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Bhutan orders nationwide lockdown

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This photo taken on April 19, 2019 shows traffic backed up on a road in Bhutan's capital Thimphu. AFP

Bhutan orders nationwide lockdown

Bhutan has been largely shielded from coronavirus but on Tuesday, the remote Himalayan kingdom which is famous for measuring gross national happiness went into lockdown for the first time.

The country of 800,000 people, located between India and China, has recorded just 113 novel coronavirus cases and is one of the few nations to report zero deaths.

The lockdown ordered in the early hours of Tuesday allows only essential services for an initial five to six days, said Prime Minister Lotay Tshering, a doctor who continues to practice on weekends.

“Everyone is asked to stay home to protect themselves from the disease, should there be undetected, rampant transmissions,” a statement from his office said.

The announcement came after a Bhutanese woman who had returned from Kuwait and was released from quarantine after 30 days, tested positive around 10 days later.

Three rapid antibody tests were positive during her time in quarantine, throughout which she was asymptomatic. But six PCR tests were all negative and she was discharged on July 26.

A seventh PCR test came back positive on Monday and since leaving quarantine, the woman was found to have travelled extensively in Bhutan, mixing with family and friends and even shopping.

As of midday, the health ministry had traced 210 people suspected to have come in contact with her, the prime minister’s office said.

The lockdown decision was made in a meeting by the virus task force that, according to the prime minister’s office, stayed in touch with Bhutan’s king “throughout the night”.

After the announcement, many people rushed to the shops to buy essential items like rice, vegetables, eggs, vegetable oil and tobacco.

Karma Tenzin, a resident of the capital Thimphu, said he was well prepared as the government had warned people to be ready for weeks.

“So I had already stocked my kitchen with food and other necessary items to prepare for the lockdown,” he said.

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