No concrete plans on border reopening

Khamaed-Lunana Member of Parliament Yeshey Dem

Foreign minister says the reopening of border gates will depend on the pandemic situation

LHAKPA TSHERING | Thimphu

Even over two years after Bhutan first imposed some of the world’s strictest Covid-19 travel restrictions, the government won’t rush into reopening its border with neighboring India for non-essential travels.

Given the higher risk of the pandemic with the emergence of new variants, the government determined that the border will remain closed to non-essential travel until at least September this year.

Foreign minister Dr. Tandi Dorji at the ongoing National Assembly session said that the reopening of the borders will depend on the Covid-19 situation. “The government will consider reopening only when the National Covid-19 Taskforce rules out the risk of the pandemic,” he said.

“We have the National Covid-19 Taskforce consisting of health experts that will analyze the situation carefully. If there is no risk, borders may reopen soon in a few weeks,” he said, adding that the government is ready to reopen based on health experts’ recommendations.

However, while new Covid-19 case counts continued to drop in most of the country, Lyonpo said, the risk is still not over. “Moreover, children aged below five are not vaccinated,” he said.

“For example, cases of a new omicron variant, BA.4 and BA.5 are being reported recently. According to scientific studies, this variant is spreading faster than any previous strain,” Lyonpo added.

Besides, he informed the House that lifting the mandatory five-day quarantine will also depend on the risk of the pandemic. “Many people are in the view that the restrictions are not needed now. But if we look at the northern countries, strict movement restrictions are still in place,” he said.

The foreign minister added that although the border gates have been closed due to the pandemic, entries and exits are still happening like in a normal situation.

“However, as there is a much higher risk of spreading the virus, the five days quarantine period is still active. “We have to follow the protocols until the World Health Organization (WHO) declares there is no risk,” Dr. Tandi Dorji said.

The foreign minister was responding to the Khamaed-Lunana Member of Parliament (MP) Yeshey Dem on the government’s plan to re-open the border gates.

She said that as many countries have now eased travel restrictions as most of the countries witnessed a decline in Covid-19 cases. “But given this ongoing closure of border gates across the country, many commodities prices have increased,” she continued, adding that the closure also affected the businesses and restaurants across the borders.

The border gates have been closed to non-essential travel since March 2020, in line with the Covid-19 prevention and control protocols.