The Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan on Saturday confirmed the first two cases of COVID-19 detected in Bhutanese nationals—both students in the capital Thimphu, who had recently returned from studying overseas. The students became the third and fourth confirmed novel coronavirus patients in the remote Himalayan nation.
“A total of 58 tests were performed on 28 March 2020 at the Royal Center for Disease Control, Thimphu,” the office of Prime Minister Dr. Lotay Tshering said in a public statement on Saturday. “One tested positive. The positive case is a student in facility quarantine and is now shifted to the isolation ward, Thimphu.”
The patient was reported to be in stable condition, with a mild fever and a cough, which began on 25 March. News of the student’s infection was quickly followed by an announcement that a second student had also tested positive.
Bhutan’s health minister Dechen Wangmo said that despite the increase in positive cases locally, there was no reason for panic, explaining that although the patient is Bhutanese, she was infected outside the country. “We still do not have any community transmission within the country,” she said. (Kuensel)
Bhutan reported its first confirmed COVID-19 infection—a 76-year-old American tourist—on 5 March. On 14 March, the American was evacuated to the United States 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 at the time 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 57-year-old partner, who continues to receive medical treatment in Bhutan, had also tested positive for COVID-19, becoming the kingdom’s second confirmed case.
On 25 March, Bhutan reported that the Ministry of Health had placed a Bhutanese guide and driver under quarantine after a 54-year-old Hong Kong tourist who had traveled in Bhutan from 3–12th March tested positive for COVID-19 in Hong Kong on 22 March. The driver and guide both tested negative.
“We managed to trace the close contacts of the tourist by midnight and then placed the driver and guide under quarantine,” said health minister Dechen Wangmo, adding that the tourist might have been exposed to the virus on 13–14 March while in transit from Bhutan to Hong Kong via Bangkok. “If he was exposed while in the country, he would have grown symptomatic a bit earlier,” she said. (Kuensel)
The minister also noted that the Bhutanese government had made arrangements to house all overseas arrivals at a designated quarantine facility. “Nowhere in the world is there a provision like this. They only practice home quarantine,” she said. As of 26 March, Bhutan was monitoring 2,590 people under quarantine.
The Health Ministry has also called back to Bhutan doctors studying overseas to bolster the country’s ranks of 3,000 healthcare staff. Twenty-four have so far returned and are being housed in quarantine centers. Six hundred backup volunteers have been trained to carry out health screening, with plans to train 5,000 more.
Separately, Bhutan’s Royal Civil Service Commission has set up a scheme under which civil servants may voluntarily donate 5–10 per cent of their salaries to the National COVID-19 Response and Relief Fund. “The Civil Service as the largest employer, should also show solidarity and contribute to support our fellow Bhutanese,” said the agency. (The Bhutanese)
At the time of writing on 30 March, global novel coronavirus infections were reported to total 723,740, with 34,018 deaths so far confirmed and 152,042 recovered. 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 82,152 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 3,308 deaths, with 75,911 reported to have recovered, while India has reported 1,071 confirmed infections and 29 deaths, with 100 recovered.
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.
Second Bhutanese tests positive to Covid-19 (Kuensel)
First Bhutanese to test positive for Covid-19 (Kuensel)
Government impose travel restrictions (Kuensel)
Hong Kong tourist who visited Bhutan tests positive (Kuensel)
54-year-old tourist who was in Bhutan from 3rd to 12th March tests positive for COVID-19 in Hong Kong but his two Bhutanese first contacts test negative (The Bhutanese)
Civil Servants to contribute 5 to 10% of salary for COVID-19 fund (The Bhutanese)
Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU)