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.


Monday, May 03, 2021

15 Years in Qatar!

Wow, it's been 15 years now. I landed in Qatar in May 2006 to start a new job, expecting to be here maybe 3 or 4 years and here we are 15 years later. 

And to celebrate I stayed home. No restaurants, no malls. I don't have a liquor license anymore so no celebratory drinks either. 2021 is still not a time for celebrations and socializing.

Covid-wise things are still not great in Qatar. Community cases are at around 300-500 a day and 7-10 people die each day. It is sad looking at the news and knowing that people in their 40s and 50s are passing away from it every day, something that was uncommon last year. COVID is no longer an illness that puts people at 65+ at risk, now it's 40+, maybe even 35+. Scary. The UK variant and South African variant are here and I'm sure it's only a matter of time for the Indian one gets hold. The Qatar Government has placed a mandatory hotel quarantine for anyone arriving from South Asia, even if they are vaccinated, I assume in a bid to stop the Indian variant circulating in the community. If vaccination can stop the variants then Qatar just needs to get through the next month or so but it goes to show how contagious the new variants are that there are so many cases here despite the vaccination rollout.

Qatar has stepped up vaccination though, from around 25 thousand doses a day to 30 thousand. That means up to 100,000 people will have received their second dose each week, pretty good for a country of 2.6 million. I believe over 500,000 people have been fully vaccinated already.  I have an appointment in two weeks for my first dose. It will be either Pfizer or Moderna as those are the only two given in Qatar. That means by mid-June I will receive my second dose and can relax a little. A recent article in the Guardian shows that the number of doses given out so far in Europe is around 33 per 100 people, though in the UK it is a fantastic 73.4 doses per 100 people, which is why case rates and deaths in the UK are now quite low (yesterday they had only one COVID death). The US is also at 70+. Canada is at 36-37. In Qatar it is at 61 doses per 100 people, well ahead of the EU average. 

Celebrations will maybe be in June. For now I am trying to stay safe.


Monday, April 26, 2021

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- Possibly Reached the Peak of the Second Wave

Community cases are starting to ease, they are now at around 500 a day and the number of people recovering is outpacing the number of new cases.  It is still a challenging time, over 1000 people are in hospital and hundreds are in ICU.


The new strains of COVID are quite scary in just how deadly they are.  At the height of the pandemic last year, now known as the first wave, around 4-7 people were dying every day and there were over 2000 cases a day. Now Qatar has not even reached 1000 cases a day yet 5-10 people die every day of COVID. And it is affecting younger people as well, every day when I look at the government press release about the deaths I know that I will see ages in the 40s to 50s, sometimes even in the 30s. COVID is now less of a disease that primarily impacts people over the age of 65 and more something that puts people over the age of 40 at risk. Really scary.


Because of the restrictions there's not much happening this Ramadan, I miss seeing the Ramadan Cannon and attending other festivities as this will be the second Ramadan under lockdown restrictions, but catching COVID is just not worth it so the government is doing the right thing.


Like everyone I'm just getting tired of this and so wish things were back to normal. We're so close though. Hopefully after this wave subsides the vaccination program will reach most of the population. If only vaccination had started a month or two earlier this wave might not have even happened.