Bhutan to declare Covid-19 ‘endemic’ only after WHO

Dr. Sithar Dorji says they could declare the Covid-19 pandemic as endemic only after the disease, the variants and all are stabilized like the influenza virus, for instance like the H1N1 pandemic

While the detection of Covid-19 cases in the community has decreased today and the government has allowed more latitude by lifting a majority of the restrictions imposed due to the virus, there is still time before Covid-19 can be declared ‘endemic’ in the country.

There is no country presently that has yet declared or attained Covid-19 endemic status.

An epidemiologist and a member of the Covid-19’s Technical Advisory Group (TAG), Dr. Sithar Dorji said, “We can declare Covid-19 pandemic as endemic only after the disease, the variants and all are stabilized like the influenza virus, for instance like the H1N1 pandemic.”

“At this time, the World Health Organization (WHO) has not established the threshold for a pandemic to be classified as endemic, and the number of cases per 1,000 or per 100 of the population to be deemed endemic.”

Although Covid-19 has not been officially declared endemic in Bhutan, some people feel that we have because of the relaxations.

Dr. Sithar Dorji said declaring the Covid-19 endemic is still a bit problematic because the cases keep fluctuating in the neighboring countries.

“We need a little bit of time to declare the Covid-19 as endemic as we are still closely watching and monitoring the cases,” he added.

The primary requirements for a pandemic to become endemic, according to Dr. Sithar Dorji, are that the disease shouldn’t overwhelm hospitals and result in fatalities, and cause significant harm and disruption to daily lives.

“Rather the disease should be circulating at the threshold level to have an endemic status,” he added.

According to him, another issue that is preventing even the WHO and other countries from gaining endemic status is that they don’t know when the new variant will come and the surge capacity of serious cases getting hospitalization, along with an increase in mortality rates.

“However, we are very safe as there are not many diseases spread in the community, no severe cases and the number of fatalities is low and our vaccine coverage is also high,” he added.

As of now, Dr. Sithar Dorji said there is zero hospitalization due to Covid-19 and only 18 cases were detected in a week from June 27 to July 3.

“The data indicate that there are 18 community cases, which could be the result of immune-compromised individuals, early infection, or early vaccination,” he said.

“Because our vaccination rate is so high, we shouldn’t worry too much. 98% of the population is fully vaccinated,” he added.

“For all ages, even the booster has reached 67% including all population; above 18, we have 86% of the booster coverage, for 12-17 we have 48%. 99% of the population is fully vaccinated with two doses,” Dr. Sithar Dorji said, adding that people are actually fully vaccinated to be effective to prevent severe diseases.

Tshering Pelden from Thimphu