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Buddhist Bhutan Reports First COVID-19 Related Death

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Photo by Craig Lewis

The Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan reported late on Thursday its first death of a patient diagnosed with COVID-19. Minister for Health Dechen Wangmo announced that a 34-year-old man with pre-existing health conditions had succumbed to complications related to the SARS-CoV-2 novel coronavirus.

The deceased, who also suffered from chronic liver disease and renal failure, was diagnosed with COVID-19 on 21 December after he was admitted to hospital in the capital Thimphu to be treated for acute hepatitis.

“It was not easy and clear to include this as a COVID-19 death. The man died of acute hepato-renal failure complicated by COVID-19,” said clinical microbiologist and member of the health ministry’s technical advisory group, Dr. Tshokey. “Such cases have very poor outcomes unless they undergo liver transplant. But since he died with COVID-19, we have included the death as a COVID-19 death.” (Kuensel)

The government ordered a strict lockdown in December, during which the number of confirmed infections in the country rose from about 400 to more than 700. The first infection in Bhutan was detected in an American tourist in March last year.*

Bhutan was quick to adopt a comprehensive, evidence-based tracing and testing regime soon after the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus began spreading around the world, putting in place strict border controls and a three-week quarantine procedure for all returnees to avoid overloading its healthcare system. The coordinated response has been bolstered by the Bhutan’s traditional communal values—in which all levels of society, including the royal family, have acted in concert to observe social-distancing and support other response measures—and the country’s free universal healthcare system, a key aspect of the kingdom’s Gross National Happiness (GNH) philosophy.

At the time of writing on 8 January, Bhutan had reported 767 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the lowest number of recorded cases in South Asia. Total global cases at the time of writing exceeded 88 million, with 1,900,380 related deaths recorded and 49.2 million recovered.**

Remote, landlocked, and perched in the rarified air of the eastern Himalaya, Bhutan is the world’s last remaining Vajrayana Buddhist Kingdom. The ancient spiritual tradition is embedded in the very consciousness and culture of this remote land, where it has flourished with an unbroken history that dates back to its introduction from Tibet by Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rinpoche, in the eighth century.

Roughly 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.

Sole Coronavirus Patient in Buddhist Bhutan Flies Home and Bhutan Closes Borders for Two Weeks After Reporting First Coronavirus Case (Buddhistdoor Global)

** COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU)

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Bhutan records first Covid-19 death (Kuensel)

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