Monday, 30th October 2017

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Bhutan bans tourists after a US national tests positive for coronavirus

The patient had been touring India since February 21, said a social media post by the Prime Minister’s office

By Avijit Sinha in Siliguri
  • Published 7.03.20, 2:28 AM
  • Updated 7.03.20, 4:17 AM
  • 2 mins read
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A notice on the door of the Sikkim tourism department office in Siliguri on Friday that says no ILPs will be issued to foreigners Picture by Passang Yolmo

The Bhutan government on Friday barred entry of all tourists into the country, after a 76-year-old US national, who reached the Dragon Kingdom on Thursday tested positive for the coronavirus.

The patient had been touring India since February 21, said a social media post by the Prime Minister’s office in Bhutan. He is now under treatment in Bhutan.

All schools and institutions in the three “dzongkhags” (districts) — Thimphu, Paro and Punakha — of Bhutan have also been declared shut for the next two weeks.

The Bhutan government’s decision has left the tourism industry in neighbouring India worried. Bhutan is a favoured destination among Indian tourists.

Sikkim had announced on Thursday that it would stop issuing Inner Line Permits (ILPs), mandatory for foreigners to enter the state.

Kinley Wangchuk, the director of the civil aviation authority of Bhutan that works under the ministry of information and communications of the country, issued a circular on Friday stating that the health ministry had detected a coronavirus case and thus, to reduce the risk of further spread of the virus, it has been decided to stop entry of tourists to the country for two weeks.

A monastery in Bhutan
A monastery in Bhutan

The communication has also been passed on to Druk Air, the Royal Bhutan Airline. The airline, in turn, announced that only those who need to travel for official purposes or have resident permits in Bhutan would be allowed to take Druk Air flights. No tourist will be allowed to board the flights until the restrictions are withdrawn.

The majority of tourists who visit Bhutan are from India. Around 2.74 lakh tourists had visited the country in 2018, of whom 69.99 per cent tourists were from India, according to data available with the Tourism Council of Bhutan.

“First, the entry of foreigners was halted in Sikkim and now the Bhutan government has announced a restriction on entry of tourists. The tourism industry across north Bengal and even in Bhutan is facing a crisis and we are keeping our fingers crossed,” said Tanmoy Goswami, coordinator, Himalayan Hospitality and Tourism Development Network (HHTDN).

A Siliguri-based hotelier, who runs properties in Darjeeling and Sikkim, said queries have been pouring in from tourists who have already made bookings. Many of those who had booked trips to Bhutan or Sikkim will have to be paid back as they have no option but to cancel the trips.

“It is clear that no tourist, whether Indian or from any other country, can enter Bhutan during the next fortnight. Also, in Sikkim, no foreigner can enter, as ILPs will not be issued. It is obvious that unless they choose Darjeeling or the Dooars, there is no other option but to cancel their trips. If such cancellations happen, it will take a toll on the industry, which had started recovering after the slump in 2017 bright on by the agitation and shutdown in the Darjeeling hills,” the hotelier said.

Additional reporting by Vivek Chhetri In Darjeeling