May 22, 2024


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Elderly US traveller is Bhutan’s first COVID-19 case, prompting travel restrictions

THIMPHU: Bhutan announced its first positive case of the novel coronavirus on Friday (Mar 6), prompting school closures and travel restrictions, according to a Facebook post from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

The 76-year-old patient from the US was confirmed to have the disease on Thursday night, and the results were validated on Friday.

He was visiting Bhutan as a tourist, the PMO said, as it outlined his whereabouts and the people he might have come into contact with.

The patient entered the country via Paro International Airport, flying in from Guhawati, India on Drukair flight KB241 on Mar 2. There were 10 passengers on board the flight, including eight Indian nationals.

Before that, he was touring India between Feb 21 and Mar 1 with his 59-year-old partner; he began his trip from Washington, DC on Feb 18.

READ: COVID-19 death toll hits 12 in US, helicopter flies test kits to cruise ship


The man’s health declaration form was assessed when he arrived in Bhutan’s Paro International Airport.

“He had indicated ‘negative’ against all conditions. He did not have a sign of fever,” the PMO said.

However, the traveller complained he was bloated and was experiencing nausea after reaching Bhutan’s capital city in Thimphu. He then visited the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital for medical services, still not showing any flu symptoms.

The patient and his partner stayed at the Le Meridien hotel on the first night, Bhutan’s authority said. The next day, he stayed indoors mostly but visited the hospital again with an upset stomach and diarrhea.

The patient continued his journey the next day to Punakha, making two stops on the way for tea and lunch. In Punakha, he stayed at the Densa Boutique Resort. That evening, he walked until the Bazam next to Punakha Dzong, and returned to his room.

READ: COVID-19 fatality rate higher than the flu, says WHO

When he returned to Thimphu, he went back to the hospital with a fever, sore throat, cough and shortness of breath.

“He was kept under observation at the flu clinic (designated COVID-19 hospital) and samples were collected and sent to Royal Centre for Disease Control,” the Office said.

The elderly patient has been in isolation at the COVID-19 hospital since his diagnosis and is on oxygen support because of his age and underlying conditions like chronic hypertension.


Over 90 contacts have been traced, the PMO said, explaining contact tracings began according to the patient’s itinerary, including people he had associated with and places he had visited.

Three of the patient’s close contacts – his partner, the driver and the guide – are asymptomatic for now, the authority said, but are quarantined. The eight Indian nationals on board his flight from Guwahati are also quarantined.

Service staff, like the four crew members on the flight and hotel staff from the patient’s accommodations, are on “home quarantine”, whereby they are required to stay at home and avoid contact with people until all suspicious are cleared.  

READ: 290 million students out of school worldwide as global COVID-19 battle intensifies


With the detection of the first confirmed coronavirus case, Bhutan is now in the “orange” zone, meaning there has been one or more isolated confirmed cases without secondary transmission.

There is “moderate disruption” in the country as schools, institutions and public gatherings are affected, according to the Facebook post.

Schools and institutes will be closed from Friday for two weeks in three districts – Thimphu, Paro and Punakha.

“The duration is specified in keeping with the health advisory, which states that people who would have contracted infection from the primary source would develop full-blown infection by then,” the government explained.

There will also be a two-week restriction on all incoming tourists with “immediate effect”.

“This is to enable rigorous monitoring, source assessment of infection and mitigate the situation.”

All international conferences and seminars to be held in Bhutan in the two weeks are also postponed.

“The government will assess the situation after two weeks and accordingly decide on the restrictions,” Bhutan’s government said, advising the public to maintain good personal hygiene and comply with other measures.

Bhutan is among scores of countries that have been hit by the novel coronavirus that originated in the Hubei province in China. In total 3,042 people have died from the disease in China and more than 80,500 people have now been infected in mainland China.

Outside of China, South Korea remains the hardest-hit with 6,284 cases and a death toll of 42. Countries like the US, Iran, Germany, Japan and Singapore have also reported cases.

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