Just when we thought we have left Covid-19 far behind, a new one is showing up with a power to be reckoned with.

The most infectious and transmissible variant yet has arrived.

Bhutan has decided to open its borders by the second half of September. If precautions are relegated to the back seat, as is evident from how lightly the threat of Covid-19 infections is taken now, we may be running on to a dangerous eventuality.

The evolving variants of Covid-19 have left many millions of people dead. Fortunately, in Bhutan, we have achieved a commendable level of vaccination rate. That, however, does not guarantee that one would not be infected again.

According to WHO, the newest variant of Omicron—BA.4—is growing globally. CNN records show that in Europe, the variant is powering a spike in cases by about 25 percent. WHO estimates the numbers to be higher than that.

According to experts, BA.5 is the most dangerous version of the virus that we have ever seen.  “It takes immune escape, already extensive, to the next level, and, as a function of that, enhanced transmissibility.”

What we must know is that BA.5 can easily evade immunity from previous infections and vaccines, increasing the risk of reinfection.

We need to view our situation against this backdrop—the virus is not done with us yet.

Covid-19 has done us much harm and so the decision to open up but we cannot throw caution to the wind. Because we are in danger of facing a more dangerous variant that can do severe damage to all that we have achieved together, strategies and surveillance must be improved immediately.

In the towns, people are running around without face masks; gatherings are happening in big groups here and there; simple protocols such as washing hands seem to be forgotten. In shops and service centres such as banks and government offices, there is no requirement for safety protocols anymore.

This must change immediately. The respect for health protocols must be reinstated. We can ill afford to view the new danger as just a new development. Strategic interventions can keep Covid-19 infection at bay. This is a lesson we learnt from our engagement and handling of the many past variants.

We must face the new variant of Covid-19 head-on. There is no other option. And that means more than just being prepared. It means bringing the basic structures back to the ground.