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.


Monday, August 23, 2021

Back From Vacation

 So I have returned from a long break, my first vacation since the pandemic started. Canada finally relaxed the quarantine rules, allowing fully vaccinated citizens to visit without having to quarantine, so off I went for a long-deserved vacation. Sadly the pandemic is still not over so things are not back to 'normal' but at least with a PCR test and wearing masks on the plane I could travel.

At the time I arrived Canada's case average was lower than Qatar's but then there was a Delta outbreak in the valley where my Mom lives and cases started rising. Within a week British Columbia's case rate was more than Qatar -- and rising. It's still not great (around 85/day per million people, Qatar is around 70) but it's nothing compared to the US. I don't know what it is about America and vaccines but they are paying a price now, case rates are crazy, especially in the South. People need to realize that vaccines significantly reduce the risk of catching COVID and, if you do catch it, from having complications from it.

Not only was there a COVID outbreak in BC the province was also having issues with forest fires. There were so many fires burning that some days thick smoke descended into the valley. It was like a fog, and flights were cancelled, which led to me scrambling to find ways to get to/from the valley and Vancouver as three attempts to catch flights ended up with all of them cancelled. Things were better in Vancouver as the city did not have much in the way of smoke.

In COVID news while I was gone Qatar announced the detection of the Delta variant in community cases. This likely explains the increase in cases, now averaging around 150-200 community cases a day. A month or so ago it was around 50-80 a day. 150-200 a day doesn't seem like much but bear in mind Qatar has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, currently 92.6% of eligible people have had at least one dose -- and 81% have had both. Despite that there are still 150-200 cases a day, no doubt in part to how contagious Delta is. Qatar was to have removed the COVID restrictions by now but with the increase in cases they kept it where is was. I assume most of the cases are in young people or children as hospitalizations is actually down from before. Currently 69 are in hospital and 19 are in ICU, a great improvement from months ago. I think in the entire month I was gone only one or two people died.

It looks like restrictions will be in place until children can be vaccinated. With Delta being so contagious I don't think herd immunity can be achieved just by vaccinating people aged 12 and older. I expect that won't begin until December or January, these types of studies take time.

In the meantime everyone needs to keep wearing a mask and not be too reckless.

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.