… health experts say no need to panic 

Nima Wangdi 

With the first case of XE variant of Covid-19 detected in India on Wednesday, many Bhutanese took to social media to express their concerns.

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation had announced the detection of the case after conducting genome sequencing on 230 samples of Covid-19 patients. A 50-year old South African woman tested positive for the XE variant.

According to reports, she had arrived in Mumbai from South Africa on February 10. She tested positive during the routine test on March 2.

However, INSACOG, the international genomics consortium will carry out another round of sequencing to confirm this finding since the sample did not match the variant’s genomic picture earlier.

XE is a combination or recombinant of both sub-variants (BA.1 and BA.2) of Omicron. International health experts believe it will not cause severe infection.

The variant was first detected in the UK around the beginning of this year. They have about 637 cases identified as of March 22.

WHO has said that they will continue to closely monitor and assess the public health risk associated with recombinant variants and will provide updates as further evidence becomes available.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. researchers aren’t monitoring XE. It has not been labelled as a ‘variant of interest’ or ‘variant of concern’.

Meanwhile, national Technical Advisory Group members said that India is yet to confirm XE variant officially and that things would remain the same for Bhutan even if the variant is detected locally based on currently available evidence. “It is just 10 percent more transmissible than Omicron variant BA.2. There is no evidence of increased severity and hospitalisation compared to BA.2,” a TAG member said.

Some said the variant does not take long to reach Bhutan from India due to the high interaction between the two countries.

Residents said given the population of the country and already depleted resources, Bhutanese should be concerned about the variant. “The variant might not be serious but it could still aggravate the health conditions in vulnerable people simply because it spreads faster.”

Another resident, Phuntsho Norbu said, “When the restrictions are lifted finally, the news of this new variant being on its way is worrying.”