The Health Minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo is worried these days. In an interview with the paper she said that the three things key to tackling COVID-19 is vaccines, restrictions or lockdowns and public cooperation.
She explained this is how Bhutan managed to deal with three outbreaks of COVID-19, and each time came out victorious.
However, while vaccinations are on full swing and restrictions are put in place by the government where required, the third pillar of public cooperation is starting to weaken.
It started with claims of Omicron being ‘mild’ or ‘like the flu’ and so people lost the fear of the virus. Once they lost the fear they felt the restrictions and lockdowns are not needed and are onerous.
However, the latest data from USA shows that Omicron is killing more people than Delta due to the much larger spread of the virus.
Also contrary to conventional wisdom, a lot of young and healthy people are also dying in the USA.
Bhutan has been lucky to be spared the horrors of COVID-19 experienced by other countries so far due to our combination of early restrictions like sealing borders, lockdowns and quarantine which kept the virus out.
This was followed by a mass vaccination campaign that ensured that even those who got infected did not suffer the worse effects.
Both of the above could happen due to public cooperation.
The argument by some now is that the majority are vaccinated, Omicron is ‘milder’ and the restrictions are impacting livelihoods and so what could go wrong if we open up.
The first thing that will happen is that the virus will rampage through 130,000 children who are yet to be vaccinated. Like in the USA and other countries mass infection will lead to mass deaths and illness not to mention long COVID.
The virus will then test the immunity of the 90,000 comorbid people and more than 50,000 senior citizens above 65 who are all vulnerable. There will be mass deaths in this category too, despite the vaccine.
Importantly, science is showing that vaccines and even boosters start losing their efficacy after a few months. It will be disastrous for Bhutan if we either get an infectious strain like Omicron spreading rapidly or a deadly strain like Delta as our vaccine induced immunity wanes. The former will infect larger numbers of people and thus kill through sheer math, while the latter will kill even if it spreads moderately.
We need to keep it together a little while longer, otherwise a lot of the good work and success that has kept us or our loved ones alive and healthy could be undone with irreversible consequences.
Unity to be real must stand the severest strain without breaking.