Proactive contact tracing and quarantines . . .
Bhutan, a constitutional monarchy with a population of 770,122, has seven confirmed COVID-19 cases as of today. Following its first case on March 6, Bhutan immediately closed its borders to international travellers, shifted schools to distance-learning, and advocated a one-metre physical distancing and hand-washing campaign. The Bhutanese Ministry of Health quarantines all returning citizens at designated facilities for 21 days. Most of the more than 5,500 people who have gone through quarantine to date returned from India. The low density (20 people per km2) and geographic remoteness of Bhutan also help explain the kingdom’s successful containment of the virus.
Economic adjustments . . .
The World Bank adjusted Bhutan’s 2020 GDP growth rate projection from 6.5 per cent to 2.2-2.9 per cent, as the bank assumes all key sectors – tourism, agriculture, and construction – will be hard hit by the pandemic. Experts expect substantial losses in commodity, manufacturing, and electricity exports, which combined make up to 70 per cent of Bhutan’s exports to India. At the same time, the lockdown in India raises a major concern as Bhutan’s economy depends on its close ties with India. To alleviate the economic impacts, King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wanchuck announced the establishment of a National Resilience Fund on April 11, which includes relief packages for affected businesses, a three-month interest payment relief for businesses and individuals, and cash-transfers for students trapped abroad.
Bhutan – India collaboration . . .
According to the India Ambassador to Bhutan, Ruchira Kamboj, the Indian government is ensuring the uninterrupted supply of essential medical supplies and all other commodities to Bhutan and has been facilitating the repatriation of Bhutanese nationals and students since early March. Bhutan has endorsed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative of using the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to fight the pandemic. India has contributed C$1.4 million to SAARC’s Covid-19 Emergency Fund and promoted the SAARC Disaster Management Centre in Gujarat as the main information-sharing and best-practice sharing network. This provides a useful example for Canada of taking a lead in creating a network for disseminating and sharing best-practices with priority countries.