With the Royal Centre for Disease Control (RCDC) detecting the JN.1 variant, a sub-lineage of the BA.2.86 Omicron, on the evening of January 18, there is a concern among the public if Coronavirus that causes Covid-19  pandemic is back.

The press release from the health ministry is too technical for the average Bhutanese to understand. Words are spreading that a new variant of Covid-19 is spreading. That all the 12 samples collected between December 2023 and January 2024 were detected with the JN.1 variant has convinced many that Coronavirus is back.

We are safer. The JN.1 previously identified in the South-East Asia region is a variant of interest closely monitored by the World Health Organisation. It is, today, not even a variant of concern, meaning not as severe as many assume. As it is only a variant of interest, the WHO had not warned of mass gathering, social distancing or wearing masks.

However, like the health ministry warned, we should be concerned. There is limited evidence of the severity caused by JN. 1 although it is found to be more transmissible than the previous variants. Having experienced the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is only wiser to be alerted and prepared.

Memories of the Covid-19 pandemic are still fresh with many sectors still unable to recover from the impact of the global pandemic. We were not spared if our preparedness and management of the pandemic resulted in only a few deaths. Covid-19 disrupted lives and livelihood. We cannot afford another pandemic.

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.

The WHO classifying the variant as a variant of interest means they are closely monitoring or following up on its development. In other words, there is no risk of morbidity or turning it into a pandemic, as of now. It is like an expert said, a flu type caused by the SARS COV 2, which caused the Coronavirus.

Should it be a concern for us? Yes.

Even if it is not a public concern as of now, we should be concerned. Still reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic, it is only wiser to be prepared. The good thing about viral diseases is that they can be controlled with simple things like using a face mask, washing hands and avoiding gatherings.

While the variant is being monitored, the fact is that it is spreading fast. Like the previous variants,  it thrives in crowds and affects the vulnerable. What we can do, learning from our experience, is being prepared.

It is the perfect season for flu or any disease  to spread. There are several religious programmes (moenlam chhenmos) planned where thousands, especially the elders gather. Thousands of Bhutanese are on pilgrimage outside the country.

Should there be an outbreak of a flu or any other serious disease, the grounds are ready for a mass outbreak. Health authorities advise using facemasks, avoiding gatherings and basic hygiene like washing hands. We know how effective these measures are.

Proper use of certified masks – meaning good quality and knowing how to use it can save lives. We have learnt it the hard way. If we can remember the impact on our lives and livelihood, we are already a step ahead. We should not waste the expensive lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic.