The New Year for Bhutan  began with a lot of hope and expectations even as the world was seeing an upsurge in Covid-19 cases because of the Omicron variant. On January 2,  there were only seven active cases in the country. The never-ending efforts and the stringent measures put in place kept the highly transmissible variant at bay.

By this week we have not only seen a surge in cases, but confirmed the presence of the Omicron variant in the country. As of yesterday, we had 229 positive cases with 13 news cases reported in just 24 hours, from Thursday to Friday.  Fortunately, most of the cases are confined to the quarantine centres or in places that are functioning in a containment mode.

However, there is an imminent danger of a full blown case if we are not careful or let our guards down. Many say the Omicron variant is less severe, especially in countries with a high vaccination rate. The down side of the new variant is that it is highly transmissible.

When the health ministry announced that the minister will be addressing the nation last night, many expected bad news. Fortunately, despite the statistics, the health minister stressed on the same basic protocols to protect ourselves and the country from the disease.

The inconveniences caused by lockdowns and the efforts and hard work put in by our front liners  are forgotten as we enjoy a long period without new cases. That also made us complacent. There is a huge group – the low income group – who are still paying the price for the strict measures put in to prevent the country and the people from a disaster. Inflation, especially the price of essentials, have gone through the roof. The salaried group are also feeling the pinch.

The message is simple and clear. While there is no cure for the coronavirus disease, it is the basic protocol that is still the most effective. Looking around, it is the same protocols that many are not following. Wearing facemasks, washing hands frequently and not crowding is still the most effective way. Ironically, these are what we are not doing even as we fear a full blown outbreak.

We have learnt from past experience that all it takes is a case or two in the community to lockdown a country. None of us can afford this. We have not lost many lives, but the impact on livelihoods is there for all to see. The country’s economy is still reeling from the pandemic. There is pressure on the government coffer. Those contributing revenue to the government cannot make money with restrictions in place and government not being able to inject money into the economy.

Thousands of Bhutanese, except the salaried group in the civil and public service, are affected with some losing source of income overnight. Life is slowly returning to normal not because the pandemic is over, but because of the controlled relaxations. The surge in cases in the last few days is a stark reminder that we are not safe as long as all are not safe.

The only thing confirmed about the pandemic is its uncertainty. What is certain is that basic preventive measures are still effective against the variant recorded thus far.  A booster round, although planned, cannot boost any country out of the coronavirus disease as experienced by many countries.