A 69-year-old Tibetan man who had recently returned to India from the United States died on Monday and subsequently tested positive for COVID-19. The man, identified by the Phayul news website as Tenzin Choedhen (Tenzin Chudan), had arrived in New Delhi from the US on 15 March. He stayed there for several days before traveling by taxi to the Tibetan enclave and home of his Holiness the Dalai Lama, McLeod Ganj, on 21 March.
There Choedhen first visited a private hospital called Bala Ji Hospital near the town of Kangra, some 19 kilometers south of McLeod Ganj by road. On Monday, his condition had deteriorated and he was transferred to the emergency section of Dr. Rajendera Prasad Medical College (RPMC), also known as Tanda Hospital, where Choedhen later died.
“We have found the patient positive for COVID-19 in the preliminary reports,” said the chief medical officer of Kangra, Gurdarshan Gupta. (The Times of India) Samples were to be sent for further testing at the National Institue of Virology in Pune. If the tests return a conclusive positive, Choedhen will be the first Tibetan in exile confirmed to have died from COVID-19.
Phayul reported that Choedhen went through routine screening at the airport in New Delhi and later checked himself into a hospital in the city with cold-like symptoms. The Mcleod Ganj Tibetan welfare officer, Tenzin Kunga, is cooperating with the authorities to retrace contacts that Choedhen may have had during his time in India. As per current protocols, those who have had contact with Choedhen may be placed in quarantine until they can be tested to ensure they do not have the virus.
“The [Bala Ji] hospital staff has been quarantined and the taxi driver has also been identified who had brought him from Delhi to Mcleodganj,” according to Kangra deputy commissioner Rakesh Kumar Prajapati. (The Times of India)
The health department of Himachal Pradesh had already placed Dharamsala and McLeod Ganj on high alert for the coronavirus in early February, noting the high volume of Buddhist pilgrims who flock to the hill town to see and pay respect to the Dalai Lama and at the numerous Buddhist centers in the district.* At that time, the greater concern was for pilgrims originating from mainland China, whereas today Europe and North America have become global hotspots for new cases of COVID-19.
Last week, the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama announced that the main Tibetan Buddhist temple in Dharamsala, Tsuglhakhan, would close to the public until at least 15 April.** At the time, India had only 129 confirmed cases of COVID-19. As of 24 March, the country had reported 511 confirmed cases, with 10 deaths and 37 recoveries.
At the time of writing on 24 March, globally, the novel coronavirus had been detected in 177 countries and territories. There are 381,621 confirmed cases and 16,563 total deaths, with 101,806 people who have recovered from the illness—the vast majority, over 60,000, in Hubei province, China, where the virus first emerged in December 2019.
* Audiences with Dalai Lama Halted Over Coronavirus Risk (Buddhistdoor Global)
** Tsuglhakhang Temple in Dharamsala to Close Over Coronavirus Risk (Buddhistdoor Global)
US-returned Tibeten, who died in Mcleodganj, tests positive for coronavirus in initial reports (The Times of India)
69-year old Tibetan dies of COVID – 19 in Mcleod Ganj, samples sent for further testing (Phayul)