Omicron XJ more transmissible than BA.2 detected in facility quarantine

A new variant of the Coronavirus, XJ variant, that was first detected in Finland a month ago, and also found in Bangkok and Italy, has also been detected in Bhutan. A single case of Omicron XJ variant has been detected at a facility quarantine.

The Health Minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo said so far, Bhutan has only detected BA.2 but Bhutan has now detected a single case of Omicron XJ, which is a combination of BA.1 and BA.2. However, it is not considered as a ‘variant of concern’.

According to information from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Omicron XJ variant is 10 percent more transmissible than the BA.2 strain, but there is still limited information on its ability to evade the human immune response.

It is also still unclear if the variant causes more serious disease than previous strains, but experts say there is no evidence it is more dangerous at this stage.

There are two Omicron subvariants BA. 4 and BA.5 taking over in parts of the world. The Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said this is the normal process for the virus, and as the virus mutates, it becomes weaker and weaker. It is unlikely that the virus will become more lethal, as it has not happened so far.

There is no surety that the new variants BA.4 and BA.5 will not enter the country, Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji said.

Lately, with fewer COVID-19 cases detected in the country everything has returned to normal as usual, and people in the country, especially in Thimphu, have become complacent and are seen without face masks.

The Foreign Minister said the COVID-19 pandemic is not yet over, and the people cannot be complacent, and people should wear face masks, as the COVID-19 measures are still in place.

“I would like to encourage everyone to wear face masks” said Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji.

Health Minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo said people must understand that a face mask is not only for COVID-19, it has other benefits and can serve as a barrier against the flu season, tuberculosis, etc.

More than 20-30 COVID-19 cases nationwide are reported each week said Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji, and added that Bhutan is detecting a lesser number of COVID-19 cases because the country has reached the herd immunity.

According to the Health Minister, so far Bhutan has received 13,799 foreign workers and the positivity rate is 0.6 percent. 700 COVID-19 tests are done in the flu clinic every day. And after the relaxation in the country, more than 2,000 COVID-19 tests were conducted.

In Thimphu, around 89 COVID-19 cases were detected, 82 cases in Paro and 59 cases in Chhukha. Most of the positive cases were detected are the foreign workers, said Lyonpo Dasho Dechen Wangmo.

Bhutan has restarted importing the foreign workers several months ago. The Foreign Minister said the foreign workers entering to Bhutan are kept in a five-day quarantine, however, the government soon will remove the five-day quarantine since Bhutan has achieved the herd immunity, and also, people entering Bhutan have to be fully vaccinated. It was removed from 4 July.

Meanwhile, a total of 143 COVID-19 positive cases have been reported across the country since 1 June 2022.

According to the Health Minister, there is a slight increase in the overall positivity rate (1.46 percent) which is reflective of what is happening in the region. Therefore, the Ministry of Health will continuously monitor the situation closely, and inform the nation if an early intervention is required.

Meanwhile, parents of children under five in Bhutan are eagerly waiting the COVID-19 vaccines for children under five approved by the FDA and CDC in USA. As per the National Statistics Bureau (NSB) projection, there are 58,531 children under five years who are the only unvaccinated group in Bhutan. 

The BA.4 and BA.5 variants are spreading faster than BA.2 and in USA BA.4 and BA.5 are now the dominant variants having even higher antibodies (produced from past infections) and vaccine escape than BA.2. The BA.4 and BA.5 have been seen in many other countries across the world where it is spreading rapidly.

Neighboring India is also seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases reporting 17,070 cases on Friday.

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