Battling the COVID-19 second wave

Editorial

Though it is debatable whether a second wave of COVID-19 will hit the country, it is expected to be by far more catastrophic than the first and it has at least started in some other parts of the world like Europe.

For instance, the Czech Republic which was a wave one superstar crossed the threshold of 1,000 daily cases per one million (or more than 0.1% of population per day!) recently.  And it is not just the size of the peak, but the speed of case increase that is terrifying. Within six weeks, Czech Republic went from being superstar of wave one to the worst COVID-19 death rate per capita in the world.

And it is being predicted that with the onset of winter and the chill, the situation will only exacerbate. It has been confirmed by around 17 thorough studies that with falling temperatures and humidity, the virus transmissibility increases and vice versa. In fact, for every 1 degree Celsius decrease in temperature there is a 3% increase in COVID-19 virus transmissibility.

For those in the northern hemisphere including Bhutan, if that is not something to worry and take precautions about, what is? Compounding the dangers of a second wave are the facts that the Bhutanese are increasingly giving in to COVID fatigue and have grown complacent in following basic safety protocol like using masks and maintaining social distancing. Also, lack of adherence to government instructions like using the Druk Trace App is a cause for concern.

Just to be aware of the massive dangers of a second wave, it will suffice to say that if 1-2% of the country’s population falls sick within a span of a few weeks as predicted by experts, the country’s health system and infrastructure would collapse. Not even the Chinese, US, Russian or German powers have the kind of resources to tide through such a crisis. Leave alone Bhutan with its cash-strapped economy.

Further, though the production and supply capacity of PPE has certainly increased over time, insufficient budget and inefficient distribution mechanisms are huge hindrances in their optimal utility. Though experts believe that a vaccine for COVID-19 might be ready anywhere between the last months of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021, there are certain challenges in obtaining the vaccine as well. For instance, one promising vaccine has to be stored under minus 80 degree Celsius and there is just not enough cryogenic freezing for that at the source of production and then, there are questions about the long-term efficacy and long-term safety of the vaccine. One more factor that could undo all the efforts of the authorities around the world in combating the virus is the lack of qualified and dedicated health care workers.

So for now, the strategy is simple: prevention is better than cure. Experts have strongly recommended that to fight a second wave, people should practice universal mask-wearing indoors and outdoors, if necessary cooperate with customized, systematic lockdowns imposed by the authorities; mass testing should be conducted and supplies like PPE, ventilators and therapeutics must be prepositioned. Also, it is recommended that there must be mass deployment of volunteers and the military to fight the ills of the pandemic for at least the next few months.

We are fortunate that we have leaders who are actually extremely concerned about the pandemic and it befalls on us that we fulfill our part as well by doing the little that is asked of us.

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