Bhutan to gradually lift coronavirus lockdown


Thimphu (Bhutan) (AFP)

Bhutan, the remote Himalayan kingdom famous for measuring gross national happiness, on Tuesday took the first steps to lift its coronavirus lockdown, saying there was limited community transmission.

The country of 750,000 people between India and China -- one of the few nations in the world that have yet to register a virus death -- has so far recorded 225 infections.

"Experiences in many countries reveal a surge in Covid-19 cases, mostly detected in the second week of post-lockdown," Prime Minister Lotay Tshering, a doctor who continues to practise on weekends, said in a television address late Monday.

"Which is why our re-opening strategies should be gradual."

The shutdown was first imposed in early August after a Bhutanese woman tested positive after interacting extensively within the community. She had earlier tested negative.

The health ministry said the lockdown was being gradually lifted as there had been an uptick in cases in recent days but no widespread community outbreak.

It added that most new cases were from confined clusters or quarantine facilities where Bhutanese returning from overseas have to stay for 24 days.

Under the new guidelines, people will be allowed to leave their homes for non-essential activities like walking from Tuesday to Thursday.

In the following three days, public transport would resume. Private travel would be allowed after that.

If there is no major outbreak, the government would further relax other restrictions.

International flights to the isolated nation remain suspended.