Amid Omicron spread, Bhutan eases major Covid-19 protocols as economic concerns mount

After retaining one of the most strict border measures and health protocols for almost two years, Bhutanese authorities seem to have concluded it is no longer possible to continue with this harsh regime

Mar 29, 2022
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Bhutan Covid-19

Bhutan, a rare-Covid-19 success story known for its zero-tolerance policy, has eased most restrictions as economic pressure mounts amid the prolonged lockdowns due to the spread of the Omicron variant. The authorities, however, still retain the quarantine measure for certain situations.

Since March 2020, when the pandemic began, Bhutan has reported just 10 deaths out of a total of around 25,000 cases. Over 90 percent population were vaccinated with double doses, including booster doses for vulnerable groups, in a record short span of time, bringing the small Himalayan country of roughly 700,000 people into the global limelight.

After retaining one of the most strict border measures and health protocols for almost two years, Bhutanese authorities seem to have concluded it is no longer possible to continue with this harsh regime. The coming of the Omicron wave and prolonged lockdowns have added to economic distress among vulnerable groups.

Last week, the government announced the phased opening of public transport facilities, abolished the mandatory quarantine measure for transport drivers, reduced the period of quarantine from three weeks to one week for people traveling from high-risk zones to other parts of the country.

Educational and sports activities are allowed to resume from the next month. However, seminars and conferences will continue in virtual mode.

The country’s external debt in the convertible currency (CC) and the Indian Rupees (INR) combined stands at Nu 238.143 billion (roughly $3.1 billion), according to the central bank’s monthly statistical bulletin for March 2022, a significant increase when the revenue has shrunk, reported Kuensel, the national newspaper.

Furthermore, most businesses are struggling not just in repaying their debts but also to keep their ventures operational, said Tandy Wangchuk, the president of Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Many businesses may wind up if the government moves ahead with the planned withdrawal of monetary support from June this year, according to a report in Kuensel. Last week the country’s opposition party asked the government to focus on economic recovery and supporting the private sector as the government eases the restrictions.

(SAM)

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