Connecting Regions of Asia.

Bhutan’s global outreach for citizens


Bhutan has been taking pragmatic and responsible measures to care for its people who are presently residing outside of the country in this time of the coronavirus pandemic. With the contagion spreading globally, Bhutanese citizens living in foreign countries are at risk, like anyone else. However, the Bhutanese government has been investing time, money and effort to protect its people in various countries abroad.

In the US

In the United States, the Bhutan government rented apartments in New York as free accommodation for Bhutanese affected by COVID-19. The facilities are to be used as isolation facilities by the Bhutanese nationals who have tested positive for the virus. 

Members of the United Bhutanese Association of New York have said there are over 500 Bhutanese in New York. New York is the worst affected region in US with over 4,500 deaths and 130,000 positive cases.

Many Bhutanese nationals have also tested positive for coronavirus though the exact number of positive cases among them is not known as yet. However, there are no reports of death as of 6 April. 

There are no positive COVID cases among the Bhutanese expatriates in Chicago, Illinois. 

There are eight positive cases of COVID 19 in Bhutanese community in Harrisburg PA, including an individual under treatment in hospital. Harrisburg hosts one of the largest resettled Bhutanese communities in the United States. 

A Bhutanese in Lancaster, PA, has recovered from the infection while a couple tested positive and currently in self-isolation. There are no reports of infection in Pittsburg. 

There has been no reported case of COVID 19 in Nebraska. 

Though Detroit city in Michigan has so far reported 160 positive results and 2 deaths, the Bhutanese community of over 500 individuals, have no cases of infections reported yet. Similarly, there have been no reported positive cases in New Hampshire.

Two Bhutanese families tested positive to COVID 19 in Cincinnati, Ohio, but have recovered after self-quarantine at home. 

In Canada

In Canada, the Bhutanese Canadian Association of Windsor has been providing all necessary support to community members. They are constantly relaying messages from the local health authorities to community members requesting them to follow the guidelines. 

In Australia

There has been one reported case of COVID 19 among the Bhutanese community in Australia, with no death, as of 6 April. The affected individual was living in Melbourne, Victoria and has recovered after self-isolation for two weeks as mandated by the local government.

Dr Om Dhungel, a Bhutanese physician in Sydney, said there have been no cases of COVID-19 among the Bhutanese in Sydney though many of them are working in health sector. Dhungel said “It is our pride that our community is contributing in this health crisis.”

President of the Bhutanese Australian Association of South Australia (BAASA) Lal Rai said no community members have reported COVID 19 infection in Adelaide.

A Bhutanese student living in Australia, reacted to a statement by the prime minister, who called for all foreign students to go home. He wrote a letter to the prime minister about how Bhutan dealt with foreigners in their country, even those affected with COVID-19. 

He wrote: “First of all let me share a brief history of how my country, Bhutan, handled the first positive case of COVID-19. He was an American tourist who tested positive while on his sojourn. When he visited the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital in Thimphu (the capital) and complained of all the symptoms indicative of COVID-19, what do you think happened next? Did Bhutan criminalise him and discriminate him just like Australia did? No. In fact, His Majesty The King of Bhutan personally checked in to see to it that our American guest got all the possible care, help, and support that he was entitled to as a human being; no matter whether he was an American tourist or not.”

He continued in his letter to the Australian prime minister, “When you announced, most vehemently, on April the 4th, 2020, that International Students should go back home, I heard many people say that it was not surprising of ScoMo for reasons I really do not know but well; I was so hurt and surprised that a Prime Minister could make such a blatant statement in a press conference.”

He ended poignantly: “And you stand answerable.”

In Europe

Bhutanese communities in various European countries have reported no COVID-19 cases so far.

The Association of Bhutanese Communities in Denmark (ABCD), informed the media that 1000 or so Bhutanese nationals in Denmark are safe, though the country is under lockdown. Already 161 people have died and 4,077 are positive due to coronavirus there.

In the Netherlands, 1,651 individuals have lost lives and 16,627 still fighting with the virus, according to latest figures. The country is under lockdown since 16 March. However, the Bhutanese Community in The Netherlands (BCN) has said all Bhutanese there are safe. There are around 400 Bhutanese living in The Netherlands.

In Norway, so far 62 have died and 5,559 have been infected by COVID-19. However, the 700 or so Bhutanese in Norway are safe so far. 

Belgium has also been badly affected by this pandemic, recording 1,283 people dead and 18,431 infected by COVID-19. The country is under complete lockdown since the second week of March. The Bhutanese community there is safe. 

In the United Kingdom, where 4,313 people have died and 41,903 are infected, the Bhutanese there are safe and doing well. There are around 500 Bhutanese resettled in the UK.

The risks of returning home

In the meantime, the Bhutanese Prime Minister, Dr Lotay Tshering, said his government is making travel arrangements for the Bhutanese nationals who want to return home. Over 5000 Bhutanese are wanting to return to Bhutan. However, the influx of such number of returnees is also a risk for Bhutan. This creates the challenge of possible community transmission. 

Bhutan at present has the capacity to treat 1000 at facilities in Thimphu and Paro. The government is preparing for additional health facilities in the vicinity of Paro Airport.

The pragmatic and humanitarian arrangements being made by the Bhutanese government in these difficult global circumstances, have given the people of the country, at home and abroad, a sense of hope. It has also given them a sense of national pride as depicted in the letter of the Bhutanese student t the Australian prime minister. 

Courtesy – South Asian Monitor

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