Thimphu unlocks on Monday after 40 days of lockdown

From 1st of February, 2021, the complete unlocking process for Thimphu began including inter-dzongkhag movement, schools, offices, institutions, shops, constructions and business entities.

Prime Minister Dasho (Dr) Lotay Tshering during the Press Conference said in what is the convergence of His Majesty’s blessings, prayers of our religious bodies, hard work of the frontline workers and support of every Bhutanese, the nation saw a successful lockdown.

After more than 40 days, and over 280,000 tests of COVID-19 carried out nationwide, of which Thimphu alone has conducted 140,000 tests, the government is confident that the disease is under control, and limited only to the quarantine facilities.

He said that the 20 Dzongkhags can all go back to a normal state that was there prior to the second national lockdown. 

From Monday, the Inter-dzongkhag movement is allowed, public transports such as buses and taxis can operate and quarantine requirement from Thimphu and Paro is being lifted. The seven-day mandatory quarantine will continue for those travelling from high risk to low risk areas. “Right now there is no virus in the south due to repeated testing but the danger is always there due to the neighboring areas and so we cannot remove the 7 days’ quarantine right now for those coming up,” said the PM.

All travelers must register with Check Post Management System (CPMS) prior to their travel and besides random testing of travelers along the check points, the public transport drivers will have to undergo mandatory testing every two weeks.

All schools will open as scheduled by the education ministry. Random testing for students and teachers will be carried out every two weeks. Health focal persons have been identified to monitor compliance and surveillance on campus.

All offices and institutions can open. The COVID-19 Safety focal office in all offices must ensure that all COVID-19 norms are in place and implemented.

All shops, restaurants and business entities can open and the closure time is 9 pm. For hair salons and barber shops they have to take extra precaution to maintain proper hygiene and safety protocols will be imposed.

Shopkeepers will have to do a mandatory COVID-19 testing every two weeks. Opening of entertainment centers of movie halls, clubs, karaoke and drayangs will be announced at a later date.

All sporting activities are allowed but without any spectators and the closure time is 11pm. No tournaments are allowed, unless approved by the Bhutan Olympic Committee. For traditional games of archery and khuru, only 10 participants are allowed at a time.

Gatherings of any sort is discouraged and for community based religious congregation, a maximum of 25 people can participate. Prior approval must be sought from the local taskforce. Religious gatherings at home must be limited to family members.

Funeral rites are to be restricted to close circles. Pilgrimage, menchu, tsachu and hiking are allowed. For conferences, seminars, workshops and training, a maximum of only 25 people are allowed to gather. The COVID-19 safety focal officers must maintain proper record of the attendees.

“We are strengthening measures at the Paro airport again. His Majesty has commanded that we strengthen measures there,” said the PM.

“His Majesty has advised us to be cautious, alert and not take things for granted only because the current situation has gone well,” said the PM

The PM said, “We wanted to do only 8,000 to 9,000 tests in the second mass testing round in Thimphu but His Majesty advised for more comprehensive testing and we tested around 30,000 people and everyone came out negative.”

The PM said that Bhutan also takes pride in having tested every household twice in the capital, almost a record of sort, by way of ascertaining the epidemiological status to prepare lifting of lockdown.

“But the battle is only half won as we continue to sail through the pandemic, that too amid peak winter. We could regress into a situation far more disastrous if we let our guards down today,” he cautioned.

Therefore, concerted efforts are being made to heighten surveillance along the borders and entry points with enhanced vigilance and improved operating procedures.

Tests for COVID-19 will be conducted every two weeks among business communities, drivers, frontliners, students and health workers, while flu clinics will always scan for the early signs of the disease to prevent community spread and also avoid lockdowns, said the PM. Additional mobile flu clinics will be introduced in busy public places and certain points along the highways.

“From Monday we may have to do around 20,000 tests a day but we will manage,” said the PM.

The initial confirmation of the case at the flu clinic in Thimphu on December 20, 2020, which led to the lockdown, triggered the fear that the disease would have spread throughout the country. And as everyone stayed home to break the chain of disease transmission, more than 20,000 frontline workers under various taskforces worked day in and out to contain the disease and make it as convenient for the people.

The PM said the fact that the busiest street in Thimphu, Norzin Lam wore a deserted look since the lockdown was announced, was a quality unique to Bhutan where its people valued solidarity and unity under His Majesty The King more than anything else.

Meanwhile, the government is anticipating the roll out of the nationwide COVID-19 vaccination program that will protect the people and enable to prevent the outbreak of the disease as everybody ventures forward.

The PM said that there is a danger of the new strains of COVID-19 coming to Bhutan.  Therefore, the government will be putting in place gene sequencing to test for these new strains.

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