Bhutan’s only covid-19 patient flies home

The remote Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan on Saturday reported that it’s only case of COVID-19 infection—a 76-year-old American tourist—had been evacuated to the United States and that the Himalayan nation is now free of the coronavirus.

The American patient was evacuated on Friday afternoon by air ambulance, in coordination with the US embassy in New Delhi and at the request of his family members. The patient’s partner, who has twice tested negative for the virus, remains in Bhutan under quarantine.

“He was managed in the isolation ward identified for COVID-19 patients and given the best care by a team of dedicated medical professionals,” Bhutan’s Ministry of Health stated in a press release. (Kuensel)

The repatriation of the American means that Bhutan now has no confirmed cases of COVID-19.

At the time of writing, global novel coronavirus infections were reported to total 169,387, with 6,513 deaths so far confirmed. While the outbreak first emerged in China, as of Monday, the majority of coronavirus infections and fatalities have now occurred outside of mainland China, which has reported a death toll of 3,217 people, and a total of 81,020 infections, according to official data from the Chinese health authorities. COVID-19 is believed to have first spread from an illegal wildlife market in the Chinese city of Wuhan, in central Hubei Province. The World Health Organization has estimated the mortality rate from the virus at 3.4 per cent, with the elderly and people with underlying health conditions considered most at risk.

Bhutan shares borders with two political and economic heavy-hitters China and India, which has so far reported 113 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and two deaths.

Local media reports in Bhutan described the American patient as being on at least three medications for several pre-existing medical conditions. These factors, combined with his age, place him at high risk of complications. Immediately after the patent was confirmed positive for COVID-19 on 5 March, he was placed on an isolation ward, with oxygen support.* By the third day in hospital, he had been placed on a ventilator, attended by Bhutanese medical experts and with additional guidance from an infectious diseases specialist in Singapore.

The Bhutanese prime minister, Dr. Lotay Tshering, was quoted by the Kuensel newspaper as saying that the patient received the same anti-viral regime being used in Japan, Singapore, and Thailand: “We were giving him the best treatment that was available in consultation with the family physician. We did all we could.” (Kuensel)

As of Friday, the Royal Centre for Disease Control in Bhutan had tested 238 people, all of whom returned negative results. Of these subjects, 78 are staying at designated quarantine centers and 17 are self-quarantined.

After confirming its first COVID-19 case, Bhutan closed its borders to foreign visitors for two weeks, although Indian nationals are permitted to enter the country via land border crossings for non-tourism and essential purposes after coronavirus screening. All incoming travelers, including Bhutanese nationals, are required to declare their travel histories.

Remote, landlocked, and perched in the rarified air of the eastern Himalaya, Bhutan is the world’s last remaining Vajrayana Buddhist country. The ancient spiritual tradition is embedded in the very consciousness and culture of this remote land, where it has flourished with an unbroken history that dates back to its introduction from Tibet by Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rinpoche, in the eighth century.

Almost 75 per cent of Bhutan’s population of some 770,000 people identify as Buddhists, according to data from the Washington, DC-based Pew Research Center, with Hinduism accounting for the majority of the remaining 25 per cent. Most of Bhutan’s Buddhists follow either the Drukpa Kagyu or the Nyingma schools of Vajrayana Buddhism.