However, experts advise not to let our guards down yet

Younten Tshedup 

Bhutan has not reported any positive Covid-19 cases from the community for 45 straight days. The last positive case from the community was reported on August 14: an individual from Gomtu, Samtse.

A member of the technical advisory group (TAG) for Covid-19, Dr Tshokey said that with the exception of a few countries, globally, the overall number of Covid-19 cases is gradually dropping. At the same time, he said, the vaccination coverage is increasing.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), as of yesterday, more than 231 million (M) confirmed cases of Covid-19 were reported, including 4.74M deaths. As of September 22, 5.874 billion (B) doses of vaccines have been administered globally.

Dr Tshokey said that since the detection of the highly contagious Delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in December last year, there have been no other variants of that level of concern detected that could pose a new major threat to humanity. “However, there are some variants of interest that are still under WHO’s observation.”

He said: “It’s been a while since we have had to face some potentially dangerous variants of the virus like the Delta variant. Also, because the number of new cases is on the decline, these are some good signs in these difficult times.”

However, he added that there were still a few countries where the rate of daily new cases is still on the rise. “These countries also have very poor vaccine coverage and are struggling to contain the outbreaks,” he said, adding that as the transmission of the virus escalates in these countries, the risk of potentially dangerous variants like the Delta developing was very likely. “If a new variant of concern should emerge, it would be from one of these countries. So no one is safe until everyone is safe.”

The clinical microbiologist said that the Covid-19 situation in India has also been improving compared to its situation at the beginning of the year.

According to a WHO report, there has been a gradual decline in the number of new cases in India. In the past week (September 15-21), as compared to the previous week (September 8-14), there was a seven percent drop in the number of new cases in India.

However, some of the experts are already warning of an ‘imminent’ third wave of the pandemic in the Indian subcontinent sometime next month. Observers say, given the unpredictable nature of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the relaxations that have come about in India, a third wave is inevitable.

“A surge in cases in India has a direct impact on Bhutan. One of the longest outbreaks in the country earlier this year was a direct result of the second wave in India,” said a health official.

A worrying trend

Dr Tshokey said that despite the positive situation of having no community cases for more than six weeks, there is a ‘worrying trend’ growing in the country, especially in Thimphu. “People are seen without face masks in town, or wearing them inappropriately, and the frequency and size of social gatherings have also increased. This is a big concern.”

He said that although the government has not made any major revisions to the existing Covid-19 protocols, a general sense of complacency had already settled on the capital. “People coming from places like Mongar and Zhemgang to Thimphu complain about how relaxed people in the capital have become.”

He added: “The protocols are there and the government and taskforce can do only so much. But this is a very worrying trend we are seeing in Thimphu today.”

Edited by Tshering Palden