…could possibly be due to the new variant of SARS-CoV-2 virus  

Younten Tshedup

With the rate at which the pandemic is spreading in the country, health experts believe the new variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, could be behind the outbreak.

The new variant of Covid-19, which was first detected in the United Kingdom, is known to be more contagious, meaning it can spread more easily and rapidly compared to its other strains.

Sowai Lyonpo (health minister) Dechen Wangmo yesterday said, “Because of how the virus is spreading in the country, we are worried that it could be a more infectious strain.”

However, Lyonpo said that given the lack of capacity to conduct the gene sequencing of the virus in the country, the ministry was not able to establish whether the new variant of the virus was behind the local transmission of the virus in the country.

Speaking to Kuensel last night, clinical microbiologist and health ministry’s technical advisory group (TAG) member, Dr Tshokey, said that a large number of people testing positive this time could be because of the cold weather; as people remain indoors and contact between individuals was more this time around.

“However, the reason for the extensive spread this time cannot be explained by this reason alone,” he said. “It could possibly be a new variant of the virus, even if it’s not the UK variant. But we cannot confirm this for now as we don’t have the capacity to conduct molecular studies here in the country.”

Dr Tshokey said that the Royal Centre for Disease Control (RCDC) would be sending the samples to Bangkok for gene sequencing.

Lyonpo said that in the current scenario, when a family member tests positive for Covid-19, the rest of the members, almost all of them, also tested positive for the virus. “This was not the case before,” she said, adding that even close contacts of positive cases, for example, at the mini dry port in Phuentsholing, who were in the same containment area, did not test positive to the virus.

So far, of the 184 local cases detected since December 20, 92 individuals who tested positive were contacts of an earlier detected case, including the 11 new cases detected in the last 24 hours.

The minister added that except for Gasa, Trashiyangtse, and Samdrupjongkhar, contacts of positive cases have reached all across the country. As of last night, positive cases have been confirmed in Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, Dagana, Wangdue, Trongsa, Bumthang, and Haa after lockdown.

However, local transmission of the virus as of yesterday were reported only in Thimphu and Paro. Positive cases in the rest of the six dzongkhags were from contacts of those who tested positive either in Thimphu or Paro, the minister added.

In Thimphu, 11 super zones out of 13 have recorded positive cases except for Babesa and Changangkha zones. Positive cases were also recorded in three peripheral zones — Debsi, Kabesa, and Nyizergang.

Lamgong, Wangchang, Shaba, and Lungnyi gewogs in Paro also recorded positive cases as of yesterday.

Lyonpo highlighted that most of the cases in Thimphu and Paro were associated with archery games, where a large number of people had gathered. Considering this, the Covid-19 national taskforce yesterday announced the extension of the nationwide lockdown until the Nyilo holidays were over.