrivals dropped by 91% from 315,599 visitors in 2019 to 29,812 in 2020.

Although the tourism sector has suffered greatly, Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji said that he is confident that Bhutan as a small economy will bounce back once the economy opens up. 

The minister said that any decision will be made taking into account Bhutan’s unique situation, available scientific evidence and with the advice of experts. 

Bhutan needs to proceed cautiously and the technical advisory group and the Ministry of Health will recommend many facilitations and relaxations, according to the minister.

Meanwhile, Bhutan has a vaccination coverage rate of 81.1% of the total population who have received at least one dose of the vaccine and 77.8% who have received the second dose (as of March 1, 2022)

The vaccination coverage rate for those 18 and older is 89.1%, while 18.9% of the total population has not yet been vaccinated. 

Nationwide vaccination for children ages 5 to 11 was introduced on March 6. At the end of the sixth day (as of March 11, 2022) of the nationwide vaccination program for children between 5 to 11 years of age, 96.1 % of eligible children across the country have been vaccinated.

Chencho Dema from Bangkok