Be vigilant, No cause for alarm

Be vigilant, No cause for alarm

As deaths in China increases and the BF.7 variant enters India, Bhutanese expert says it is not a major concern for Bhutan but advises people to wear face masks and avoid gatherings

Following news that the new sub-lineage of omicron, BF.7 has found its way into India, Bhutan’s National Technical Advisory Group (TAG) for COVID 19, is not leaving anything to chance and preparing for any eventuality. The health ministry is monitoring viral patterns and remaining vigilant, and if there is a dramatic surge in the instances, the surveillance team and the COVID -19 Technical Advisory Group are prepared.

“We hold regular meetings to talk about the Covid-19 trends and prepare policy accordingly,” a TAG member said, adding that though it is a concern, there is not much to be worried.

“Bhutan shouldn’t be worried but be vigilant,” Doctor Sithar Dorji, who is a member of the National Technical Advisory Group (TAG) for COVID-19 said, adding that Bhutan can’t be compared to China for a number of reasons.

“To start with, China has a very low vaccination rate, and because of their zero-covid policy, they haven’t had much exposure to the early omicron’s version,” he said.

Dr Sithar further informed that although China has a high hospitalization rate, other nations like South Korea and Japan have lower hospitalization rates.

“Due to prior infections and possibly vaccinations, the Chinese people may not have developed adequate immunity, which may account for its widespread occurrence in China,” Dr. Sithar mentioned.

Nonetheless, he underlined that the government encourages the use of masks in public places and in gatherings. Highlighting that currently nothing can be said concerning the presence of the BF 7 variant in Bhutan, Dr. Sithar added that people should take the 4th dose of the vaccine.

“We are concerned and watching out, but due to the high vaccination coverage, we shouldn’t be worried much,” he added. 

“During the period of the delta, delta dominated. Similarly in omicron, so at the moment, there is also a possibility that a mixture of several sub-lineages of omicron version of Covid 19 will be predominant,” he said.

Subsequently, Dr. Sithar said, “However, it might not be as dangerous in nations other than China.”

Meanwhile, head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said the agency is “very concerned” about rising reports of severe coronavirus disease across China after the country largely abandoned its “zero COVID” policy, warning that its lagging vaccination rate could result in large numbers of vulnerable people getting infected.

At a press briefing earlier this week, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the U.N. agency needs more information on COVID-19 severity in China, particularly regarding hospital and intensive care unit admissions, “in order to make a comprehensive risk assessment of the situation on the ground.”

“WHO is very concerned over the evolving situation in China with increasing reports of severe disease,” Tedros said.

He added that while COVID deaths have dropped more than 90% since their global peak, there were still too many uncertainties about the virus to conclude that the pandemic is over.

Some scientists have warned that the unchecked spread of COVID-19 in China could spur the emergence of new variants, which might unravel progress made globally to contain the pandemic.

“Vaccination is the exit strategy from omicron,” WHO emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan said, adding that “the explosive surge of cases in China was not exclusively due to the lifting of many of the country’s restrictive policies and that it was impossible to stop transmission of omicron, the most highly infectious variant yet seen of COVID-19.”

He said vaccination rates among people over age 60 in China lagged behind many other countries and that the efficacy of the Chinese-made vaccines was about 50%.

“That’s just not adequate protection in a population as large as China, with so many vulnerable people,” Ryan said.

He added that while China has dramatically increased its capacity to vaccinate people in recent weeks, it’s unclear whether that will be enough.

Experts say that the severity of the illness in the case of BF.7 is not higher, though the real worry is the sheer number of people it can infect as the spread is much faster making early detection and isolation even more important.

Meanwhile, the new BF.7 variant causes upper respiratory infection, meaning in congestion in the higher parts of the chest and near the throat, fever, sore throat, runny nose and cough.

Some people may get stomach-related symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea, as per the reports.

“Recovery rate is high, but deaths in absolute numbers may be high if the spread is more than that of early variants,” one of the news media in India said

Additionally, the variant BF.7 has been detected in several other countries around the world including the US, UK, Belgium, Germany, France and Denmark.

Tshering Pelden from Thimphu