New variant not a variant of concern, says officials

Jigmi Wangdi

Cough, headache, fever, sore throat and joint paints. These are the common complaints among many lined up outside the national referral hospital in Thimphu, of which some are suspecting to be the new variant of Covid-19, KP.2 or FLiRT.

However, allaying concerns, the Royal Centre for Disease Control (RCDC) confirmed only around 10 cases were Covid-19 positive. The centre collected a total of 800 influenza-like illness (ILI) and severe acute respiratory infections (SARI) specimens from April 1, to May 19, out of which, 186 cases were influenza. 

Most of the patients waiting in line feared that the flu-like symptoms they were experiencing was a sign that they may have contracted the new Covid-19 variant, KP.2 or FLiRT, as the symptoms were severe compared to the common cold. 

However, reassuring the public, officials from the Department of Public Health under the health ministry shared that there is no concern yet or reason to be alarmed about the new variant in Bhutan. 

“We receive timely surveillance reports from around the country. So far there we have not yet received data to be concerned about,” an official said. 

The official added that the WHO would notify the health ministry if a surge in the new variant occurs. “Accordingly, we will issue an advisory so that the public can take necessary precautions. But there is no need for concern right now.” 

Globally, the KP.2 and KP.1 variants are on the rise in countries like the United States, the United Kingdom and most recently, Australia. 

With the rise in international cases of the new variant, it is always safer to take precautions, especially as tourism has opened in Bhutan and the number of foreign guests is increasing. 41,394 tourists visited Bhutan in the first quarter of 2024 alone. 

However, neighbouring countries like India, since May 22, 2024, saw a total of 324 FLiRT variant cases with the highest being 148 cases detected in Maharashtra and West Bengal being the second with 36 cases, according to Indian media reports.