Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- and Eid Updates

So it is the middle of the Eid holiday (for most at least, banks and other financial services opened today) and I am not so sure about how strictly people are social distancing. At least shops and malls are doing a good job of making sure people wear masks and show their Etheraz app to show that they are not a suspected case of COVID-19. I sure hope the barber shops were being careful, getting a haircut is a standard thing to do for Eid and the barbershops were sure to be busy. I'm not planning to go for at least two more weeks, chances are the barbers will catch coronavirus but many will not have symptoms. They would be fine in a couple of weeks though.

On Monday I did something that I haven't done for almost five months -- go to a restaurant. As of August 1st restaurants can do limited indoor seating and some friends wanted to meet for breakfast so I figured I would give it a try as I did not expect the place to be busy. I was correct, we were the only table for most of the time there. A couple showed up later and were seated at the opposite end of the restaurant. The restaurant was strict on procedure, they took everybody's temperature, looked at our Etheraz apps, and wrote down our names and ID before allowing us in. Waiters were heavily masked up and had face shields. I only ordered cooked foods, though now that I think about most breakfast items in a restaurant are cooked. We didn't have coffee though as afterwards the guys wanted to go to a nice cafe they knew in the Musherib district. Again we had our temperatures taken and had to show our Etheraz app. Again we were the only people seated, though others did show up to get coffee to go.

As for COVID-19. Qatar has been hovering in the 200-ish cases a day now. Some days more than 200 but other days fewer than 200. Qatar is still not on the EU travel list but I'm wondering if they'll be included when the list is reviewed next week. Maybe not though, there are still around 3,000 active cases in Qatar. I'm also worried about a post-Eid second spike with all the social visits and crowds at barbers.


Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- Now Under 300 Cases a Day

Things continue to improve and the last three days has seen daily cases under 300 a day. Qatar has been closing some of their "coronavirus-only" medical clinics and allowing them to operate normally. There are still about 100 people in ICU and anywhere from zero to two people are dying each day but that should lessen over time.

The Eid Al-Adha holiday starts tomorrow which means lots of socializing for people and attendance at mosques. It is a risky situation, Qatar entered Phase 3 of removing restrictions yesterday so more places are open and gathering sizes have increased. There's a real risk of a spike in cases over the next two weeks if people are not careful. I think most people feel that the worst has passed so they are being more lax about things. It's a dangerous mindset, if you look at some countries in Europe, some states in the US, or places like Hong Kong, it does not take much for the virus to take hold again. Oman has reimposed some restrictions after cases shot up there and Bahrain is not doing well either.

Hopefully the Eid holiday does not cause problems but there is another potential hotspot on the horizon -- the reopening of schools in September. Now that travel restrictions have been lessened a lot of people left Qatar for home or holidays, and schools will be reopening in September. The potential for the virus spreading is big as a child may have caught it abroad, shows no symptoms, then spreads it at school from which it will spread to families.

If by late-September there is still no uptick in cases then Qatar will have done a great job handling the crisis. Until then there is a possibility of a second wave and for restrictions to be reinstated. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- Amendments to Travel Restrictions

For the last few days Qatar's daily cases were in the 300s. Today it went back up into the 400s but the overall downward trend continues. At this rate Qatar should make the EU travel list in August. Will it be in time for Eid Al-Adha (starting July 31st)? I doubt it, it depends on when the EU reviews the list and how long the evaluation takes. Also Qatar needs to average in the low 400s (maybe the 300s) for two weeks, something they haven't achieved yet. Sadly there are still 1-3 deaths a day but the number of hospitalizations and people in the ICU continue to decrease. Qatar is almost at the point where confirmed cases equals 4% of the population, the highest rate in the world. I assume in time the Government will shift to antibody studies to get an idea of the real percentage infected, studies in other hard-hit countries show that 4% would be on the low side. 

But the real buzz in Qatar was an announcement by the Government changing the travel restrictions! Starting August 1st a traveller entering Qatar from a low-risk country will have to take a Coronavirus test on arrival and isolate at home for a week then take another test. They don't have to pay for quarantine in a hotel for two weeks! The Government will also have a list of accredited testing centres in some higher-risk countries. If travellers from that country get a Coronavirus test at the accredited centre 48 hours before travel then on arrival they too can isolate at home for a week before taking another test. Otherwise arrivals will still need to pay for quarantine at a hotel, but for one week instead of two (then another week at home). 

There are other rules and requirements for people over a certain age etc. Notably non-Qatari residents need to apply for a 'return permit' to come back to Qatar, I assume so the Government can control the number of people entering and prevent a flood of thousands at any one time. The Government hasn't circulated the list of low-risk countries yet but I assume it'll be whoever is on the EU list. Someone mentioned the US would be on it, which would be interesting as I don't see how the US could be considered low-risk at the moment but we'll see. 

So things are slowly returning to normal. Stage 3 of removing restrictions is still scheduled for August 1st, when barbers can open and restaurants can do limited dine-in.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Qatar Cornonavirus Updates - Holding Steady in the 400s

Daily case rates are in the low 400s now and there hasn't been any spikes to indicate a second wave approaching. Active cases and hospitalizations are slowly decreasing but people are still passing away, averaging 1-2 a day. I'm still a bit concerned about a possible second wave as adherence to the "max five persons" rule is not happening that much and majlis gatherings are likely breaking that rule.

I was at the beach again on Friday and while there was tons of space between groups I was the only one wearing a mask in my group. To my friends' credit though they don't bug me about wearing a mask, they're fine with it. They are younger than me though so lower risk so while they are not wearing masks they don't begrudge an "older" person wearing one I suppose.

I went to the office to work for the first time in 3-and-a-half months. Again I was concerned but at our office it's around 30% attending, on a rotation, so there was plenty of space and it was set-up that no one was at the desks next to mine. Work even supplied each desk with a large bottle of hand sanitizer and everyone had to show their Etheraz app and undergo a temperature check to enter the building. This continues until August at which point work will have around 60% attendance, basically everyone who is eligible to work in the office (under Qatar's restrictions people over the age of 55 or with medical conditions that put them at higher risk for coronavirus must work from home).

Two more weeks at phase-2 of restrictions, then it will be Eid al-Adha at the end of the month, then Qatar enters phase 3. If there is to be a second wave it will likely be in the two weeks after Eid, as people spend the holiday visiting relatives, potentially increasing the spread of the virus.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Updates - under 500 cases a day now

For two days in a row Qatar has reported fewer than 500 cases, today was 470. Everything is slowly lowering: the number of active cases (about 3,900 now), people in hospital (636), and in ICU (140). New daily cases hasn't been this low since mid-April. There is still a way to go but considering it wasn't all that long ago that greater than 2,000 cases a day was occurring this is great progress.

I am a bit concerned that many people have "quarantine fatigue" and not taking it as seriously as before. Outdoors you see people without masks and at the beaches/parks masks are rare. The Government restrictions of having no more than five people at gatherings is (I'm pretty sure) being largely ignored. A second spike like in the US is possible if people get too lax.

Malls and businesses, on the other hand, are much more serious about it. This weekend I stopped by a mall as I wanted to go to a pharmacy to stock up on various meds and vitamins (sunscreen, panadol, vitamin C, etc. nothing serious). The mall was STRICT: temperature checks, mandatory masks, had to show your Etheraz app, all just to be let in. Everyone in the mall had a mask on. It wasn't too busy, and at the moment children under the age of 12 are banned from malls so families were not there. Restaurants were take-away only. I wasn't there long, just went straight to the pharmacy and back out again. Didn't want to risk the supermarket, which is where most people were headed. Next week I will do a grocery run, hopefully the daily cases has dropped even more by then.

The travel restrictions have meant that the population of Qatar is actually higher than normal. Monthly population stats are available at www.psa.gov.qa and the population this summer is around 300,000 more than this time last year. Schools have ended for the summer vacation and normally hundreds of thousands would leave Qatar for home or cooler weather. Most can't do that now, and those who could face two-week quarantine when they return, so everyone has stayed put. It is strange to not go anywhere, the last time I left Qatar was at year-end for a long weekend in Oman. The next time I leave will likely be November or December, so I will have gone almost an entire year without travelling.

Such is the crazy year we have all been having. Stay safe everyone.

Saturday, July 04, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- Cases Declining

It's still a bit up-and-down but today cases were in the 500s, the lowest in quite some time. Recoveries have outpaced cases every day for weeks and now there are around 9000 active cases.

With Phase 2 being implemented and the beaches open some friends and I went to the beach near Dukhan. It was brutally hot (45+), and the water was like a warm bath, but I think everyone was just desperate to get out of the house and be outside after months of lockdown. I wore a mask but the other guys didn't so I can't say I was entirely comfortable with that, at least we were outside so the strong UV rays would likely torch the virus. I think 'quarantine fatigue' has simply set in for most people and they want to live normally. I sure hope no one in the group was an asymptomatic carrier.

Next up is Padel-tennis. The courts are open now and I promised to play tomorrow. I think that will be less risky than sitting on a beach next to people.

I have been making an effort to get out of the apartment more because working from home will partially end for me on July 12th. The staff at the office have been put on one week on / one week at home rotation. Starting August I will be at the office full-time. This means I will be out and about anyway so might as well start leaving home occasionally. Not planning on going to malls or restaurants though and don't need groceries yet.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- Cases Decreasing but Government Concerned


Daily cases in Qatar are slowly receding, today had 693. Quite the change from not so long ago when >2,000 was happening. Three more deaths today for a total of 113. There are still over 200 people in ICUs in the country so the death toll will continue to rise.

While the total daily case rate is decreasing the Government has noticed a disturbing trend -- the rate of cases amongst Qataris and white-collar expat workers is actually increasing, not decreasing. There is also an increase in family infections, with a person getting infected then infecting family members. The Government has determined that this is primarily due to people socializing or going to majlises and not taking proper safety precautions. I also saw pictures in social media of crowded beaches last weekend (not British or Florida-level crowded, but tons of people went to the beach).

July 1st is Phase 2 of reducing lockdown restrictions and due to the issues around local transmission the Government has announced they are scaling back some of the planned liftings. The main difference was to allow gatherings of up to 10 people, that has now been reduced to five people in an attempt to curb people meeting in majlis or otherwise socializing. I think the June 15 Phase 1 restrictions lifting led some people to think everything is cool and can be back to normal. This isn't over folks!


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July 1st also marks when the EU will release its list of countries that people can visit the EU from, due to those countries having low Covid rates. It has received a lot of coverage because leaks to the press indicated that the United States was definitely NOT on the list. Canada should be though.

Given that one criteria is countries have to have Covid rates similar to the EU there is no way Qatar or any other Middle East country will be on the list. By my estimate Qatar would have to average, over a two week period, fewer than 430 cases a day. Not gonna happen. The EU will revisit the list every two weeks. I doubt Qatar will be on the list by July 15th, but August 1st is a possibility, we'll see. August 15th is a realistic target.



I am willing to bet that EU list will become the standard for most other nations as well, which means going to countries like Canada will also be unlikely.