Nima Wangdi 

Explaining the phase-wise relaxation of the lockdown, Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering, during a press brief yesterday said that everyone will get infected with the infectious Omicron variant and that the priority is to prevent a surge in positive cases and prevent deaths.

“Everyone will get infected with Omicron at some point in time. There are no possible ways to avoid it for long,” Lyonchhen said, adding that only those in retreat for years could avoid getting infected.  “The best thing is to avoid getting infected at the same time when there is a surge in the number of infections.”

The Phase two of the Covid-19 management, he said, doesn’t mean letting everyone get infected with the virus. “People getting infected gradually within the manageable rate will be good. That’s why we are opening up gradually, phase-wise.”

Responding to questions on the daily surge in cases even with a lockdown, Lyonchhen said that so far about 18,000 people have been infected with the virus out of the 725,000 people in the country.  “But we cannot afford to let the remaining get infected in a short period of time, which will overwhelm health facilities and could lead to loss of lives,” he said.

Lyonchhen added that with the new phase in place, people should not worry about the increasing number of positive cases in the country since the concept of maintaining zero Covid in the community has changed. “We should now worry about the number of patients requiring hospitalisation.”

Lyonchhen also said that the Omicron variant is milder than the previous variants and contacting the variant and recovering will provide certain protection against the future variants. “Getting vaccinated and natural immunity acquired after recovering from the virus will provide hybrid immunity.”

A press release from the PMO earlier stated “In the next phase of managing COVID-19, protecting the lives of our people continues to remain the guiding policy. Globally, the greatest loss of lives occurred when health facilities being overwhelmed during peak infection periods, depriving people of critical care. It was also mainly the unvaccinated who lost their lives.”

“We know from international scientific information as well as our own experience that the Omicron variant is much more transmissible than previous variants, but also that it is milder,” the press release stated that in such a situation, pursuing a zero-covid policy with lockdowns, which are difficult for the people is no longer the better choice.

“Lockdowns will only be put in place if the cases surge beyond the hospitalisation and bed occupancy threshold, or if a new deadly variant emerges,” It stated.

Red building, red flats

Buildings will not be cordoned off as a “red” building unless a majority of the tenants in a building test positive. Instead, those flats or homes with positive cases will be declared ‘red” flats as long as the pandemic status remains. “Like we are already doing it, we will seal the red flat for 10 days and then release residents without testing. This is an international trend,” Lyonchhen said.

However, those without a good support service system at home can still opt for an isolation facility. “The isolation period could be seven days, but we have gone with the technical advisory group’s proposal of 10 days to be sure that they are noninfectious while released.”

He added that as the number of asymptomatic patients increases there won’t be the need to seal the flats and people will be asked to remain home. “When we reach a stage where people don’t even know that they have the virus, hospitals will be manageable. Gradually, with more people  recovering, the infection rate will also be lowered.”

As of yesterday, there are 12 Covid patients requiring oxygen supplements in the hospital out of the 50 Covid patients in the hospitals. Most are expected to recover in a few days.


Vulnerable group 

Lyonchhen said that the two doses of vaccines and the booster shots would have provided good protection against the virus among the vulnerable group even if they still remain as a high-risk group.

The strategy in the new phase is to still protect them from the virus. To do this,  Lyonchhen said the Gyalpoi Kidu office is coming up with a reverse isolation strategy. “In the past, we picked the positive cases and isolated them, but now the high-risk people will be picked and taken to safe places.”

However,  families who can take care of the infected could keep them at home. A directive on reverse isolation is expected soon.