Friday, July 09, 2021

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- Phase 3 of Lifting Restrictions

 As scheduled the Government announced further loosening of restrictions. Basically an increase to capacity in places like restaurants, barbershops and other businesses. Small steps but not a significant change. 

They did add a new green/yellow/red list of countries in terms of travel. If you go to countries on the red list you are likely to have to quarantine whether you're vaccinated or not. Qatar has detected the delta variant in quarantined travelers but I believe so far it is not in the community (alpha and beta are though, I suspect I was infected with alpha). Yesterday there were only 55 community cases of Covid, one of the lowest figures I've seen this year. Vaccination is continuing at a brisk pace, with 25-35 thousand doses being given out each day. 77.6% of people 16 and older have had at least one dose now (and 65.4% have had two), which means Qatar will reach 75% having both doses in about three weeks. I wish they provided data for 12-16 range but I can figure out the total population vaccinated as they gave the total numbers:  1,839,827 have had at least one dose and 1,529,336 have had both. That corresponds to roughly 71% of the total population have one dose and 59% have had both. 75% of the total population being vaccinated should occur within 5-6 weeks.

Deaths are still occurring, maybe 6-10 a week, but the number in hospitals is slowly decreasing. Bahrain is also over its third wave thankfully and while rates are still higher than Qatar they are no where near as bad as before. Oman is still having difficulties, as is Kuwait.

If things go as planned almost all restrictions (except for incoming travelers) will be removed by the Government in three weeks.


Saturday, July 03, 2021

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- Decreasing Cases, Light on the Horizon

Qatar is now reporting around 50-80 community cases a day, and it should trickle lower as the weeks go on. There are fewer than 100 people in hospital now, and 46 in ICU.

Vaccination has picked up again, with over 30,000 doses being administered every day. There still appears to be high demand, a young person I know called almost two weeks ago for an appointment and the earliest they could get was July 10, which while not great for them does demonstrate the demand.

Sadly I think it was the horrible second wave in India and Nepal which spurred demand from many that were initially hesitant to get vaccinated. Over half the population of Qatar is from South Asia and the tragedy: people dying in the streets, relatives pleading on social media for oxygen or hospital beds, hundreds of bodies in the Ganges, must have been heartbreaking for people from there. Couple that with Qatar only giving out Pfizer or Moderna -- the vaccine of choice for the rich & famous of South Asia, and demand for vaccination here would naturally increase.  

As of now 75% of people 16 and older have had one dose, and 64.5% have had both. If demand continues then in less than two weeks over 80% will have at least one dose. Even better, over 92% of people 40 and older have had at least one dose (84% have had both). Herd immunity is very close to being achieved, my guess is over 80% will have had two doses within 4-5 weeks.

Today I was in another neighbourhood, to collect a package from DHL, and it amazed me how much had changed in terms of the roads, shops, etc. and then I realized that because of COVID lockdowns it had been close to two years since I was last in the area. In fact it's been at least a year and a half since I had been in most of Doha: Katara, the Pearl, the Museums, it's weird to think how long life has not been 'normal'. Once the summer is over I might have to have a re-explore of Qatar.


Friday, June 18, 2021

Qatar Coronavirus Updates - Mandatory Testing Announced

Last post I mentioned a rumour that some offices were looking into mandatory weekly testing for unvaccinated staff. Looks like I was partly correct, it was not offices that were looking at doing it, it was the Government.

As part of moving to Phase 2 of lifting restrictions they announced:

"All employees in the public and private sector must carry out a rapid antigen test that is accredited by the Ministry of Public Health on a weekly basis. This applies to employees who did not receive or continue all the doses of their COVID-19 vaccines. Those who did take both doses, recovered from the disease, or those whose health condition does not allow based on a medical report accredited by MoPH, are exempt from taking the rapid antigen test."

And so this is required by all employers. Later that day was the announcement from our office about it. Other details:

-- the employee bears the cost for the test, and 

-- if they have to quarantine then it comes out of their annual leave, not sick leave.

Glad I got my second dose this week. Yes, I have recovered from COVID so technically do not need to do the test but still, nice to be fully vaccinated now.

Looks like the Government is getting serious about people who are hesitant to get vaccinated. I said it last post and I'll say it again, I expect in the future that they will not renew work permits for unvaccinated expats. Essentially there will be some kind of measure that unvaccinated expats will need to leave the country. You heard it here first.


Tuesday, June 15, 2021

I'm vaccinated!

Yesterday I received my second shot of Moderna from the clinic so I am now fully vaccinated. Just need to be careful for a couple of more weeks so that the vaccine has time to develop antibodies. There are a lot of variants in the world now but thankfully the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) have shown to be effective against all variants so far. This should mean that I will not have any trouble travelling this summer.

Community cases (as opposed to cases from travelers in quarantine) in Qatar have been stubbornly stuck at 80-100 a day for a while now. While it's a low number, comparable to lower-case areas in Canada and the US, I was hoping they would get below 80 by now. According to Government data 68.8% of eligible people have had one shot, and 53.7% have had two (including me!) so I would have thought community cases would have decreased further by now. The rate of vaccinations have slowed, now at 15-20 thousand a day, at that rate it the amount vaccinated will go up roughly 1% every three days. It's a bit frustrating, I was hoping we would hit 75% by now but it looks like it'll be early next month.

The restrictions are scheduled to go to Phase 2 on the 18th. I'm not sure what that will entail but likely a greater % can be in offices, restaurants and places like barbers. I'm sure the lifting of restrictions will only target the fully vaccinated, the Government will continue to offer this as an incentive for people to get vaccinated. Restaurants have been pretty strict about it, I went to a Tim Hortons the other day and they wouldn't let me sit in the restaurant unless I showed proof of vaccination.

There are some Qataris who are not getting vaccinated for whatever reason, but many did, only because if they don't then they can't travel. If Qatar does not reach 75-80% I could see more measures being taken, probably not against citizens but perhaps mandatory vaccination for expats. If all expats had to be vaccinated then 90+% would be easily achieved. I heard a rumour that one Qatari organization is planning an imposed mandatory PCR test for staff who are not vaccinated -- weekly, and that the cost of the test will come out of the employee's pocket or something like that. Basically a way to say 'get vaccinated or leave'. It was just a rumour though, my office certainly has not imposed anything like that, not that they need to as I think everyone is in the process of being vaccinated. That said my office is keeping track, asking every member of staff if they have been vaccinated and when. 

So in two weeks I'll be as fully-protected as I can be. Time to start planning vacations.


Saturday, May 29, 2021

Qatar Coronavirus Updates - Phase 1 of Restrictions Easing on the Back of Lower Case Numbers

Yesterday some restrictions were eased, as planned by the Govt. Restaurants, hair salons and so forth can now open in limited capacity. 

Because I am not full vaccinated I figured I was out of luck and would not be able to go anywhere until mid-June but I saw an announcement today from the Ministry of Health that people who recovered from COVID and have had one dose of vaccine can have the same privileges as fully vaccinated people, I just need to show my ID and vaccination card. So I guess I can go to restaurants and cafes again!

And cases in Qatar continue to move downward as vaccination rates pick up. Yesterday was a grand total of 156 cases, of which 98 were community cases, the first time in months it has been that low. Only 234 people are in hospital now and 133 in ICU. It wasn't all that long ago that over 1,000 people were in hospital. 

Just across the water in Bahrain things continue to spiral out of control. The county imposed a heavy lockdown a few days ago as cases are now around 3,000 a day and about 20 people are dying every day there. Scary.

If Qatar can keep things under control then I expect in the next month over 70% of the population will have been vaccinated. Right now 46.7% have been fully vaccinated and an additional 16% have one dose. I am not sure at what percentage herd immunity kicks in (it varies from virus to virus) but Qatar should be on track to achieving it within 1-2 months.  


Sunday, May 23, 2021

Got My First Vaccine Dose!

This week I finally was able to get my first dose of vaccine. Under Qatar's rules if you came down with COVID you couldn't get vaccinated for 90 days and that was in May. Managed to get an appointment (two weeks later) and went to the clinic to get vaccinated. I was told it could be a long wait, some of my friends had to wait an hour or two, but it was pretty smooth and I was in front of the nurse in about 20 minutes. Qatar only uses Pfizer and Moderna but which one you get is dependent on availability. I was offered Moderna and I didn't mind, studies are showing that both are more effective than other vaccines at protecting from COVID and the variants going around. Probably because they are both mRNA vaccines, whereas the others were developed using different techniques.

Arm was sore for a few days and two nights later I had a mild headache and difficulties sleeping but that was it overall for side effects. Next dose is four weeks after the first, so by mid-June I'll have the second dose.

Cases of COVID in Qatar have stabilized, every day now there are around 150-250 community cases. The Government is hesitant to relax restrictions as they are concerned that cases will increase due to people socializing over the Eid holiday (last week) so we'll see how things develop.

The Government is right to be concerned because next door, in Bahrain, things are getting out of hand. In the past week the country has been averaging around 2,500 cases and over 12 deaths a day, in a country of 1.7m people! That's roughly the equivalent of the US having 475,000 cases and 2,000 deaths a day. Not good. I spoke to a Bahraini about it and he thinks it is because the country did not enforce as severe a lockdown as in Qatar (Bahrain imposed some restrictions during Eid so when they announced they would people rushed around visiting relatives and stocking up on goods) and also because they primarily used the Sinopharm vaccine, and it's effectiveness is now being questioned. Hopefully things improve there soon.

There's a light at the end of the tunnel, as vaccinations continue things will get under control. Hopefully I can travel this summer.


Monday, May 10, 2021

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- Restrictions to Start Lifting May 28

Yesterday the Government announced a four-phase plan for lifting the current restrictions, with Phase 1 coming into effect May 28 and the other phases at three, six and nine weeks later. That means the current restrictions will stay for another two-and-a-half weeks, and over the Eid period (starting Wednesday or Thursday).

 

The Government was encouraged by the drop in cases. They are still trending downward and today there were fewer than 300 community cases -- a great improvement from the last 4-5 weeks. We're not out of the woods yet, sadly deaths are still occurring, six yesterday and four today. About 500 people remain in hospital with over 200 in ICU. The Government did mention that so far they have not found the Indian variant of the virus in the country.


One of the interesting things that the Government is doing is that the lifting of restrictions is geared towards vaccinated people. Schools and nurseries can't open unless all staff are vaccinated. Restaurants can have limited indoor seating but only for people who are vaccinated. Indoor gatherings will be limited to 5 people if all are vaccinated. Theme parks, leisure centres, cinemas and gyms can open at limited capacity and only for vaccinated people. Barbers as well, vaccinated clients only.


Basically Qatar is saying, "Don't want to get vaccinated? Then stay home."  Sucks a bit for me as my appointment for my first dose is May 17th so I won't be fully vaccinated until June, but I still support what the Government is doing.


As everything regarding vaccination is centralized with the Health Ministry it is easy to see who is vaccinated. The Ehteraz tracking app that everyone is required to have indicates if you are vaccinated. No need to worry about people having fake vaccination papers and stuff. 


So I'll be under the restrictions a couple of weeks longer than everyone else. I don't mind, as long as we get through this pandemic.