Bhutan tourism & COVID-19 FAQ – constantly updated
Bhutan is relaxing its COVID-19 travel restrictions to 5 days quarantine. Government is aiming at reopening of tourism in September 2022, depending on pandemic situation. Thorough the pandemic only 21 people died in Bhutan due to COVID-19. Kindly register to get info when Bhutan further relaxes tourism.
What is current situation in Bhutan amid COVID-19 pandemic?
Total 21 people died in Bhutan due to COVID-19 thorough the pandemic. Bhutan managed to keep numbers low by maintaining strict zero-covid policy. This had changed in March 2022 with onset of less dangerous omicron variant. Since then, Bhutan decided to proceed with live-with-covid approach and is gradually relaxing travel restriction and other measures.
For actual COVID-19 numbers and other updates, follow the Bhutan's Ministry of Health Facebook Page.
Is it possible to travel to Bhutan now or in near future?
You can travel to Bhutan on tourist visas / permits, but you need to undertake mandatory 5 days quarantine (more precisely 5 or 6 nights) in hotel facility. Visas and permits has to be processed through licensed tour operator like Firefox Tours as ever before. See detailed entry conditions.
Only arrivals by flight to Paro are entertained right now. Land borders are still closed. Flights are running on reduced schedule.
Government of Bhutan aims for full reopening of tourism without quarantine in September or even earlier, according to recent Foreign Minister's statement. That depends on condition that COVID-19 situation in Bhutan remains stable and no new more dangerous strain of virus appears.
You can start planning tours in any future dates but if you are not wiling to undertake the quarantine, 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.
Tourism policy change
On 20th June 2020 major overhaul of tourism policy with steep increase of tax levied from international tourist (not from citizens of Indian, Bangladesh and Maledives) was announced. We thoroughly discuss this in separate blog titled Bhutan Revises Tourism Tax and Policy.
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 Drukair Travel Advisory or each country authorities.
💚 Thailand: Travel to Thailand without quarantine is currently possible for vaccinated people.
Is festival schedule affected?
As a result of relaxation of anti-pandemic measure, the festivals are being held as scheduled.
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.
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!
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.
Last update on 25 Červen 2022