The new strain of the coronavirus that originated from the UK is more contagious or infectious but whether it causes more severe sickness is yet to be confirmed, said clinical microbiologist at the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital and member of the COVID-19 Technical Advisory Group, Dr Tshokey.
“The new strain is not a new virus, it is a little different from the COVID-19 virus because of the mutation and it behaves in a slightly different way,” he said.
The mutation is a result of changes in the spikes on the surfaces of the COVID-19 which causes different shapes and expression of receptors but it is still the SARS CoV-2 virus which causes COVID-19.
Genomic data suggests transmissibility that is some 71%, higher than other variants, as per UK government advisers.
“The new strain can transmit easily from one person to another and cases have been reported in the USA, European countries and India,” he said.
However, Dr Tshokey said the new strain would not be immune to approved vaccines and testing kits. “The scientific body is confident that the vaccine and testing kits will work and be effective to prevent the disease,” he added.
On the recent outbreak of COVID-19 in Thimphu and Paro, Dr Tshokey said: “We assume that it is new strain based on the infectivity and transmissibility of the disease, however, we need to prove it scientifically.”
Moreover, he said, samples collected have to be sent for testing for gene sequencing abroad since Bhutan does not have the testing capacity.
Dr Tshokey claimed that infectivity can be due to the winter cold when family members huddle together near warming facilities. “Whatever the reason, it is not the virus we used to see in the country.”
Similarly, Health Minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo said the outbreak in Thimphu seems to be more infectious than the one in Phuentsholing and it is important for everybody to be more cautious this time.
Lyonpo added that the Phuentsholing outbreak was linked to the mini-dry-port and close contacts like family did not test positive easily but the family members of those detected positive during the current outbreak in Thimphu and Paro have tested positive.
The Royal Center for Disease Control is exploring to send samples of the COVID-19 to Bangkok for gene sequencing to confirm whether it is the new variant.
Thukten Zangpo from Thimphu