Severity: Critical Alert

Exit/Entry: Bhutan to progressively relax strict domestic COVID-19 controls from Sept. 1. International travel restrictions continue.

Alert Begins 01 Sep 2020 07:58 AM UTC
Alert Expires 30 Sep 2020 11:59 PM UTC

  • Incident: COVID-19 restrictions
  • Location(s): Nationwide (map)
  • Time Frame: Indefinite
  • Impact: Travel and business disruptions, movement controls, entry restrictions

Effective Sept. 1, Bhutanese authorities plan to progressively relax nationwide measures imposed in response to an increase in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) activity. Strict controls will continue in high-risk areas of Gelephu, Phuentsholing, Samdrupjongkhar, and Samtse districts. In such zones, residents must stay home and obtain movement passes for essential outdoor activity; only essential businesses will function. In other areas, the following relaxation schedule will apply:


  • Phase One: From 0500 Sept. 1, officials have lifted movement controls. Residents can only walk or cycle. Essential and permitted businesses may operate through 2100 daily; dine-in services remain banned.


  • Phase Two: From 0500 Sept. 4, intra-district travel is allowed via public transport and private hire vehicles that may operate with 50 percent passenger load.


  • Phase Three: From 0500 Sept. 7, offices may function with full capacity. All vehicles may carry out intra-district travel with 50 percent occupancy; inter-district travel may resume with prior permission from 0500 Sept. 11.


Other nationwide measures will continue until further notice. Wearing face masks in public is compulsory. Contact sports, social gatherings, as well as interdistrict movement of people and goods remain prohibited unless the government grants permission. Schools, nonessential government facilities, and commercial establishments are closed.

Travel Restrictions

Bhutanese authorities continue to ban entry for foreigners through air and land borders. The rules affect foreigners with any form of visa, work permit, or immigration permit, as well as those carrying diplomatic, official, and international organization passports. Authorities are allowing foreign nationals to exit Bhutan. International flights to and from Bhutan remain severely limited due to travel restrictions on Bhutanese citizens and carriers, as well as border closures. Limited flights resumed between Thailand and Bhutan July 14, though flight schedules are subject to change at short notice. Bhutanese air carriers such as Druk Air (KB) and Bhutan Airlines (B3) are operating limited flights, mainly for repatriating Bhutanese citizens. All returnees are required to undergo a 21-day quarantine after repatriation. Authorities are advising citizens against nonessential travel. Bhutanese nationals are required to register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Thimphu before traveling abroad.

Background and Analysis
The measures adopted by the government correspond with similar actions taken by other regional governments in response to the spread of COVID-19. COVID-19 is a viral respiratory disease caused by infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus (previously known as 2019-nCoV). Symptoms occur 1-14 days following exposure (average of 3-7 days). These symptoms include fever, fatigue, cough, difficulty breathing, sometimes worsening to pneumonia and kidney failure - especially in those with underlying medical conditions. On March 11, the WHO declared the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic.

Abide by national health and safety measures. Reconfirm business appointments, deliveries, work, and travel arrangements. Do not check out of accommodation without confirming onward travel. Consider delaying traveling if experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19, as they may prompt increased scrutiny and delays. Liaise with trusted contacts for further updates and guidance. Maintain contact with your diplomatic representation. Ensure contingency plans account for further disruptive measures or extensions of current restrictions. Reconsider and reconfirm nonemergency health appointments. Ensure access to essential items. Carry proper identification documents, heed all security advisories.

Emphasize basic health precautions, especially frequent handwashing with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable. Practice good coughing/sneezing etiquette (i.e., covering coughs and sneezes with a disposable tissue, maintaining distance from others, and washing hands). There is no evidence that the influenza vaccine, antibiotics, or antiviral medications will prevent this disease, highlighting the importance of diligent basic health precautions.

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