The office of the prime minister of Bhutan, Dr. Lotay Tshering, announced on Sunday that the country would close international points of entry to foreigners starting from 6am Monday morning, local time, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“From 06:00 am [00:00 GMT], 23 March 2020, the Royal Government of Bhutan will close all our international borders,” the statement, shared over social media, read. Bhutanese citizens wanting to enter the country after the deadline will be admitted, but will be required to go into quarantine.
On 14 March, Bhutan reported that its first case of a COVID-19 infection—a 76-year-old American tourist—had been evacuated to the United States. The American was flown out of the country by air ambulance, in coordination with the US embassy in New Delhi and at the request of his family members.* Although the repatriation of the patient initially meant that Bhutan had no confirmed coronavirus infections, the prime minister of Bhutan announced on 20 March—the same day that the king and queen of Bhutan announced the birth of their second child—that the American patient’s partner, who continues to receive medical treatment in Bhutan, had also tested positive for COVID-19, becoming the kingdom’s second confirmed case.**
In a televised address to the nation, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the Druk Gyalpo or “Dragon King” of Bhutan stated:
We are compelled to take this drastic measure in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. As you have been made aware through various government bulletins, the virus is spreading, causing immense disruption worldwide, and drawing closer to us each day.
At such a time, the health and safety of the people of Bhutan is of the greatest priority, and as such, we are putting in place every measure necessary to safeguard the people of Bhutan. Should those of you who are abroad at this time wish to return home, the government will help you. I ask those of you who are studying or working abroad, not to worry.
Covid-19 will cause great disruptions to the global economy, and Bhutan will not be an exception. The economic repercussions will not just impact a select few sectors, but each and every one of us. At such a time, we must exhibit the strength that comes out of our smallness, remain united and support one another. During such exceptional circumstances, the government will take the responsibility of alleviating any suffering to the people due to the virus. (Kuensel)
At the time of writing on 23 March, global novel coronavirus infections were reported to total 341,722, with 14,717 deaths so far confirmed. The World Health Organization has previously estimated the mortality rate from the virus at 3.4 per cent, based on preliminary data, with the elderly and people with underlying health conditions considered most at risk. Bhutan shares borders with two political and economic heavy-hitters China and India. China has so far reported 81,454 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 3,274 deaths, while India has reported 425 confirmed infections and eight deaths.
Almost 75 per cent of Bhutan’s population of some 770,000 people identify as Buddhists, according to the Washington, DC-based Pew Research Center, with Hindus accounting for the majority of the remaining 25 per cent. Most of Bhutan’s Buddhists follow either the Drukpa Kagyu or the Nyingma schools of Vajrayana Buddhism. Bhutan held its first elections as a constitutional monarchy in 2008.
* Sole Coronavirus Patient in Buddhist Bhutan Flies Home (Buddhistdoor Global)
Bhutan Closes Borders for Two Weeks After Reporting First Coronavirus Case (Buddhistdoor Global)
** Bhutan’s King and Queen Announce the Birth of their Second Child (Buddhistdoor Global)
Border gates to close from today (Kuensel)
His Majesty addresses the nation on Covid-19 (Kuensel)
Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU)