Amid a spike in COVID-19 cases in some countries, including China, India is prepared to deal with the fresh surge of COVID-19. Official sources stated in Times of India that the next 40 days are going to be crucial as India may see a surge in cases.
According to the Ministry of Health (MoH), Bhutan need not worry as the country has a good number of vaccine coverage, and it is unlikely that Bhutan will see another outbreak.
However, every individual must understand that there are vulnerable populations with comorbidities and those unvaccinated children that could get serious if they get COVID-19.
An official from MoH shared that Bhutan has maintained 90 percent of vaccine coverage, and that there is no need to rework the current COVID-19 guidelines. However, as a precautionary measure, the ministry has already stepped up the surveillance at all the points of entry and the Paro International Airport.
The official said all the symptomatic people are tested at the airport and in the flu clinics, and random testing is done in all the points of entry. There are people testing positive, but it is the same variant BA.4 and BA.5 and contact tracing is no longer done now, but request the COVID-19 positive people to stay home, following all the safety measures.
So far, no severe cases have been reported, but if the variant changes and vaccine’s efficacy does not work to the new variant, then there is a concern, where there may be COVID-19 outbreak, but it is unlikely to happen.
In addition, the Royal Center for Disease Control (RCDC) is also collecting samples randomly for gene sequencing in Bangkok to know the variant from the current positive cases in the country.
The official said as per the MoH’s daily surveillance, there are more flu cases than COVID-19 and there has been a decrease in the number of people coming for COVID-19 testing, which means people are not suffering severely.
Deputy Chief Surveillance Officer of RCDC, Kunzang Dorji, shared that flu activity was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic over the last 3 years, where the positivity rate decreased in 2020 and there was no flu positivity in the year 2021. However, flu activity increased in 2022, especially from September to December 2022.
According to Weekly Flu Trend in 2022 through COVID-19 Integrated Influenza Surveillance, a total of 429 Influenza positives were detected, of which 59 were COVID positives and 7 were found both COVID and Flu positive. Weekly on average 8.3 percent of Flu cases were detected in 2022.
For Influenza, the cases are identified and enroll for sample collection as per the WHO case definitions of Influenza-like illness (ILI), which is OPD-based, and severe acute respiratory infection (SARI) which is IPD (Inpatient Department) based. Nasal/throat swabs samples collected are then tested by RT-PCR through CDC multiplex Flu PCR (SC2) assay, which detects both Influenza and SARS-CoV-2.
While for COVID-19, the cases are identified clinically and enroll for Rapid antigen testing in respective flu clinics of hospitals, and also screen 20 random samples daily from point of entries such from Paro Airport, Phuentsholing, Gelephu, Samdrup Jongkhar, Nganglam, etc.
A total of 59,805 COVID-19 positives were detected in 2022, with a surge of cases in March, April and May 2022. However, in recent weeks only 5 to 10 COVID-19 positive cases are being detected.
People are coming forward for testing, however, hospitals should have the capacity to diagnose and provide the services.
Meanwhile, the MoH official said nobody can say that Bhutan is 100 percent safe from COVID-19 because the country still detects COVID-19 cases. Therefore, self-awareness and precaution are very important. If one is suffering from flu, wear a facemask and hand wash frequently and those symptomatic should be very careful and should not be mixing with the public, especially the old and children. Self-responsibility has become very important to prevent the COVID-19 or flu at this point in time.