Sunday, November 28, 2021

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- Cases Up, Spreader Events, and Omicron Variant

Community cases in Qatar remain in the 100-150 range a day. Not great, better than most countries, but still too high for my liking. Hospitalizations are up slightly with about 90 people in hospital and 17 in ICU. No one has died in the past week or so.  

I can't see the number of cases decreasing any time soon because of two major events. As for many parts of the world there were Black Friday shopping events and the malls were PACKED. I forgot about Black Friday and tried to stop by a mall to pick up something. Parking was completely full and even the side streets near the mall were full of cars. I decided not to go in -- if the malls were that crowded it was just a super-spreader event waiting to happen.

Also the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup is in Qatar from November 30 to December 18 so I expect a lot of tourists and crowds at the stadiums and entertainment events.

The timing is unfortunate because there is a new Covid variant of concern, the Omicron variant, discovered in southern Africa. Countries have already stopped flights from that area but it might be too little too late as cases of the variant have been detected in the UK, Germany, Israel, Netherlands, Belgium and Australia. The Australian cases entered the country on a Qatar Airways flight from Doha, where they had transited from South Africa, so there is a chance Omicron is in Qatar now as well. Scientists will have better data after a few weeks but given the mutations in the Omicron variant they are expecting that vaccines will have reduced effectiveness. 

It will be an interesting few weeks as we see how this develops. Lockdowns and restrictions might be coming again.          

Monday, November 15, 2021

Qatar Coronavirus Updates – case rates, boosters, statistics

Community cases are steady at 100-120 a day. Hospitalizations are in the 90s now, a slight increase. I spoke with someone in the medical field and they told me that many of the cases were in kids due to schools being open -- but not all. Might be issues with vaccine effectiveness waning.

Which might explain why yesterday the Government announced they were moving forward the booster shot timing. Before you were eligible eight months after your second dose but they announced it will now be six months, a timing similar to other Western countries. I got my second dose in mid-June so I still have a month before I can get my booster. No word yet on when the vaccine will be approved for children aged 5-11 though.

As an aside I have been seeing various statistics regarding Qatar’s vaccination rate on websites, whether John Hopkins or CTV VaccineTracker, and they have Qatar’s rate too low (79-80%). The reason for this is they use population statistics that are old and based on projections of what Qatar’s population would be, rather than just going to the Qatar Government’s Planning and Statistics Authority to get the real number, which they update monthly. Granted, these websites don’t have time to update population stats for the 200+ countries in the world but they are using a population of 2.8m and it’s actually around 2.6m, which makes a big difference.

Per the Ministry of Public Health, 84.8% of the population of Qatar has had both doses of a vaccine. It’s likely why case rates are still really low compared to the US, UK, and many other countries in Europe.

Interesting update on travel, the UK was recently added to Qatar’s “red list” for travel. Not good news for Brits. I wasn’t planning on going there anytime soon anyway though.

Well, guess I'll just chill and wait for the latest wave in Europe to calm down. It'll be nice when I get a booster shot though.


Tuesday, November 02, 2021

Qatar Coronavirus Updates – Cases Rising Again

Worrying developments as cases have been slowly creeping up over the last few weeks.  In the last couple of days there been more than 100 community transmissions a day, and yesterday one person passed away.  Hospitalizations are up into the 60s now (from a low in the 40s) but the number in the ICU is stable at around 11-13.

Unfortunately the Government doesn’t publish age breakdowns of the cases.  Is it mostly among kids because they’re back in school? Amongst older people for whom the vaccine effectiveness is starting to lessen? I don’t know.

If the trend continues I expect various restrictions to be back in place but I’m not sure to what extent. The FIFA Arab Cup starts in Doha at the end of the month and tens of thousands of fans are expected (especially from Saudi Arabia) so I doubt the Government will go into lockdowns. The addition of tourists for the event is not going to help things though and cases will likely increase further.

Per capita cases are still low compared to most Western countries but it’s not a good sign heading into the new year.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Qatar Coronavirus Updates – Getting Back to Normal, Awaiting Vaccines for Children

 In Qatar things continue to improve and restrictions continue to be lifted.  Now the country is at roughly 40 community cases a day and almost everyone who can be vaccinated has been (83% of the total population has received the vaccine).  Unfortunately there’s still about 40 people in hospitals, and 10 in ICU. A person in their 80s passed away yesterday from it.

Travel restrictions have changed in that most countries are now on the “green list”.  One twist though is that you no longer need a PCR test to fly into Qatar – but you do have to get one within 36 hours of arrival. I think Qatar is tired of people getting fake or questionable PCR tests in other countries, now you must have a test done here.

From a peak of about 40,000 doses of vaccine given out every day we’re now at 3-5 thousand doses, and I think that includes people now getting booster doses.  Almost everyone who is eligible has the vaccine now, so everyone is waiting for the announcement regarding kids aged 5-11.  There are rumors of course, we could see something in the next couple of weeks, but once it is approved either in the U.S. are the EU it’ll be rolled out in Qatar for sure. I don’t think the uptake for children will be as high as it has been for adults, my guess is some vaccinated parents will still be a little bit leery of giving it to small children, but even with moderate take up the percentage of the population vaccinated should reach 90%. Between that and boosters there’s not much more that can be done.

While restrictions on wearing masks outdoors have largely been lifted almost everyone continues to wear them, which is fine with me. I still get a bit anxious about COVID at times, especially when there are situations that I consider higher risk.  Recently someone I know just got back from visiting Russia, a country that is in the midst of a huge COVID wave and has real issues with vaccination rates. My friend is vaccinated but even so for the next while I’ll try to stay away from him and his friend group just to make sure they aren’t a “breakthrough” case, which increases the risk that they could be giving it to other people. Getting a PCR test within 36 hours of landing isn’t really a guarantee, I think if you are exposed to COVID it could take a few days for you to build up enough virus to show up on a PCR test.

While the pandemic continues to rage in other parts of the world, here in Qatar it might be nearing an end. We’ll see once vaccinations are rolled out to children. I remain hopeful.

Saturday, October 02, 2021

Qatar Coronavirus Updates – Restrictions Eased, Booster Doses Rolled-Out

Daily cases in Qatar have been consistently dropping, and community cases are now at around the 40 to 70 range.  With that the Government has announced the easing of most of the restrictions, most notably that offices and workplaces can be at 100% capacity, and it is no longer required to wear masks outdoors unless you are at a crowded venue such as a marketplace or school.  Use of the Ehteraz tracking app to get into places is still required.  Travel restrictions/testing requirements remain in place.

I think Qatar is reaching a stage where it has done all it can and we are slowly approaching “living with the virus”.  The vaccination rate for the eligible population is over 90%, and the government has just announced that a booster dose will be available for anyone over the age of 50, with plans to later roll it out to the rest of the population.  You’re not eligible for a booster dose until at least eight months have passed since your second dose, so I won’t be getting one until February.

I think with the Delta variant the most important number is vaccination rates.  You really do need high levels of vaccination to get a grip on the Delta variant, and sadly numerous countries around the world have shown that vaccination rates of 50 to 70% is just not good enough.  In North America the contrast between different regions in Canada and the United States is striking, higher vaccination rates have led to fewer hospitalizations and deaths in those regions. Even in Canada, where the worst provinces for vaccination rates are at amounts some U.S. states can only dream of, there is a big difference in hospitalizations and deaths for areas around 70% vaccination vs areas above 80%.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, I don’t think many people in Qatar appreciate the great job the Government has done handling the pandemic. Testing capabilities, vaccine roll-outs, willingness to listen to the science and not be pressured to open things up too early, willingness to extend lockdowns and restrictions if case numbers don’t improve, rapid allocation and upgrades of quarantine and medical facilities, willingness to publish the data and not try to alter it to “look good” -- the Government did what it could in a fast, coordinated manner. It’s the numbers that tell the story, whether vaccination rates, the low deaths per capita numbers, economic indicators, all look really good compared to much of the world. I realize that the families of the 605 people in Qatar who tragically died from COVID might see things a different way, but the death toll could have been far, far worse.

A tragic case in point – Bermuda.  Apparently, the vaccination rate for the eligible population is at 66% and they are currently going through a horrible time with the Delta variant.  During September forty-one people passed away from COVID, more than during the rest of the pandemic combined, and while 41 might not sound like a lot the island only has 60,000 people. It is the equivalent of 227,000 people dying in the US, or 26,000 people dying in Canada, or 1,775 people dying in Qatar. In one month. Qatar has had 605 people die from COVID during the entire pandemic. And Bermuda has this horrible death rate despite two-thirds of adults being vaccinated, needless to say most of the hospitalizations and deaths are in unvaccinated people. Delta is no joke.

Qatar still does have some restrictions in place, and I don’t expect them to be removed until after children receive vaccinations, after which I guess things will move to a “new normal” where we all learn to just live with the virus. Maybe mid-2022?

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- Steady Improvement, both Vaccination and Cases

Things have been slowly progressing and it looks like Qatar has dodged having a bad third wave. Yesterday, for the first time in a long time, the daily cases (both community and travellers) was under 100. Today it was 101, but still lower than it has been for months. Community cases are around 50-75 a day now. Only 67 people are in hospital, of which 19 are in ICU. The last death was almost two weeks ago.

This success has to be mostly due to the vaccination effort and Government restrictions. The Government recently announced that 80% of the total population has now received two doses, one of the highest rates in the world. Unfortunately they removed some of the granular vaccination data because now they are giving out booster doses to vulnerable people, so it is more challenging to simply take the number of doses administered and divide by the population as some people are now getting a third dose. I fully expect over the coming months that they will roll it out to everyone to get a booster, eight months after you received your second dose. By then the approval should have also come to vaccinate children, at which point Qatar should quickly achieve 90+% vaccination rates.

Sadly the situation in the US provides a stark reminder of what could have happened here if vaccination rates were low and restrictions not in place. The Delta variant of Covid is pretty frightening in terms of how fast it spreads and how deadly it can be. Imagine if it had been the "original" Covid, back when there was no vaccination. The death rate would probably be 5x what it is now, millions more would have perished.

For example, Mississippi. It has a population of 2.9 million, similar to Qatar's 2.6 million. Right now the 7-day average death toll is Mississippi is 45 deaths, PER DAY. That's 315 deaths in one week from Covid! By comparison Qatar has had 604 deaths -- since the start of the pandemic. That's the power of Delta when you have a lot of unvaccinated people. Other states like Tennessee and Idaho are having similar waves and the death toll is rapidly rising. That people would rather eat horse dewormer than get a free vaccine is mind-boggling. Glad vaccinations rates in Qatar are so good.

Overall I think once vaccines are approved for people under 12 Covid will really start to get under control. Because of how contagious Delta is I am not sure Covid will ever be eliminated entirely, but at least it should allow life to get back to normal.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- Is Herd Immunity Possible Against Delta?

Welp, Qatar had another 138 community cases (and another 67 from travellers in quarantine), pretty typical daily amount I'm afraid. 100-180 a day seems to be the new norm. The death rate is way lower though, thankfully, with maybe one person dying every week or so. Qatar does have one of the lowest per capita COVID death rates in the world (214 per million, the US and UK are nearly at 2,000).

That cases are still 100+ despite the high vaccination rate is worrisome. Qatar is currently at 81.6% of the total population having at least one dose (not eligible population, TOTAL population) and 73.7% have had both doses. Yes community transmission continues at a rate of about double what it was earlier this year. The Delta-variant is much more contagious than regular COVID so the herd-immunity percentage becomes higher. Clearly 73.7% is not enough, but what will? In a months time the rest will have their second dose and Qatar will be at 81%. I am skeptical that it will be enough.

And we can't count on vaccinating more people aged 12+, according to the Government 94.2% of the eligible population has at least one dose, there are few people left who can get vaccinated.

That leaves vaccinating children. Qatar will surely wait for announcements from the US or the EU regarding whether the vaccine can be used on kids, but when will that be? I've read articles it'll be this winter, it'll be early 2022, it'll be later than that, it'll only be for kids aged 6+, all sorts of speculation is flying around. Meanwhile schools have just opened back up in Qatar, though apparently at 50% capacity, I think by rotating, having one group for a week then another group for a week. Given children are the most vulnerable to infection given they are not vaccinated I expect a jump in cases in the next couple of weeks, a mini "third wave" essentially. 

All of this is getting me a bit anxious again. Studies are showing that vaccine effectiveness starts to diminish after six months, and Delta is capable of infecting vaccinated people, so I no longer feel completely safe. My last dose of vaccine was in June so I should be good for a few more months but all the same it is a bit unnerving knowing there is still a risk of reinfection. I am guessing boosters will be announced for everyone soon so a third dose is on the horizon.

I'll feel better if Qatar can get below 75 cases a day, but I don't think that'll happen until late-October, or maybe only after children can get the vaccine.