As the Delta variant of the SAR-CoV-2 virus sweeps through continents and regions, we are reassured by the fact that several coronavirus vaccines are still proving effective. We know that this new variant is fast-spreading and so more dangerous than the ones we have thus far experienced. We also know that because of the very novel nature of the virus and its variants, countries are stockpiling doses and refusing to share with others. So, for the world, it could get a lot worse before its gets better.

Although positive cases have been rising in Bhutan in the wake of the delta variant in the region, we have managed the cases in hand very well. Recovery is increasing too, and there has so far been just one death due to Covid-19. But the danger is always lurking; we can easily throw a spanner in our achievements. News challenges are at the door and we need new and robust measures to protect our country and people from impending threats. 

It is in this perspective that we should view the new challenges facing us today. Threats are bigger and risks greater than ever before. In case of a third wave in Bhutan, experts warn that children, comorbid (persons with medical conditions simultaneously present) and the unvaccinated groups of people could be the most affected groups. Efforts being made to strengthen health and safety protocols in schools so are to be lauded. We have set our foot in the door, so to speak, but more needs to be done to ensure that schools do not become transmission hotspots. 

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said: “Majority of our children in schools are anaemic and this, as a public health professional, I feel is a very worrying factor should an outbreak happen in the school settings… We’ve more than 90 percent of our children in schools and an outbreak there could become a very serious problem for us.” Indeed.

Education Minister Jai Bir Rai, on the other hand, said that although measures such as maintaining physical distance, temperature check and awareness on safety protocols were being followed consistently in schools, protecting children in schools has remained a major challenge for the government mainly because of the number of students. There’s a hole there that need plugging. We may have better online learning platforms and assessment tools now in case an outbreak happens in schools, but that’s not the point. It is about the numbers and capacity of our health facilities to handle the cases. We can be easily overwhelmed and nothing can be more disastrous than that.    

A team from health and education ministries will meet next week to deliberate on further strengthening the existing protocols in the schools. The sooner the additional surveillance and measures are put in place, the better prepared will our schools be to face this new danger. Time is of essence.