Health Minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo

Health Minister says rumors of another lockdown in South are not true

COVID-19 pandemic not yet over as 5.47% of people tested in November are positive

In October of the 702 samples gathered at Paro International Airport, Phuentsholing, Gelephu, Samdrup Jongkhar, Mongar and JDWNRH around 91 tested positive which means a positivity rate of 12.96 percent.

In November of the 548 samples gathered from the above similar places had 30 positive cases which meant a reduced positivity rate of 5.47 percent.

The Health Minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo said that so far the BA 2.75, BA 4.1 and BA 5.2.1 strains of the Omicron have been found in Bhutan after sequencing the positive results.

With the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the region and around the world, the Ministry of Health (MoH) is continuously monitoring the trends of COVID-19 at all the major Points of Entry (Paro International Airport, Phuentsholing, Gelephu, Samdrup Jongkhar, Samtse, and Nganglam) through routine COVID-19 integrated influenza surveillance systems. Health workers have been alerted, and enhanced random testing of travelers and foreign workers is being carried out.

Health Minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo shared that emerging new COVID-19 variants is a reminder that the pandemic is still not yet over.

Dasho Dechen Wangmo explained that BF.7 is not a new virus, basically a sub-lineage of the Omicron variant and it is being declared as a variant of concern by WHO. There are various categories of the variant and initially, it started with a variant of interest and variants of under monitoring and variant of concern. The Omicron sub-variant BA., also BF.7 is driving a spike in cases in many countries around the world.

“We should not be panicking but should be worried about it,” said Health Minister.

BF.7 variant is highly transmissible and has a shorter incubation period. It can also reinfect people who are already vaccinated. Whether the vaccine is still efficacious against the sub-variant is not known as of now. While the signs and symptoms are the same and nothing different, however, BF.7 is not a new virus.

Since it is not a new virus, therefore, is no specific intervention designed for the sub-variant but the surveillance is ongoing. MoH is randomly taking samples and analyzing and monitors the positivity rate. These are the ongoing efforts that MoH is continuing because the pandemic is not yet over, so these interventions will continue and will be a part of the surveillance system, said the Health Minister.

There has been quite a number of Bhutanese going to India on pilgrimage tours, therefore, the health ministry requests every individual to get the required booster dose and a fourth dose is highly recommended. As per the data, only around 67 percent have availed themselves of the fourth booster dose, and flu vaccinations are made available for elderly people.

MoH reminds the general public to continue practicing hand hygiene and using face masks. The face mask will be mandatory while visiting health facilities, during mass gatherings, and for those with flu-like symptoms.

Those travelling outside for pilgrimage are highly encouraged to observe all necessary precautionary measures, including getting fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and using a face mask at all times. And any individuals suffering from flu-like symptoms should visit the nearest health facility (flu clinics) to get tested for COVID-19.

Currently, there are rumors going around, especially in the southern region, that there will be another lockdown in the country. Lyonpo clarified that the country does not anticipate that there will be a lockdown for this sub-lineage variant.

Meanwhile, the Omicron sub-variant BF.7 is said to be contributing to the current surge of COVID-19 cases in several countries, including China. India has also reported cases of this variant in different parts of the country including Gujarat and Odisha.

According to the Hindustan Times newspaper, the R0 value (the average number of people who will catch the disease from a single infected person) of BF. 7 is 10-19 as compared to 5-6 of Delta variant. Also, this subvariant has a capacity for “immune escapcity” which means it can cause infection in people who have COVID-19 antibodies due to natural infection in the past or through vaccination. One of the differences between these two variants is the incubation period. It is lesser in the BF.7 variant, which makes it highly transmissible in a shorter period of time.

The symptoms are not known for the completely unvaccinated people or completely unexposed to the virus people, as it depends also on their immune status. Some people might have mild infections, but for some people it can be severe. Those who have been vaccinated are most likely to be better protected.

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