Bhutan tourism & COVID-19 FAQ – constantly updated
What is current situation in Bhutan amid COVID-19 pandemic?
Bhutan had total 2596 cases of COVID-19 with just 3 deaths so far. Majority of the infected people are already recovered with 7 cases remaining active as of 12 September 2021. See updates on Bhutanese Ministry of Health facebook for most actual data.
From 5th August 2021 Bhutan resumed issuing of tourist visas, anyway quarantine and other conditions are compulsory. However, quarantine period was shortened to 14 days for vaccinated travelers on 30th August 2021. Unvaccinated visitors still need to quarantine for 21 days. Next relaxation might come after mid-September, when the vaccination campaign of 12-17 years old is complete.
Tourism sector is severely affected by tourism disruption. If you want to know how our Firefox Tours team is affected, read a blog post titled How we cope with COVID-19 crisis?
Is it possible to travel to Bhutan now or in near future?
Starting from 5th August 2021 travelers can once again apply for tourist visas, anyway hotel quarantine of 14 days for vaccinated and 21 day for unvaccinated remains compulsory. Watch our Bhutan entry rules amid COVID-19 info page for details.
According to Bhutan's Health Minister Dechen Wangmo, Bhutan has to vaccinate 80% of whole population to attain herd immunity, allowing country to reopen economic activities including tourism in new normal regime. However, any reopening is deemed to be slow and gradual as Bhutan is taking extremely cautious approach towards the COVID-19 pandemic.You can start planning tours from November 2021 onwards, but make sure to avoid any non-refundable advance payments or other non-retractable commitments. Any flight tickets you buy should allow date changes and cancellations.
Travel also remains subject to various restrictions imposed by the countries through which travelers can enter Bhutan. We are closely following any prospect when tourism might reopen.
What are the current travel restrictions in the transit countries?
Please mind that following policies might change any time with immediate effect. For up-to-date info refer to IATA Travel Center or each country authorities.
🔶 Thailand: Travel to Thailand is possible with 14 days quarantine. Regular flight connection with Bhutan has resumed. Airport transit to Bhutan without entering Thailand is not currently possible. See current flight schedule.
Is festival schedule affected?
Many festivals, including Paro Tshechu, were cancelled as a result of social distancing measures. Since autumn 2020, some festivals were being held without the presence of public or with strict precautions. In case of tourism reopening, we expect festivals to be held as scheduled.
If I already booked the trip to Bhutan, should I cancel?
If your trip was supposed to start before the autumn of 2021, you should definitely reschedule or cancel. Although authorities did not indicate anything clearly, we believe there is zero chance for borders to open that soon. If your tour is planned for June 2021 onwards, you might keep fingers crossed and wait.
What is Firefox Tours policy towards COVID-19 cancellations?
Firefox Tours did refund the full amount paid for the tours to all guests who didn't reschedule their trips for later period. Only exception are banking fees which were already deducted and thus can't be refunded. We will keep this policy towards all COVID-19 related tour cancellations until the situation gets officially back to normal. We are also trying to return full amount paid to us to purchase flight tickets, anyway this depends on airlines' policies.
If your tour operator is not willing to refund you, kindly read How to get refund from canceled Bhutan tour due to COVID-19 blog post. Hopefully it will help you to fix your problem.
You can register with us to get info when Bhutan reopens. You can also start planning your tour with us in 2021. We will not require any financial or other commitments before the official tourism reopening is announced.
Is Bhutan prepared to contain possible COVID-19 outbreak?
Bhutan proved capable of proper epidemiological response, tracking all primary and secondary contacts of infected people, isolating them, testing them repeatedly as well as providing first-class intensive care. So in the terms of healthcare professionalism, Bhutan is comparatively more efficient in containing novel coronavirus cases than its neighbors. However, in case of massive outbreak, Bhutan would struggle with limited resources, especially intensive care beds.
Is there a danger of massive outbreak?
Any massive outbreak is unlikely due to Bhutan's small and disciplined population and strong rule of law as well as effective government's measures to keep the virus at bay. Tourism is suspended and all other arriving travelers including Bhutanese are subject to three weeks of compulsory quarantine. Border with India was closed from 23rd March 2020. You will probably not find any other country so much isolated from the rest of the world, now. Although virus finally found its way through the border and sporadic community transmission started already on few occasions, it was immediately contained by the authorities through lockdowns and aggressive contact tracing and testing.
How did the coronavirus crisis unfolded in Bhutan?
First COVID-19 case was detected on 5th March 2020. It was 76 years old American tourist while second was his 59 years old travel partner. They came to Bhutan from India, where they probably contracted virus from the unknown source. All contacts of the patients were tracked and repeatedly tested with negative result. First patient got intensive care in Thimphu’s National Referral Hospital before being airlifted home in stable and improving condition. Second patient was treated in Bhutan and both first and second patients are already fully recovered. See thankful message of the saved tourist.
Almost all subsequent cases were Bhutanese nationals who just returned to Bhutan from abroad and thus had been already quarantined in the time of testing. All contacts of detected people in Bhutan are being meticulously tracked and tested.
Odd case of lady who was detected positive by PCR test on 11th August led to nation-wide lockdown. Lady returned from Kuwait and initially tested negative on PCR tests when in government quarantine facility. Anyway since she tested positive on antibody rapid tests, she was quarantine for the whole month. After leaving the facility, she was ordered to undertake one more PCR test week later and that turned positive. However, it seems that she was not infectious since all her numerous contacts' testing turned negative. Explanation for this case is unclear, but likely hypothesis is that she has had coronavirus while in Kuwait, but recovered from that before returning to Bhutan. Virus detected on last PCR test was just residual virus RNA as explained in Kuensel.
In another case, detected on 12th August, the infected person was truck loader working in India border dry port, who probably contracted virus from Indian driver or the goods he manipulated with. More people were subsequently detected in his workplace and also among his primary contacts leading to sporadic transmission of virus inside Bhutan.
On 16 August more people unrelated to cases described above were tested positive, confirming the suspicion of community transmission, albeit sporadic. Bhutan launched massive testing campaign in border town or Phuntsholing as well as Thimphu and Paro, in order to contain virus spread. Since lockdown, 111 cases were detected in few clusters.
From 1st September, after a 3 weeks lockdown is being gradually eased, although very limited spread of virus in Bhutanese border regions continues.
Another community transmission was again discovered in Thimphu on 20th December, followed by detection of virus spread elsewhere, especially in Paro. Full national lockdown to contain the outbreak was thus ordered on 23rd December and is still in place as of now.
On 7th January 2021 Bhutan recorded its first death due to COVID-19 infection. Deceased was 34-years old who got tested positive while admitted to hospital and getting treatment of severe acute hepatitis and kidney failure. Whatever tragic his loss of life might be, Bhutan still performs extremely well with its infection/death ratio and will continue to prevent other unnecessary loss of life with unabated diligence and resolution. Since then, number of newly discovered cases is steadily increasing. In the middle of January, due to occurrence of new cases dwindling and also thanks to mass testing campaign proving reopening safe, Bhutan is gradually returning to o normalcy.Read more about Bhutan's success in mitigation coronavirus.
What are the consequences of COVID-19 pandemic to Bhutan?
About 50 thousands Bhutanese people directly rely on tourism. Some of them, especially guides, drivers and hotel staffs don’t have many savings. Failure of the spring tourism season is literally disaster for their home finances. Also, tourism is second biggest industry and revenue maker in Bhutan (first being hydro energy). Government funding for healthcare, education and social sectors will be affected by tourism revenue loss. In general, Bhutan will get into the economic slowdown and increased foreign debt, which is already too high.
So, please, consider Bhutan as your post-COVID destination. We will be keenly awaiting you! Not only you will be rewarded with great experiences but your visit will also help Bhutan to overcome harsh impact of the novel coronavirus crisis!
Last update on 12 September 2021