All the recent positive cases detected in the country are of the Omicron variant. Approximately 13,000 people are infected with the Omicron variant, of which more than 2,000 children below 12 years old have been infected with Omicron.
The Prime Minister Dasho Dr Lotay Tshering said the Omicron is a highly contagious virus and not a mere flu. And it has been only three to four months since the country detected the Omicron virus. The virus can easily spread in the community, however, all the individuals should be aware, but not panic.
As per an official from the Ministry of Health (MoH), the R0 (R nought) value for Omicron is estimated to be between 8-15, which means 8 to 15 people can get infected from a single infected individual. However, the R nought value for the Omicron outbreak in the country has not been calculated because it is already known and presented by the different countries who experienced the Omicron outbreak before Bhutan.
In terms of recovery, the recovery rate has remained similar in the Alpha, Delta and the Omicron outbreak. Except for 1 mortality during Alpha and 2 mortalities during the Delta variant outbreak, and 6 during the Omicron, rest of the infected individuals have recovered or are in course of recovery.
The country has had four outbreaks till date. The first outbreak from August 11 to 31 October 2020 infected 145 people in 6 districts with no death and was classified as the Alpha variant.
The second outbreak from 20 December 2020 to 31 January 2021 infected 395 in 7 Dzongkhags with 1 death and was classified as the Alpha variant again.
The third outbreak or the Delta outbreak was from 17 April to 30 August 2021 infecting 1,348 people in 7 Dzongkhags with 2 deaths.
The fourth and ongoing Omicron outbreak from 7th January 2022 onwards has racked up 13,000 cases and counting with 6 deaths so far and with the government decision to go in for relaxations it is likely to infects most of the 700,000 plus Bhutanese and cause more deaths.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Omicron variant spreads more easily than the original virus that causes COVID-19 and the Delta variant. CDC expects that anyone with Omicron infection can spread the virus to others, even if they are vaccinated or don’t have symptoms.
Though many experts are looking at the decreased severity of Omicron with cautious optimism, it’s still important to note that, “While Omicron does appear to be less severe compared to Delta, especially in those vaccinated, it does not mean it should be categorized as ‘mild,’” World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said in a press briefing.
On 26 November 2021, WHO identified the Omicron as a variant of concern, based on evidence that Omicron contains numerous mutations that may influence its behavior.
Omicron is less likely to cause severe illness, but it also spreads easier, even among the vaccinated population. The data shows that Omicron appears to be milder than Delta.
A study found that Omicron cases resulted in 53 percent less risk of hospitalization, 74 percent less risk of ICU admission, and 91 percent less risk of death. The study also found that none of the patients with Omicron required mechanical ventilation.
CDC states that the COVID-19 vaccines remain the best public health measure to protect people from COVID-19 and reduce the likelihood of new variants emerging. This includes primary series, booster shots, and additional doses for those who need them.
However, scientists are still learning how effective COVID-19 vaccines are at preventing infection from Omicron. Current vaccines are expected to protect against severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths due to infection with the Omicron variant. However, breakthrough infections in people who are vaccinated are likely to occur.
People who are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines and get COVID-19 are less likely to develop serious illness than those who are unvaccinated and get COVID-19.
The MoH official said that the virus could be mutating in the future and may be more severe than the Omicron variant.
According to the latest information from the Reuters, researchers have found a hybrid version of the coronavirus that combine genes from the Delta and Omicron variants dubbed Deltacron in at least 17 patients in the United States and Europe.
The variant has been identified in several regions of France and appears to have been circulating since the start of the year.
The New York Times stated that an international database of viral sequences reported 33 samples of the new variant in France, eight in Denmark, one in Germany and one in the Netherlands.
However, with the few confirmed cases and limited knowledge on Deltacron, the severity and transmissibility is not unknown, stated Reuters.
As of now though Omicron and particulary the BA.2 type dominates the field. This is the same type in Bhutan.