When the day broke yesterday with the news of more relaxations, many literally took to the streets to celebrate. As if it was news of a victory over the infectious Omicron, people came out,  walked over to the other zones, crowded shops and groceries. Nobody remembered that the relaxations happened amid rising cases.

There were 691 news cases reported in the country in the last 24 hours – when people were celebrating the “freedom.” In the capital, there were 110 cases of which 27 were from the community. Records show that most of them were contacts of people in “red” buildings at Taba, Changzamtog, Olakha and Babesa. In short, we have cases in all the capital city’s mega zones. Down south, Sarpang reported 247 cases with 45 from the community. Haa and Lhuentse are also reporting more cases.

The planned relaxation in the capital was to come into effect from next week, the government decided to relax, based on what they said encouraging trends where  most individuals choose to remain indoors, despite relaxation within zones in Thimphu. There is a new trend – of forgetting the risk of the virus. And if this continues, we will soon be back under stricter, military-style lockdown.

There is a report circulating about a positive individual who had been roaming around exposing people to infection. Health authorities or the government had not confirmed the report. But this is highly possible with the change in Covid-19 management.

The government will, unlike in the past, not trace and test people unless there are severe cases. Hospitalisation rate will determine lockdowns. In other words, people who tested positive and not tested could easily mix and spread the virus if not responsible. That the Omicron is likened to a (tsatem) flu will make it worse. Those with the virus could think it is  the normal flu and not self-quarantine or stay home if not responsible. Many will not even know if they are infected. The young and the healthy will be the carrier of the virus risking the vulnerable group.

We may have an impressive vaccination record, but it is proven that no amount of vaccine can protect us from getting infected. Vaccines help prevent serious illness and death, but the old and those with underlying health conditions are still at risk. The seven deaths reported were people with health problems and died with Covid-19. They were vaccinated!

We have asked  for relaxation. There were some and as we wait for more relaxations and return to “normal” in the next few days, it is evident that  we could lock the country for weeks and months to fight another wave.

What is important is that the people will have to shoulder more responsibility. The one-day experience yesterday was not encouraging. Citizens should play a crucial role. It can be simple things like reminding the shopkeeper of the crowd in the shop or the customer not wearing a facemask. By handing down the responsibilities to the citizens, the government has not washed off its hand from managing Covid-19. They will still be there to remind people of the risk and the consequences.

As we transit to the next phase, perhaps a penalty system for those breaching Covid protocols could help remind people of their role. The role could be decentralised. Relevant authorities could fill in. For instance, a small monetary fine on  shops not closing on time or not restricting crowding could remind its customers of the protocols.