By Choekyi Lhamo
DHARAMSHALA, Jan. 12: Amid the surge of Covid-19 cases worldwide, the town of Dharamshala has registered a massive rise in infected cases among Tibetans during the last week. The Secretary of Department of Health, Palden Dhondup confirmed that as of Wednesday, more than 200 Tibetans have contracted the possible Omicron variant of the Coronavirus. “We are yet to receive the test results we carried out on Tuesday, but we will probably have more infections to add to the growing list,” Secretary Dhondup told Phayul.
“The new variant is fast spreading as we have seen in recent weeks in India. The fully vaccinated people have also got Covid-19, but we have to note that we never said that one would not get the virus; we only said that it will reduce the severity of the infection. Majority of the cases now, we could say, are somewhat mild in that sense,” Dr. Tenzin Namdon from Delek Hospital said, adding that fortunately the situation where need for oxygen cylinders has not arisen yet. The deadly second wave exposed vaccine inequity and lack of necessary hospital facilities that led to many deaths among Tibetans in India and Nepal.
Heath secretary Palden Dhondup also recalled last year’s difficult time in comparison with the present scenario, “Most positive cases have mild symptoms, if we compare them to what we had to endure during the first and second wave in Dharamshala. During the second wave, we had over 1170 cases at once, where many had to be taken to other hospitals for proper care and at least 14 people died then. But now, symptoms like body-ache, headache, runny nose and fever are what we are seeing in the patients. Only one person with TB complications had to be given oxygen for a couple of hours some days back.” During that time, India was reeling with thousands of cases every day with a very late vaccination roll out that began in May 2021 for adults above the age of 18.
The Covid-19 taskforce overseer of the CTA also urged the Tibetan public to properly quarantine as per the regulations set out by respective settlements here in India as the Tibetan New year (Losar) approaches. Many families are currently engaged in winter businesses in various parts of India as it is one of the major income generating businesses for Tibetan refugees. “From November, we have been directing settlement heads to procure necessary equipment for preparation of the Omicron wave. I also want to stress that every individual needs to be responsible right now, for example, if one needs to go to Bylakuppe from Dharamshala, he or she has to abide by the quarantine norms set by the settlement,” he further advised as he urged cooperation with community service, citing fear of spread due to ignorant behaviour.
Dr. Namdon highlighted the need for vigilance as the community gear to tackle the pandemic, “We are also learning as we figure out how all of this will come to pass. So far we know that this variant is mild, but we have to be careful as we cannot know when the same variant can prove fatal to somebody else. Elders, people with co-morbidities and immunocompromised individuals would be at higher risk, so we need to be vigilant in how we understand this disease.”