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Posted On: 7 April 2021 09:43 pm
Updated On: 8 April 2021 01:14 am

'We have not reached the peak of the second wave yet': Dr. Al Khal

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The Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Commerce and Industry held a joint press conference Wednesday night to talk about the latest developments related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the increase in the cases in Qatar.

Dr. Abdullatif Al-Khal, Chair of the National Health Strategic Group on COVID-19 and Head of Infectious Diseases Division at Hamad Medical Corporation announced the following during the press conference.

COVID-19 second wave in Qatar:

  • There is an increase in the number of infections worldwide, and with regards to the spread of the pandemic in Qatar, we are still in the middle of the second wave and we have not yet reached the peak
  • He attributed the reason for the occurrence of a second wave in Qatar to the emergence and spread of new strains of the virus, in addition to the laxity of many members of society in applying preventive measures and the frequent visits, social meetings, parties, and events.
  • He pointed out that the same simple and well-known measures such as wearing a mask and keeping a safe distance from others can greatly prevent infection with the new strain.
  • During the past two weeks, we have seen a significant increase in the number of new daily COVID-19 cases and we have recorded more than 900 new cases each day in the past few days.
  • Of particular concern is the high number of people in intensive care. This figure is now significantly higher than at the peak of the first wave last year.
  • The rate of positive cases among those who have symptoms and go for testing has increased, and it reached 30% and among those in contact, it reached 11%, which is a high rate
  • Dr. Al Khal pointed out that most of the infections during this wave are among citizens and white-collar residents and their family members, more than among craftsmen, in contrast to the first wave.
  • He also reviewed a chart showing a clear increase in the number of infections in these two categories, explaining that most of these infections are attributed to social encounters within the family and outside the family, to the scope of the extended family.
  • He pointed out that with regard to the number of cases that require hospitalization, an increase in the index has been recorded over the past three weeks, as last week, 1468 new cases were entered due to severe inflammation in the lungs. These infections are treated by administering oxygen and using anti-viral and anti-inflammatory drugs.
  • He added that there is a noticeable increase in the number of intensive care admissions, as 266 cases were admitted last week, and the reason for the increase in hospital admissions is due to the general increase in the number of infections in addition to the emergence of new strains that caused more severe infections than previous strains.
  • With regard to deaths, he explained that there has been a noticeable increase in the number of deaths in recent days, and this is also due to an increase in the number of infections in general, as well as to the severity of the disease caused by the new strains
  • Despite the rise in people requiring admission to hospitals, the healthcare system has sufficient capacity to ensure everyone who needs medical care can receive it without delay.
  • Dr. Al Khal emphasized that the Ministry of Public Health is working to provide a sufficient number of beds supported by the necessary medical and nursing staff in order to ensure access to a bed for every case that requires admission to the hospital.
  • Al Khal stressed that the medical teams are doing their utmost to treat and save the infected patients through distinguished medical care with high efficiency that is no less than what it was during the first wave, appreciating the great role that doctors, nurses and all workers in the health sector play in treating patients and combating the pandemic.

COVID-19 new strains in Qatar

  • Despite our strict quarantine policy that is in place for all travelers, the South Africa variant has now made its way into the community - meaning we have both the UK and South Africa variants circulating.
  • Both these new strains cause more severe symptoms than the original strain and we believe the South Africa variant has had a significant impact on the rise in COVID-19 cases in the past ten days.
  • Dr. Al Khal confirmed that the two vaccines currently in use in the State of Qatar, namely the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine and Moderna vaccine, have proven their effectiveness against the South African and British strains.

COVID-19 facilities in Qatar

  • Dr. Al-Khal spoke about the facilities that have been increased to treat people with coronavirus, as he explained that, last Saturday, Al Wakra Hospital was designated as a medical facility for (Covid-19) cases, as part of the measures taken by Hamad Medical Corporation to enhance the available clinical capacity in hospitals, and to meet the increasing demand for services due to the high number of cases, and thus Al Wakra Hospital has become the seventh facility of Hamad Corporation facilities that are designated to provide care for (Covid-19) patients.
  • He said that despite the high number of people who need to be admitted to hospital for treatment, the health care system has sufficient capacity to ensure that everyone who needs medical care can receive unnecessary care.
  • He added that Al Wakra Hospital will add 400 additional beds and 150 intensive care beds to the available clinical capacity for (Covid-19) patients, and there are also additional steps that can be taken to increase the clinical capacity allocated to (Covid-19) patients if the need arises.
  • He explained that the separation of facilities designated for (Covid-19) and facilities designated for people without (Covid-19) helps to ensure that the available resources are optimally used to provide high-quality care for patients infected with (Covid-19), this also allows those attending facilities not designated for (Covid-19) to safely obtain regular medical services without the risk of infection.

COVID-19 measures and restrictions in Qatar

  • While managing to keep the virus under control throughout the last quarter of 2020, Qatar maintained a set of strict policies aimed at preventing a second wave.
  • We continued to keep in place measures to prevent the virus from spreading - this included quarantine for travelers, mask-wearing, social distancing, limits on gatherings, temperature and Ehteraz checks in all public buildings, and blended learning in schools.
  • Dr. Al Khal said that the quarantine policy for people coming to the State of Qatar is among the most stringent policies in the world and has proven effective in delaying the entry of the new strains into the country, while many countries of the world were affected by these strains at that time.
  • In addition, the country has maintained precautionary measures to curb the spread of the virus, such as wearing masks, maintaining a safe distance, limiting gatherings, checking body temperature and checking the health status on the EHTERAZ application when entering all public buildings, in addition to the application of the blended education system in schools, Dr. Al Khal added.
  • Despite these ongoing efforts to prevent a second wave, Qatar, like many countries in the region and around the world, has not been able to prevent a second wave.
  • At the start of the year as we saw the number of new daily cases begin to rise steadily, we acted quickly to introduce further restrictions at the start of February. These restrictions prove effective at suppressing the spread of the virus and for many weeks the number of new daily infections remained steady.
  • However, the introduction of the UK variant into the community in March saw further increases in cases and, notably, hospitalizations and we responded with further restrictions.
  • The latest development in this pandemic of the circulation of the South African variant has meant we are once again moving quickly to further increase the restrictions.
  • He noted that the recent development represented by the spread of the South African strain means that restrictions must be escalated further, noting that the new restrictions and procedures that are applied need a period of two weeks in order for their results to be known.

Ramadan 2021 in Qatar

  • I know that today's announcement of new restrictions, just one week before the start of the Holy Month of Ramadan, will be difficult for many people.
  • With these new restrictions in place for at least the next two weeks, the start of Ramadan will be impacted. But as always, as individuals and as a community, we have the will and the power to suppress the spread of the virus like we did the first time.

What we need to do to flatten the curve:

  • If we fail to all play our part in following the restrictions and preventive measures, and cases continue to rise, we may need escalate the restriction further.
  • However, if each and every one of us takes responsibility and acts appropriately over the next two to four weeks we can begin to see a decline in cases, and we can consider easing some of the restrictions.

Exemptions for vaccinated people:

  • On the demands by those who received the vaccine to be excluded from some restrictions, Dr. Al Khal noted that there are a number of exceptions that have been made in this framework, and there will be more exceptions in the future when a larger proportion of the population receive the vaccination.
  • He noted that the exceptions now are for those who received two doses of the vaccine and are exempted from quarantine upon return from travel and from quarantine when contacting the infected if the test result was negative, along with some other matters such as social gatherings that gather only the vaccinated.

CHECK THE LATEST COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS IN QATAR (EFFECTIVE 9 APRIL 2021) HERE: Qatar announces stricter COVID-19 restrictions amid rising cases

Source: Qatar Television; Ministry of Public Health; Qatar News Agency

Cover image: Screengrab from the press conference