Bhutan tourism & COVID-19 FAQ – constantly updated
Bhutan is closed for tourism until further notice. Total 263 cases of novel coronavirus were detected in Bhutan. Nation-wide lockdown due to sporadic cases of community transmission was announced from 11th August and from 1st September it is getting gradually eased. No one died due to COVID-19 in Bhutan so far. Tourism restrictions in transit countries are another factor blocking travelers from coming to Bhutan. Read more detailed info in this FAQ! You can also register to get info when Bhutan reopens.
What is current situation in Bhutan amid COVID-19 pandemic?
Bhutan had total 263 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with no deaths so far. Majority of the infected people are already recovered with 65 cases remaining.
Nation-wide lockdown due to sporadic cases of community transmission was announced from 11th August. From 1st September, lockdown is gradually being eased.
Bhutan is following zero-death policy as ordered by His Majesty the King of Bhutan. As a result of this uncompromising focus on safety, the reopening of tourism is unlikely in 2020.
His Majesty the King is in the front line of the fight, inspiring the people as described in our post Love (for the King) in the time of Corona.
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?
All tourism visas starting from 6th March onwards are suspended until further notice. As of now, there is no concrete plan of tourism reopening announced.
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 tourism restrictions in the transit countries?
Please mind that these policies might change any time with immediate effect. For up-to-date info refer to IATA Travel Center or each country authorities.
On tourism restriction reopening for all world countries refer to Countries Reopening Their Borders For Tourism: The Complete List on Travel Off Path website.
When it will be absolutely hassle-free to travel to Bhutan again?
While it is impossible to predict the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, given the international pandemic situation and especially virus spread in neighboring India, the outlook is not very good. Since Bhutan is following strict zero-death from COVID-19 policy, the chances of tourism reopening in 2020 are quite low. The fears of “second wave” in Autumn is increasing uncertainty as well.
You can start planning tours for 2021, anyway better avoid paying any non-refundable advances or other non-retractable commitments. Any flight tickets you buy should allow date changes and cancellations.
Is festival schedule affected?
Spring festivals, including Paro Tshechu, were cancelled as a result of social distancing measures. While no official decision was made on Summer and Autumn season events, festivals will probably not be held until the danger of COVID-19 outbreak ceases. In case of tourism reopening, the situation will be probably considered safe enough for festivals to be held.
If I already booked the trip to Bhutan, should I cancel?
If your trip was supposed to start before the end of November, 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 December onwards, you might still keep some hope and wait. You should consult your Bhutanese tour operator about cancellation conditions.
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. Only exception is card payment fees which were already taken by the banks 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.
You can register with us to get info when Bhutan reopens. You can also start planning your tour with us, be it for 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.
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. 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, it is being well contained by the authorities through aggressive contact tracing and testing.
How did the coronavirus crisis unfolded in Bhutan?
First COVID-19 case was detected on 5th March. 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.
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.
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, plan your trip to Bhutan post-COVID in the fall or by next year. 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 25 Září 2020