Staff reporter

The Royal Centre for Disease Control (RCDC), has detected a separate variant,  JN.1 variant, which is a sub-lineage of the BA.2.86 Omicron, on the evening of January 18.

The variant was previously identified in the South-East Asia Region and has been designated as a separate variant of interest by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on December 18 of last year and was under close surveillance by the health ministry.

The health ministry collected 12 samples between December 2023 and January 2024 and were subjected to genomic sequencing. All the samples were detected with the JN.1 variant.

Five cases were detected from Thimphu, three from Trongsa, two from Tsirang, one from Punakha, and one from Samtse. The ministry, through a press release yesterday, shared that this confirms the presence of the JN.1 in the community.

An official from the Department of Public Health said that the public should maintain basic public health measures such as washing hands, use of masks in crowded areas and practising cough etiquette.

“The JN.1 is a sub-variant of omicron and so the symptoms are similar. Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle pain, etc. At this juncture, we have received no such advice from the monitoring bodies such as the WHO or CDC to prevent mass gatherings,” the official said.

The official added that the ministry urges the high-risk population to get vaccinated. “High-risk population are mainly people aged 65 years and above, health workers, children between six months to two years, pregnant women and people with underlying health issues.”

The official said that the ministry is already prepared and the vaccination for the variant will begin in a few months. “We are awaiting advice from the National Immunisation Technical Advisory Group for now, but urge people who are sick to stay at home and distance themselves.”

Former PM, Dasho Dr Lotay Tshering said that people should use certified face masks properly. “Just because we use a mask doesn’t mean we are protected. If we don’t use it properly it would be absolutely useless, if not counterproductive because we breathe in viruses (not only Covid).”

The press release from MoH stated that the WHO and CDC of the United States found that there is limited evidence of the severity caused by JN. 1 although it is found to be more transmissible than the previous variants.

The MoH advises the general public to adhere to the basic preventive health measures by practising hand hygiene, wearing masks in crowded places, staying at home if sick, and seeking health advice if one is experiencing severe symptoms.