Investigation still underway for Covid-19 patient’s death

Health officials urge general public to practice Covid protocols

Authorities say basic preventive measures remain vital, but there is no need for travel restrictions as of now

In a recent update regarding the emergence of the new omicron sub-variant, JN.1, health authorities and experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Royal Centre for Disease Control (RCDC) stressed the importance of implementing precautionary measures and maintaining high standards of hygiene.

Senior program officer from the Department of Public Health, Ugyen Tshering said, “Of course, WHO and RCDC said that there is still limited evidence regarding the new variant, but there is no need for a new solution or strategy to tackle these new variants.”

Ugyen Tshering said that JN.1 is not a distinct sub-variant of COVID-19 but rather a sub-variant of omicron. “JN.1 is a new sub-variant, and its severity, transmission, and reproduction remain the same as those of omicron.”

To combat the situation effectively, the program officer said that there is no other alternative or any precautionary measure. “Instead, the focus remains on following the international best practices and advice provided by the WHO, and our stand remains the same with international advice.”

He urged the public to practice hygiene, such as regular hand washing and wearing masks in public. “Public health education and awareness campaigns through various channels, including the Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS), radio, media, and social media platforms, are being employed to disseminate vital information,” the program officer said.

“We are also focusing on vaccination for the high-risk category, such as people living with diseases, the age group population above 65 years, pregnant women, and health workers, who are encouraged to take vaccines.”

“We are also waiting for advice from the national immunization technical advisory group for the vaccination, and they might advise us to give another round of vaccine or sixth dose for the high-risk population. Our focus is just to take preventive measures and vaccinations,” he reiterated.

Regarding travel restrictions, he shared that there is no need for restrictions or advice as the new variant is already present within the community. “However, we argued for individuals to comply with basic preventive measures and avoid unnecessary public gatherings.”

Meanwhile, the first case of JN.1 was detected through routine COVID-19 integrated influenza surveillance on January 18, 2024, by the RCDC.

According to a press release, a total of 12 samples collected between December 2023 and January 2024 were subjected to genomic sequencing. All the samples were detected with the JN.1 variant.

The cases were detected in Thimphu with 5, followed by Trongsa (3), Tsirang (2), and one each from Punakha and Samtse districts, respectively.

According to the press release, “Detecting the JN.1 variant in the community is a reminder for us to remain vigilant and practice shared responsibility. However, there is no need for concern. As per the WHO and Centre for Disease Control of the United States, there is limited evidence of the severity caused by JN.1, though it is found to be more transmissible than the previous variants.”

The MoH will continue to monitor ongoing developments related to COVID-19, adapt response measures as per the evolving situation and science, and inform the general public accordingly. The MoH is also collaborating with WHO to share information and assess the implications of the variant.

Recognizing the critical role of vaccination, the MoH will prioritize COVID-19 vaccination across the country, focusing on high-risk populations. This approach aims to mitigate the spread and severity of the JN.1 infection.

Moreover, the MoH advises the general public to adhere to the basic preventive health measures by practicing hand hygiene, wearing masks in crowded places, staying at home if sick, and seeking health advice if one is experiencing severe symptoms.

Nidup Lhamo from Thimphu