Citing the government’s stand on strict quarantine measures, any variant that may come as long as the incubation period doesn’t vary, no virus can affect the country, says the Prime Minister.
This is regarding the increasing cases of Omicron, a variant of concern declared by the World Health Organization and the concerns on preparedness for the new variant Omicron if it comes to Bhutan.
The Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been called a variant of concern by WHO based on the evidence that it has several mutations that may have an impact on how it behaves. There is still substantial uncertainty regarding Omicron and a lot of research underway to evaluate its transmissibility, severity and reinfection risk.
“As long as quarantine norms are strictly followed, whatever variant comes as long as the incubation period do not change, it can come to Bhutan but it will not affect the Bhutanese,” said the Prime Minister, Dasho Dr Lotay Tshering. He added: “This is the reason, we are holding strongly on quarantine measures. Physically it can come to Bhutan but medically, it may not be among us. It is highly infections but it is milder.”
In addition, the Health Minister, Dasho Dechen Wangmo highlighted that Bhutan is prepared against the Variant of Concern, Omicron because Bhutan has a good vaccine coverage. “If there is good vaccine coverage, the severity is very small, this is according to country experiences and not official compilations from World Health Organization,” she added.
She further stressed that ‘vaccines still work, the efficacy of the vaccine against Omicron is also very good right now. The diagnostic test, test’s reagent – PCR and antigen-based rapid diagnostic tests continue to detect infection of COVID-19, including Omicron. She also said that the country has the capacity to actually sequence and detect the type of variant circulating in the country.
Lyonpo also stressed that so far the imported cases detected, the variant is Delta only. The ministry of health is running one more sample and the result will come out in a week or so. Generally, it takes about five days’, something we know is that incubation period is also shorter for Omicron, and it is about three-four days.
Highlighting an earlier case, Lyonpo said that there was a woman infected with COVID-19 virus but none of the other family members were affected, this would not be the case with Omicron owing to its transmissibility.
In case of community transmission, the implication is that the spread will be wider, and it is going to be faster, so unlike the Delta variant, these are concerns to be dealt by the country, said Lyonpo.
Additionally, in case of community transmission, Lyonpo expressed worry over the unvaccinated cohorts, and the unvaccinated cohorts are children. In terms of vaccinated population, hospitalization and severity is very low, this is data coming out right now from country experiences, said Lyonpo. “Hospitalization and severity is only more for the unvaccinated cohorts,” Lyonpo added.
Meanwhile, for protection against Variants of Concern, be it Omicron, Lyonpo said that this was the reason the country is still encouraging non-pharmaceutical interventions such as wearing mask, consistently washing hands, social distancing and avoiding gatherings. “These things still work very well and it is very helpful,” said Lyonpo.
Based on the evidence presented indicative of a detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology, the TAG-VE has advised WHO that this variant should be designated as a VOC, and the WHO has designated B.1.1.529 as a VOC, named Omicron.
As such, countries are asked to do the following – enhance surveillance and sequencing efforts to better understand circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants, submit complete genome sequences and associated metadata to a publicly available database, such as GISAID, report initial cases/clusters associated with VOC infection to WHO through the IHR mechanism, where capacity exists and in coordination with the international community, perform field investigations and laboratory assessments to improve understanding of the potential impacts of the VOC on COVID-19 epidemiology, severity, effectiveness of public health and social measures, diagnostic methods, immune responses, antibody neutralization, or other relevant characteristics.
The Omicron variant has now been detected in many countries around the world. World Health Organizations reports that Omicron is probably in most countries though in some countries it has not been detected yet.
Omicron is spreading more quickly than other variants. Based on the information available, WHO believes it is likely that Omicron will outpace the Delta variant where there is COVID-19 transmission in the community.
However, being vaccinated and taking precautions such as avoiding crowded spaces, keeping your distance from others and wearing a mask are critical in helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and we know these actions have been effective against other variants.
Researchers are looking into any potential impact the Omicron variant has on the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. Information is still limited, but there may be a small reduction in the effectiveness of vaccines against severe illness and death, and a decline in preventing mild disease and infection. However, WHO reports that so far it looks like the currently available vaccines offer significant protection against severe disease and death.
It is also important to be vaccinated to protect against the other widely circulating variants, such as the Delta one. When it’s your turn, make sure to get vaccinated. If your vaccination involves two doses, it’s important to receive both in order to have the maximum protection.