Monday, December 21, 2020

Qatar Updates for December

 Okay, there's a number of things to note, I'll touch on each briefly:

-- COVID virus numbers are slowly decreasing, now you get some days where community transmission is less than 100. Not every day mind you but now the community case rate is typically 80-120 a day. There are fewer than 220 people in hospital and 22 are in ICU, again a decrease from a few weeks ago. Sadly there is still one to three deaths a week.

-- But I am planning a personal 'semi-lockdown' for a couple of weeks. Qatar's National Day was December 18th, and the festivities makes it more likely that there will be a spike in cases in the coming weeks. The Government did take things seriously though, the annual military parade on the Corniche was invite-only, no general spectating, and I believe it was limited to a couple of thousand people spread out along the parade route. A friend of mine said the invites only went to family of the soldiers on parade and all of the soldiers were tested for COVID, but I could not find confirmation of that. Still there would have been crowds gathering later to watch the fighter jet show and the fireworks in the evening, increasing the risk of virus spread. I am planning to not go to any mall/restaurant/grocery store for a few weeks as a precaution. I have enough food at home for that.

-- There was also the Qatar Football League final, the Emir's Cup, held in the new Al-Rayyan stadium. When I watched it on TV there were a lot of people in the crowd and I was surprised that was allowed. It turns out a friend went to the match and he told me that to be allowed in you had to get a COVID test 24-48 hours before the match, so all of the spectators had been tested! My team (Al-Saad) won.

-- The COVID vaccine will arrive this week. Qatar has approved two vaccines so far, the Pfizer and the BioNTech vaccines but I couldn't find any reports as to how many doses will arrive. The Government has announced that the vaccine will be prioritized for three groups: over 65s, people with chronic health conditions, and healthcare workers. That's not as many people as you might think, according to the Statistics Authority only 1.36% of the population is over 65 (approximately 40,000 people). Depending on how many doses arrive the Government might be able to roll it out to others soon.

-- No Christmas celebrations for me this year. Normally I would have dinner with friends but someone in the family has chronic health issues so they are not having people over. And as I mentioned above I intend to not go to restaurants for a while. That's okay though, I'd rather be cautious as the vaccine is just around the corner.

-- People are still of the belief that an announcement ending the blockade will take place at the GCC Summit on January 5th. News is full of optimistic articles that talks are progressing.

-- I was hoping to see the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction last night but unfortunately it was low on the horizon and clouds covered it. Maybe tonight I will see it. Try to see it as well if you are able to.



Saturday, December 05, 2020

The Blockade Might End Shortly!

There were announcements by the Foreign Ministers of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar that talks have made significant progress and that Saudi Arabia might end the blockade soon!  The other blockading countries (Bahrain, UAE and Egypt) do not appear to be involved with the talks but if a deal can be struck with Saudi Arabia then the blockade is effectively over. Qatar's only land border is with Saudi and if Qatar Airways can use Saudi airspace then the other countries will not be a hinderance.

The idea has met with mixed reactions amongst people that I know. People are happy at the thought it might end but it's been over three years now and everyone is kinda used to things being this way. Plus I don't think most Qataris are going to be traveling to Saudi anytime soon. One friend stated he wouldn't go for at least a year. It is unlikely Qataris are going to get warm welcomes from many Saudi people for a while yet. Plus, will they allow Saudis to travel into Qatar right away? Saudi is still having troubles with COVID (they report 200-300 cases a day, yet 10-20 deaths a day, which indicates the actual daily case rate is way higher, probably 3000-4000 a day).

COVID cases in Qatar have been gradually creeping down. Some days internal cases are 150-170 but today it was 108. I think you'd have to go back to May to find numbers that low. Hopefully hospitalizations decrease, it's under 300 but there are still over 30 people in ICU. I found out that Qatari who passed away recently was in the ICU for a number of months! Poor man, that must have been horrible.

If the blockade ends would I go to Saudi? Well I haven't been there yet (until recently they did not have general tourist visas that one could apply for) but given the years of tension I doubt I will be visiting anytime soon.


Saturday, November 28, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- Vaccine Hope

Cases are still steady at 150-180 community cases each day, with 40-60 additional cases a day from travelers in quarantine. I wish the cases would lower but they stubbornly stay at the same levels. There have been 1-3 deaths a week but at least the second wave appears to be over in neighbouring Bahrain. Cases loads in other GCC countries are still fairly high.  I don't think it'll really start to go down until a vaccine is circulated.


Which of course is the big news, trials of three different vaccines have completed with great results and now all of the talk is when countries will receive them, how many doses they will get, and how they will be distributed. Talk in Qatar is the country could receive a vaccine in late-December, and a well-connected Qatari that I spoke to says the Government has already drafted up its priority list for who will receive the vaccine. Some people have wondered about whether enough people will take it or not, what if people refuse, etc. but they are thinking like Westerners. If the Qatar Government demands a expat take the vaccine your choices are: do it, have a medical exemption, or leave the country. This place isn't going to play around and cater to anti-vaxxer nonsense. So things could be back to normal soon. I expect February or March but a friend of mine in the medical field figures it'll take longer to get enough of the vaccine to create herd immunity, likely by June or July 2021. So there is still a ways to go.


Meanwhile some people are planning trips to the Maldives thanks to a travel bubble that was set up at two resorts. The resorts are separate islands and will only have guests from Qatar and the staff have already quarantined for two weeks. So you fly from Qatar to the Maldives on Qatar Airways (you have to book the resorts from Qatar Airways), go straight to the resort and stay there, full board. When you fly back to Qatar you don't need to quarantine because you were only at the resort. It's a neat idea and a number of people here are planning trips. Not me though, the minimum stay is five days and I'm not the kind of person who can just sit on a beach for five days. 


No trips for me, I'm staying put. Just need to be careful for a few more months.



Monday, November 09, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Updates - No Second Wave, Unlike Most of the World

 COVID cases are slowly lowering, now most days it is under 200. 30-50 cases are from travellers in quarantine so if you factor those out Qatar is consistently in the 140-170 cases a day now. Testing hasn't slowed down though, 8,000-10,000 tests are done everyday. People are getting tested for any type of flu or cold symptoms, a friend of mine did yesterday when he came down with a cold (he tested negative). With the border shut due to the blockade as long as Qatar keeps quarantining travellers arriving by air, and mandating protective measures like masks and use of the Etheraz app, there shouldn't be a second wave.

I sometimes use COVID statistics to remind people here just how much the Qatari Government has done. Many people do not really grasp just how well Qatar has weathered this storm and how all of its work has kept things from being much worse than it could (and should) have been. We are all aware of the second waves rampaging through Europe, the Middle East, and the US and it's bad. To think a few months ago I was pondering if the EU would put Qatar on its "low-risk" countries list, now Qatar has fewer cases per day (per capita) than most European countries. 

But the US in particular is a shocking comparison. The US is a very large country so while the overall average is scary when you get to looking at individual states you can really see how it is, or was back when the northeast had that devastating first wave.

Qatar is currently at a 4.77% infection rate, only Bahrain is higher. The US is at 3.1%, UK at 1.75% and Canada at 0.7%, but when you look at individual US states, the worst are:

North Dakota: 7.12%

South Dakota: 6.25%

Iowa: 4.84%

Wisconsin: 4.59%

Nebraska: 4.25%

So around 7% of the population of the Dakotas has caught COVID. Wow!


But it's the death rate that is tragic.  Qatar is at 82 per million people, quite low compared to the West. Canada is at 278, UK at 721, France at 619 and Italy, burned in peoples' minds as one of the worst-hit countries, is at 685. So how bad was that initial wave in the US northeast? Here's the top five US States by death rate:

New Jersey: 1,865

New York 1,739

Massachusetts: 1,472

Connecticut: 1,310

Louisiana: 1,298

As far as I can tell all five of those States have death rates higher than any country in the world. New York and New Jersey have nearly triple the death rate of Italy. If Qatar had a similar death rate an additional 5,000 people would have died (currently it is at 232 dead).

Qatar quelled the pandemic and treated everyone in hospital for free. It does deserve recognition for its efforts.

 

 

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Update - Still the Same

Nothing has changed much, still hovering around 200 cases a day, travel restrictions and quarantines still in place. No new restrictions added. It could definitely be worse, other GCC countries experienced a second wave and the number of cases and deaths went up. Qatar has been spared that at least. Lots of the detected cases are from travellers returning to Qatar and sitting in quarantine, some days up to 40 cases are from travellers. Goes to show how prevalent the virus is in the world and how if you fly anywhere there is a reasonable chance someone on the plane will have COVID. Flying is still risky.

Yesterday marked a milestone, Bahrain passed Qatar for most detected cases per capita in the world (well, except the micronation of Andorra). Qatar no longer has that unfortunate title. With so many other nations having a second, or third, wave if Qatar can keep the restrictions in place and keep things to 200 cases a day or lower then Qatar will drop down the "most cases per capita" list fast. To reach Qatar's total though the US would need 15m cases (currently it's at 9m) but let's face it, many nations did not do enough testing and their reported numbers are lower than the actual. 

My life is reasonably normal now. I go to the office, meet with friends occasionally, went to the beach with some people the other day. I wear a mask always but outdoors almost no one else does. Malls and office buildings are still quite strict but shops on the street less so. Went to the mall yesterday and it was very crowded, more than I was expecting. I wasn't comfortable with that so I got a coffee to go and soon left without going grocery shopping like I planned. I figured back in June COVID would be mostly over by now in low-risk areas like Europe, boy was I naive. Multiple waves follows the pattern of the last major pandemic, the 1918 'Spanish Flu', which had three distinct waves, so I suppose there was no reason to think only one wave was going to happen this time. It's not like the world did something extraordinarily different from 1918 to stop the pandemic. We can only count our lucky stars that the mortality rate is a lot lower than initially expected. Remember when it was first going around China the mortality was thought to be as high as 3-4%. It looks like it is more around 0.3-0.5%, though we will not know for sure unless we figure out exactly how many people ultimately were infected. 

The other excitement of the day is the current uproar the Muslim world has with France, given comments by Macron and others. Lots of people here are boycotting French products and on social media I see lots of information being shared about which brands and shops are French. Most (not all though) of my Muslim friends are boycotting but non-Muslim expats don't appear to be too concerned about it.

As for the US Election the general view is 'meh'. No one is too fussed about it, Qatar has its own problems to worry about (COVID, oil prices, blockade, lack of travelling) so while everyone is aware it's happening, I don't think anyone is thinking much about what would happen afterwards. I can't wait for it to be over though, getting so sick of seeing it dominate all the news.






Monday, October 05, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- Under 200 Cases a Day


It's been a while since I posted -- I'm wondering if people thought I came down with COVID!  No, I'm fine, I have not been ill. Just a lot of work and stuff keeping me busy.


For the most part Qatar was holding steady at 200+ cases a day, and the occasional death, but the number of cases was slowly creeping down and for the last four days it has been under 200 cases a day, which is great.  Maybe the long consistency of 200+ cases was due to the schools opening.


Today was 194 cases but the Government statistics notes that 14 cases are from returning travelers in quarantine so the number of community cases is 180. It's an improvement but people need to stay vigilant about masks and so forth, there are currently 377 people in hospital, and of those 59 are in ICU, so the virus is still making a lot of people seriously ill. The number of active cases is around 2800, which is roughly what one would expect from 200 cases a day over two weeks, and a far cry from the peak when Qatar was getting over 2000 cases A DAY!


Qatar is doing much better than other Gulf countries who are reporting large numbers of cases (Bahrain, UAE) or deaths (Saudi, Oman). The Government still has strict entry controls and quarantines in place.


But 200-ish cases a day means that slowly, but surely, the virus is spreading. Gone are the days when no one knew someone who had the virus, now almost all my friends know somebody (relatives, friends, co-workers) who caught it. In my office at least three people have had it (no deaths thankfully). Does this mean people have become more careful? Nope! I am the only one wearing a mask at a majlis or when visiting friends. It is stricter in malls and restaurants though. My fear is that it will take someone close getting the virus before people take things seriously again. My fear is finding out there was a "super-spreader" event at a majlis and suddenly many of my friends and their families fall ill.


I was hoping to travel this November-December to somewhere but alas that just doesn't seem likely anymore. I was too optimistic about the virus diminishing and there being no second wave.


Stay safe everyone. 

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Updates - Still no Second Wave, but not Reducing Either

This week saw the daily number of cases stay steady in the 200s. Schools started so we will see if next week that will lead to a second wave. Many countries in the world, especially in Europe, are dealing with a huge increase in cases but so far in Qatar that hasn't happened yet. I spoke to someone that I know in the public medical field here and they told me most of the cases appeared to be Qataris and white-collar expats, with a lot of spread amongst families. They don't see as many blue-collar expat cases as before. This means an increased likelihood of the virus spreading in schools, most blue-collars workers do not have their families here so daily cases are more likely to reach children.


Is there any reason to trust the data from the Government? I think so. Remember Qatar has the highest per capita number of detected cases in the world, currently at 4.3% of the population. The next highest rate is Bahrain at 3.4% (UK is at 0.5%, US at 1.9%, Canada at 0.35%). If Qatar was fudging numbers to "look good" they wouldn't be reporting such a large number of cases, Qatar could have reported a quarter of the cases and people would have believed it.


Nowadays for COVID-19 stats I go to worldometers.info, which updates information as they receive it. You can report information as long as you cite a source -- in the last few months I sent them updates based on Government presentations and the website was updated within 15 minutes. They also have charts/graphs for every country and examining them shows interesting trends.



Qatar has a solid bell curve when the first wave hit in May-June, which then tapers off to where we are today, roughly 200-300 cases a day.



The deaths follow a similar pattern, with a 2-4 week delay from the peak.




But when you look at Saudi Arabia, you see a similar bell curve for cases:

But not for deaths, which have barely reduced:


That the death rates have not significantly decreased is odd given the dramatic drop in daily cases. It indicates a problem with the data, either Saudi is not detecting cases well anymore or they might be counting deaths as COVID-19 related when perhaps they are not.


Bahrain has entered a second wave -- daily cases are now worse than ever (and on a per-capita basis nearly seven times worse than Qatar):


And the deaths are starting to pick up as well. Sadly the country passed Qatar in total deaths this week, despite having roughly half the population.





Kuwait never appeared to get a handle on things, daily cases have been steady since mid-May:


But look at the deaths:


I am guessing Kuwait wasn't detecting many of the COVID-19 cases back in May-June as the death rate then was much higher than it is now, despite the detected number of cases not decreasing significantly. Per capita case rate is also more than double Qatar's right now so it's hard to say if Kuwait is in the beginning of a second wave since the first wave never seemed to taper off.


Finally Oman. I don't know what happened here, it appears in August they stopped publishing frequent case data because the information suddenly becomes sparse:


But look at the deaths!


Is it a second wave? It's hard to say, the big spikes occur after a gap in data, it's possible that Oman is reporting all of the deaths over the period, so you have data for 3-5 days in one go.


So Qatar's data seems to follow an expected cases to deaths pattern, whereas with some of the other nearby countries it can be a bit more problematic. I don't see any reason to mistrust the Qatar data at this time.


Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Coronavirus Updates and a Huge Change to Employment Rules

What I was worried would be a post-Eid spike in COVID-19 did not occur, thankfully. All through the month cases held steady but slowly decreased from the upper 200s a day to the low 200s, it was even under 200 a couple of days ago. A slight decrease yes but overall I would say it was steady through the month. Deaths are 2-3 a week now instead of every day. There's still over 60 people in ICU though. The Ministry has added a new statistic about how many of the new cases are from travelers in quarantine, which is around 10-12 a day, so the number of community cases is actually at or just below 200 a day now.


The Government was not entirely happy with how things have developed so decided not to go completely to Phase 4 of removing lockdown restrictions today. Some restrictions were removed but others remain so I guess we moved to Phase 3-and-a-half. The Government hopes to move to phase 4 in a couple of weeks. The Metro opened today but at 30% capacity, and offices are still at maximum 80% of staffing. Spa/massage services are still closed.


Unfortunately part of phase 3 travel restrictions was that Qataris coming in from low-risk countries could self-quarantine at home for a week. Months ago when self-quarantine was allowed many Qataris would ignore it and the Government would arrest them. And guess what's happening now? Arrests for breaking quarantine! Five yesterday, four the day before. Some people don't learn.


I think the Government is being cautious as it is waiting to see what happens with the opening of schools. This was the other area that I was concerned could lead to a second wave, face-to-face schooling. Schools opened today so we'll see what happens over the next two weeks.



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In non-COVID news the Government announced a big change to labour laws, raising the minimum wage slightly but, more importantly, removing the requirement for a No Objection Certificate ('NOC') to change jobs.


Most workers in the Middle East are foreigners and it can be expensive for an employer to bring workers. Flights, visas, and so forth add up, usually to thousands of dollars. So employers were concerned about spending a bunch of money to bring people in, only to have them start job-hunting when they arrive and change jobs as soon as they get a better offer. Also a business could save money by poaching staff from competitors, just wait for someone else to spend the money bringing workers then offer those workers a slightly better salary to move to you. To protect against that the NOC system was created, for the first X years of employment (I think two in Qatar) the employee cannot change jobs without receiving an NOC from the employer. Unfortunately this system gave the employers a lot of power over employees, many of whom went into debt in their home countries to pay an agency for the job so now they can't afford to leave. Result: employees who can't leave an abusive employer. The NOC is a key part of why there are problems with workers in the Gulf being unfairly treated.


So Qatar will be removing the NOC, allowing workers to give a months notice (might be two, it depends on how long you worked for the employer) then leave for another job. It's a great step for workers' rights. However I suspect implementing this is not going to be all rainbows and unicorns as now the country will have to deal with staff immediately leaving or competitors poaching. But that is an issue for the companies, and a company was underpaying workers or treating them poorly they deserve to have them leave and be stuck with costs. In the long-term, after the initial 'growing pains' it should result in improvements for workers in terms of salary and treatment and I hope it results in significant improvements for low-paid workers. I am sure other countries in the Gulf will be closely watching how this develops, as will Human Rights groups.


The exact this will occur depends on when the new law is gazzetted, H.H. the Emir signed it though.



Stay safe everyone.

 

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- No Second Spike (so far)

It has been three weeks since Eid ended and there has been no evidence of a sharp increase in cases. Things are holding steady at around 230-290 cases a day, it could be better but at least it hasn't become worse. Unfortunately people here are being pretty laid-back about it now, in March when over 200 cases was first reported it was a huge deal and people were very concerned, now people are just going on with their lives. At least restaurants and malls are still strict about mask wearing and temperature scans. Most restaurants aren't open for dine-in either, take-away and delivery is standard for almost all of them now but many do not allow you to eat inside. 

While there was talk of the Government delaying moving to Phase 4 (currently scheduled for September 1st) there have been no announcements. I realize it has been almost six months but people need to still take things seriously. There are still hundreds of people in hospital, over 60 in ICU, and people are still dying from the virus. Until such time as there is a vaccine precautions are always going to be needed. Today was around 280 cases, or about 100 cases per 1,000,000 people. It doesn't seem like a lot but that is higher than most countries. Yesterday the UK reported 19 per million, Spain 78, Canada 7, and in the US, which everyone considers to be a complete basket case of COVID, it was 134. The population of Qatar is roughly the same as the city of Vancouver and if Vancouver reported over 200 cases a day they'd be shutting things down.

The Government is hopeful for a vaccine by the end of the year and is already planning the acquisition and distribution should one be available. I am a bit skeptical of something by the end of the year, especially if it is that vaccine announced out-of-the-blue by Russia.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- possibly a second wave?

The last few weeks saw a gradual decline in cases but now they, at first glance, appear to be increasing. People are already discussing a second wave. I thought so at first as well but looking at the numbers now I am not sure if it is a significant trend.

The issue is the Eid Al-Adha holiday, which started on July 31st. If we look at the daily case rate in Qatar over the last three weeks, starting at July 23rd:

July

23: 373 

24: 394

25: 398

26: 269

27: 292

28: 283

29: 273

30: 307


then it's the Eid break


31: 235

1: 216

2: 196

3: 215

4: 216


then Eid break is over


5: 267

6: 287

7: 291

8: 267

9: 297

10: 315

11: 384

12: 292

13: 343

14: 251


There's definitely an increase from the 9th-13th when you compare it to the lowest segment, during Eid, but given that the lowest numbers happen to occur during a major holiday makes me wonder if the fact that it was a holiday explains the drop in cases. People might have been less inclined to go for testing, maybe contact tracing efforts slowed down as staff were on holiday, who knows. It does seem like an odd coincidence though.


The last five days are comparable to mid-late July so it might be that Qatar is just continuing on its curve flattening. If you ignore the Eid numbers it seems reasonably consistent.


Now in earlier blog posts I noted my concern that the Eid holiday would result in an increase in cases as people socialized over the holiday. It is now 10 days after the last Eid day so an increase in cases should be seen now. That might account for the slight increase we are seeing. If that's all the increase then it is a lot better than I thought it could be, I was worried post-Eid we would see a big spike. Today looks pretty good so there might not be a spike after all.

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.


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- Sad Milestone

Unfortunately five more people died in the last 24 hours. Qatar has passed 100 deaths from the virus, the total is at 104. Given that Qatar has over 90,000 confirmed cases that is a death toll of 0.11%, which is very low but still it's sad that it happened. The Government warned yesterday that the death toll will increase as people from the peak (when it was 2000+ cases a day) are starting to pass away. Deaths appear to lag cases by 2-4 weeks.

Daily cases have picked up a bit again and have been at 1,000-1,200 a day. The Government has said that they are seeing an increase in cases amongst the Qatari and professional expat population and so reiterated that people need to continue to take precautions. Phase 2 of lifting restrictions isn't until next week but if things start to get worse the Government will reinstate restrictions.

I'm not sure what the 'new normal' will be like for the next few months. I can't see myself going to malls or shops, and the thought of going to a majlis where there are a lot of people would make me anxious. At least gatherings are restricted to ten people during July. I just wish we could see a significant drop in cases to give some confidence that things are definitely subsiding. Yes going from 2,000+ cases to 1,000+ cases is great but that is still a lot of cases in such a small country.

I still have plenty of supplies so I'm not in a rush to get groceries thankfully.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Updates - Below 1000 Daily Cases now

The case rate keeps going down and today it fell to 881, the first time since early May that there were fewer than 1,000 cases. Recoveries have outpaced new cases for over a week now so I think Qatar is definitely over the peak. Still a ways to go though, 881 cases in a small country like Qatar is a big number. Around a quarter of tests are positive.

Sadly the deaths from the peak are now occurring. Some days it's only one but other days much more, a few days ago seven people died. Total deaths is now at 98. It's shocking seeing the ages of the people who passed, lots in their 40s and 50s, and today someone aged 37 died.

The next phase of lifting restrictions is July 1, so 10 days away. If daily case numbers keep decreasing during that time then it should be alright.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus - A New Drug and Qatar Travel Restrictions Update


Yesterday I noted there were questions around when expats can return from abroad without paying for two weeks of quarantine. According to the quarantine hotel booking site (discoverqatar.qa) it is September 16th but things could change. Just now the Government rolled it back a week, earlier today the website showed September 23rd.

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Now the real excitement. British researchers have discovered a drug, Dexamethasone, a common steroid that is available worldwide, reduces mortality from severe Covid-19 cases. In patients on ventilators deaths went from 40% of cases to 28%, and for patients on oxygen deaths were reduced from 25% to 20%. The drug is cheap and easily accessible, and as it is a steroid it shouldn't have horrible complications or side effects. The first real treatment for Covid that is shown to reduce mortality! It's not a miracle cure but it will save thousands of lives.

That said it does not mean covid-19 is over and everything goes back to normal, a lot of people will still die from the virus. But it's a great start, more drugs are being tested, and this could open up new avenues of research once scientists figure out what specifically about dexamethasone helps patients.

This is why flattening the curve was the right thing to do, buying time. Buying time for hospitals, buying time for treatments to be developed. One or two more drug discoveries and we could be at the point of deterring things until a vaccine is created.

Go Science!

Monday, June 15, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Updates - Phase 1 of Lifting Restrictions


Just a quick note today. Phase 1 of removing coronavirus lockdown restrictions occurred today. Some mosques are open, as well as some parks, and some malls can open from 8am to 8pm on weekdays (not weekends though) with limits to capacity and the shops that can open. On social media I have seen some videos/pictures of people in the malls. Everyone is wearing masks of course, and you're not allowed in unless you show your Ehteraz app and that it is green.

I'd say shopping is a bit risky, the daily case rate has definitely come down in the last two days but is at more than a 1000 cases a day. That's a lot of cases. I am certainly not planning to go to a mall for a long time, likely August or September. Hopefully the case rate does not increase next week or the restrictions could be put back in place.

There are also questions around when expats can return from abroad without paying for two weeks of quarantine. So far that will be in place for sure until August 31st but that is still going to be an issue for people returning so their kids can start school. Also hotel capacity could be an issue. Typically hundreds of thousands of people leave during the summer, there are not enough hotels rooms for them all if they come back near the end of summer! Now not everyone will leave this year, I know of three families who decided to stay put instead of travel, and some countries have not opened their airports yet, but it could still mean tens (and tens!) of thousands leave instead of hundreds of thousands.

Not an issue that affects me at the moment but we'll see what happens with the quarantine restrictions closer to August.


Friday, June 12, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Updates (and Economy Update)



I have now found out that the Ehteraz app is indeed a proximity detector. Yesterday I received this message on my phone:


So it appears that someone in my building had contact with a confirmed case so they are self-quarantining (if the person had tested positive they would be at a quarantine center). I was in my apartment so I was not at risk from whomever this was. So the good news is the proximity detector works, the bad news is that because it is someone in my building I am now receiving this message numerous times, today I got it four times so far.

As for the virus, cases are still well over 1,000 a day, today it was 1,500+ but recoveries are now outpacing the new cases most days. There are still over 200 people in ICU and everyday deaths are being reported, although today it was only one. Seventy people have died so far from the virus. On the 15th phase 1 of lifting restrictions occurs but it is not a significant lifting (thankfully). Many mosques will reopen but limit the number of worshippers. I spoke to some friends today and none are planning to attend mosques yet, they will continue to pray at home for the next while.


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The economic downturn caused by the virus and the oil price crash has led the Qatari Government to announce a dramatic change. Ministries, other Government organizations, and entities sponsored by the Government, must slash 30% of expat staff costs effective immediately. It can be salary cuts, layoffs, a mixture of both, it doesn't matter how the 30% reduction is accomplished but it must be done. Qataris will be fine of course, though some Government benefits, such as paying out excess vacation time, will cease for Qataris as well so even citizens will face some impacts.

While this news is perhaps not too surprising, countries like Saudi Arabia recently enacted economic measures like sales tax increases (from 5% to 15%) and removing some worker benefits, this is the first all-around cut by the Qatar Government focusing on expat workers. There are also layoffs in the private sector, announced by companies such as Qatar Airways (~9,000 employees). The oil industry will also surely be laying off people, how many is hard to predict.

The impact will be significant and it will take some time for the economy to adjust. There will be the immediate impact of layoffs but it is the knock-on effect that will be hard to gauge: the already softening rental market will take a hit, private schools will face huge uncertainty regarding enrollment in September, workers who have their pay cut might search for another job and leave when they find one, and consumer spending will definitely take a hit just as the retail sector is gearing up to reopen. Based on experience with the previous oil price crash in 2014 large and expensive goods will face the biggest hit -- no one will buy a new car or furniture if they are uncertain about their job (or took a big pay cut), and bankers are definitely going to be worried about the bank's personal loans and whether people will be able to repay them. Rental housing/apartment construction will likely grind to a near-halt, which means layoffs in the construction sector in the next 3-12 months. So the economy will take time to re-adjust to the new post-lockdown reality.

The oil price is not going to rebound anytime soon and current prices of $35-40 a barrel is not enough to balance the Government's budget, so the cuts are here to stay. It is just a matter of how the economy reacts over the next year. I imagine that other Governments in the Gulf will be watching closely and may implement similar cuts, Kuwait in particular has faced a lot of calls internally to cut the expat workforce in the country.


Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- Government Announces Plan to Lift Restrictions

Yesterday the Government held a press conference to announce the plan for lifting restrictions in Qatar. Soon the presentation/plan was all over social media -- I received three separate copies (two Arabic, one English) within 20 minutes of each other.

The timing might seem a bit odd as Qatar is still in the middle of the peak. Today there were 1,721 new cases and, sadly, five people died, the most that have died in a single day yet. However in the last three days the number of daily recoveries has been roughly the same as the number of new cases. The Government pointed out how everyone's efforts truly did flatten the curve so there is a manageable caseload over a longer period of time, ultimately preventing a situation like what occurred in Italy, Spain or Wuhan.

I think one of the reasons for announcing the plan now is to reassure people. The school term is about to end for the summer and this is when hundreds of thousands leave the searing heat for long vacations either back home or in more temperate places. Problem though, currently expats can leave Qatar but cannot return. When will that be lifted? Will the country then require two-week quarantines? What about the next school year, will kids go back to school? And when can businesses plan to reopen? I think that is why the Government announced the plan now, so that everyone can plan accordingly. It is not because the virus is subsiding now. The plan covers the entire summer, it's not like everything will be open next week.


The Government will do a 4-phase rollout:

Phase 1 - June 15th: some mosques can open, as can some shops and malls, but with restrictions as to capacity. On an essential basis an expat can leave and return to Qatar but they are subject to two-week quarantine at a hotel (and the person must pay for the hotel stay). Private clinics can have limited opening (with capacity and other restrictions).

Phase 2 - July 1st: Gatherings of up to 10 people can now be held, parks & beaches (but not playgrounds) open, all malls can open with capacity restrictions, some restaurants as well, offices can have up to 50% of staff working in the building (originally 20%).

Phase 3 - August 1st: Gatherings of up to 40 people, expats returning from low-risk areas might not require quarantine, playgrounds open, increased capacity for malls & restaurants & private clinics, gyms and barbershops can now open at reduced capacity. Offices can have 80% of the workforce at the premises.

Phase 4 - September 1st: Restrictions essentially lifted (I'm guessing except for things like wearing masks and social distancing). Expats returning from high-risk areas might need quarantine.



So the Government appears to think the virus will have subsided significantly by August, which seems reasonable. The phase timings are subject to change of course if things suddenly get worse.

The timing of opening barbers is important as August 1st will be during Eid Al-Adha. Traditionally people wear new clothes and have haircuts at that time to look their best so barbers will be in high demand.

It also does mean I will be in my apartment until August at least. Friends are already planning small majlis gatherings in July and I might go occasionally depending on if things start to settle down in Qatar. Luckily I also have plans to go on vacation in mid-August and return in early September, so hopefully everything goes in accordance with the Government plan so that I'll be able to return.

Friday, June 05, 2020

The Qatar Blockade -- Now Three Years

With all the craziness going on in 2020 I am willing to bet most people outside of the Middle East forgot that Qatar is still under a blockade by Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. It has been three years now since that day it was declared.

Needless to say everyone here is used to this 'new normal' and life has moved on. Three years ago when it first happened it was a nervous time. Was Qatar going to be invaded? Will there be a war? I got a bit jumpy whenever I heard military planes flying overhead. But everything settled into a blockade.

Over time Qatar pushed for a lot more self-sufficiency. There is now a dairy farm for milk, greenhouses for vegetables, warehouses for storing extra foods, factories to produce things domestically that were once imported, new Qatar Airways routes, the Qatari Government really stepped up during the crisis and got things happening. It was actually impressive how quickly they adapted to the blockade and changed how they did things.

This served Qatar well during the pandemic. There was already plenty of food in warehouses, factories producing sanitizer, and I'm willing to bet many of the field construction and other medical plans were part of their preparations in case the blockade got ugly, which they them implemented for the pandemic instead. If you look at my blog posts from March you'll read about all the stuff they were doing to prepare for the pandemic, while other countries were in denial or telling people to inject disinfectant. That 18,000-bed quarantine centre seemed like an overreaction when the Government announced it -- but they were right and by May it was needed.

Will the blockade ever end? Not in the short-term I doubt. Some of my friends were upbeat about some diplomatic developments but I have heard this sort of thing numerous times over the years and am skeptical it will resolve things. The biggest issue is how to end this yet have everyone save face? Saudi/UAE sent a list of demands three years ago, Qatar complied with none of them, and since then it's been a propaganda war with media in the blockading countries saying all sorts of things about Qatar. That will be hard to step back from and go, "oops, sorry about that".


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In Coronavirus news the Government loosened some restrictions. People can exercise outside without a mask (maintain distancing though), restrictions on the number of people in a car has been lifted, and most retail shops are now allowed to open except personal services such as barbers and spas. I don't think shops in malls are allowed to open yet though (I could be wrong). Lifting the restrictions is at an odd time, new cases are still 1500-2000 a day. Four people died today as well (49 total) so Qatar is not over the peak yet. Maybe the Ehteraz app is working well and allowing the Government to trace cases better. No changes to expat travel -- expats can leave if they wish but cannot enter the country.

Anyway, I'm still staying home.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- Most Cases per Capita in the World

New cases are fluctuating, sometimes 1600ish, sometimes over 2000 a day. 1,901 new cases were announced today for a total of 62,160. Over 2% of the population have been diagnosed with the virus now, a greater % of detected cases than any other country.

Deaths are also occurring at a rate of 2-3 a day. 45 have died so far. It's the age ranges that worry me sometimes, people in their 40s and 50s are succumbing to the virus. It was expected though, because most of the population are working expats deaths would tend to be in the younger age range so be more infrequent than in the West. The death rate is still incredibly low given the number of cases.

The huge spate of recoveries has slowed. It turns out that international protocols changed: instead of releasing someone from quarantine after a series of negative tests, they can be released after 14 days of the first positive test. This resulted in something like 15,000 people being released from quarantine over four days. Now recoveries will mirror how many were diagnosed two weeks ago (today was 1,501). It should take some pressure off of the quarantine facilities at least.

Not really seeing a decline yet. Staying put at home. A friend bought me groceries during one of his shopping runs so I am set for at least six more weeks without needing to leave the apartment.


Friday, May 29, 2020

What I Get Up to Staying at Home


Decided to see how my new "lockdown beard" works with a Qatari thobe and gurtra.



Thursday, May 28, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Updates – Steady, Likely at the Peak

Daily cases were high but holding steady at 1500-1800 a day. Today however was a new record, 1,967, and the total cases is at 50,914. However the number of cases recovering each day exceeded the new cases for the first time, at 2,116. Typically 1,300-1,600 were recovering each day now so, with luck, over the next week it will reach a point where recoveries consistently exceed new cases, and the curve will start to decline.

With the increase in cases the number of deaths is increasing. The last few days 2-4 people are dying a day. Total deaths is now at 33. Recall that nine days ago it was 15 deaths. One of the people who died today was 25 years old.

While all of this is tragic Qatar did manage to achieve a key goal. Remember how in March and April it was all about "flattening the curve" to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. Well the countries efforts appeared to have bought it a lot of time -- at least two months to prepare. While the virus ravaged Europe, then America, Qatar had relatively few cases so had time for preparing hospitals, quarantine facilities, back-up plans in case the current hospitals get full, and so forth. In addition, because the emergency is starting to recede in Europe, if things get really bad Qatar will likely be able to call on resources from Europe such as ventilators and medical personnel. Last month Qatar had been sending medical supplies to countries such as Italy to assist them with the outbreak so I'm sure they'd return the favour if needed. Over 200 people are currently in ICU but Qatar still has space in the hospitals for more patients. Had this happened in March it might have been a bigger problem for medical services.

The Government also announced the lifting of a restriction. Starting June 1st the ban on Qatari citizens travelling will be lifted and they will be allowed to leave the country. Currently Qataris were only allowed to fly into the country (and be quarantined by the Government for two weeks) but not allowed to leave the country. Expats were always able to leave but were not allowed to return into Qatar (that restriction is still in place). This is why India has been able to have repatriations flights for its citizens. The effort has ramped up and now there are something like 7-10 flights a week to take Indians back home. Other countries such as Nepal did not close their airports so did not need the huge repatriation efforts that India is doing -- Qatar Airways is still flying to many countries so if there are flights then a citizen from that country can just take the Qatar flight home.

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A note on hot weather and the virus. Qatar has the highest number of cases per capita in the world after micronation San Marino (and Qatar will likely pass them in about 3-4 days to have the highest per capita cases in the world). The average high here is 42 degrees Celsius. Hot weather is not preventing the virus spread. If anyone tells you about hot weather killing the virus tell them about Qatar. People hoped that Covid-19 would be similar to "regular" flu and subside in the summer but it appears to have been wishful thinking.


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I have essentially been in my apartment for 72 days now. I'm doing okay, not going as stir crazy as many people are. I'm a person who enjoys solitude and living on my own so that helps. No need for a grocery run either -- a friend just picked up some groceries for me during his grocery run. I shouldn't even need to go get groceries until the virus subsides here. A haircut would be nice though.


Sunday, May 24, 2020

Eid Mubarak Everyone


Well, Ramadan is officially over. Eid Al-Fitr has begun and now I can eat during the day again. I celebrated with an oatmeal breakfast and coffee this morning (at home of course).

It is so strange going through Ramadan without doing any of the usual activities:

Watching them fire the Ramadan Cannon
Watching the Corniche car parade
Meeting friends for iftars or sohours at hotels
Going to Katara to watch the Garangao celebrations
Going to empty malls in the afternoon, or marveling at the crowded malls around midnight

None of that happened this year.

The Government is worried about Eid of course, a time when people do lots of visiting to friends and relatives. The Government is encouraging people to forego personal visits this year to prevent the spread of the virus. I hope many will listen but I am not too sure. The Government has a right to be concerned, coronavirus cases have been 1500-1800+ per day this week and the number of hospitalizations and deaths are rising. In the last two days four people have died, bringing the total to 23. Things are still quite serious here.


Tonight my friends and I will meet in a virtual majlis. It is the only way to safely do Eid-celebrating right now.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Update -- The Gov't is Serious About the App


Another day and sadly another record, 1,830 cases detected in Qatar in the last 24 hours. At least the daily recoveries are picking up, it's now around 600-900 a day. Unfortunately it is not outpacing new cases and the number of people in hospitals, and admitted to ICU, keeps growing. A Ministry spokesman noted that a patient admitted to ICU is there for two to three weeks, even longer if they have other underlying illnesses.

Also, sadly, two more people passed away, bringing the number to 19. The two who died were aged 50 and 43, around my age! Just a reminder of why one needs to be careful.

Today is the day that people in Qatar must have downloaded and started using the Ehteraz tracker app. And the Government is not kidding about this. I went out this afternoon to pick up an iftar meal from my Qatari friend and his father and to my surprise came across a police checkpoint on the road. The police were asking everyone to show the Ehteraz app working on their phones! I assume they were also checking that everyone was wearing masks, no more than two to a car etc, but that is easy enough to check. So I had to open my phone and show them that I had the app and that it was working.


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Tomorrow is likely the last day of Ramadan. It was so odd spending it at home. When the virus restrictions started happening I figured it would be over before Ramadan. How wrong I was.


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Two Months of Staying in the Apartment

I have now been in my apartment for two months. Aside from one trip to the grocery store, and picking up iftar meals from that kind Qatari gentleman, I have not left the apartment, not even for a walk around the neighbourhood.

Enjoy this before and after photos of me:


Yes I could trim the beard but I like growing it as a 'legacy' of this difficult time. I just wish I could straighten it instead of my beard being this semi-wavy mess. After this is all over I might keep the beard if I can neaten it up a little.


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As required by the Government I downloaded the Ehteraz coronavirus tracking app. It does have some nice features:


Here's the main screen showing my health status. Green means 'good health', i.e. the Government is not aware of you having the virus or are at risk of having it. The color would change if you were in quarantine or confirmed to have it. The colour will go grey if you are suspected to be exposed. I think if the Government detects a case of the virus then they will use the app to determine who was near the person at which point they will turn your colour grey and you'll probably receive a notice to go get tested.


The latest daily case information is available on the app.


And announcements by the Ministry of Public Health are sent directly to you, with notifications appearing on your phone when a message comes in.


Hopefully the app helps the Government get a handle on the outbreak. One more person died today and more people have been placed in ICU.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Updates – Might be at the Peak (I hope)


Qatar continues to have significant daily cases, anywhere from 1100-1600+ a day. Today was 1,637. Large numbers but relatively stable. Maybe this is the peak?

The Ministry of Health is now providing additional statistics with the daily reports (covid19.moph.gov.qa) including the number of tests, hospitalizations and so forth. There are almost 30,000 active cases now and 1,452 are in hospital, with 163 people in ICU. Despite the increase in hospitalizations the number of deaths is still low. One more person passed away a couple of days ago, bringing the total to 15.

What is worrisome is that 4,487 tests were done yesterday, which means over a third of tests came back positive.




Ramadan is almost over, I think Eid Al-Fitr is the 23rd or 24th. The Government has announced additional restrictions:

a. Shops will be closed until May 30th, except grocery stores and pharmacies. I think restaurants can still do pick-up and delivery.

b. Everyone now has to download an app on their phone, Ehteraz, that will allow the Government to track movements to improve contact tracing. It apparently will also alert you if you are near someone who has the virus or possibly has it. (I think the Government updates a colour code depending on your status and the app then warns others nearby?). It used to be voluntary to use the app but it will now be mandatory.

c. Limits to the number of passengers in vehicles, including buses.

And I mentioned in my last post that wearing masks is now mandatory pretty much at all times if you are outside the house. You could face fines and up to three years in jail if you don’t, which generated a bit of internet buzz and got some international media coverage. I think the penalty is there to discourage Qataris, at least the ones that are rich enough to laugh off any fine.

The upcoming Eid holiday has been extended to support the business closures. Typically for Eid Al-Fitr banks are closed for three days but the Central Bank announced this year it will be five days, Sunday the 24th to Thursday the 28th. I have never seen the Central Bank ever do longer than three business days for Eid Al-Fitr. This means banks will essentially be closed for nine days including the weekends. Government offices will be closed longer than that. And I already mentioned that stores will be closed until May 30th.


The country will not be relaxing restrictions anytime soon I’m afraid.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Update -- Over 28,000 Total Cases


Today was another record unfortunately, with 1,733 new cases in one day. Total cases is 28,272. No one has died in the last few days so the death toll is still at 14.

The virus must be spreading heavily in neighbourhoods and compounds with low-wage workers. The crowded conditions are ideal for spreading the virus. I can't see how else it would be spreading at such a rate as to infect over 1500 a day. The Government has now announced that as of Sunday wearing masks at all times is mandatory for everyone when they are outside their home (except when driving a car on your own)

Hospital space is still fine and the Government continues to open more facilities. Recently they opened up a 500 bed recovery unit for people who have been through the worst and want to recover in a facility instead of self-quarantining at home. The article gives some insight as to why it seems to take 4-5 weeks for a case to fully recover. In Qatar after a person has been deemed fit to leave the Covid-19 hospitals (there's four of them now) the person must still isolate for two more weeks, only after that they will be considered recovered if they no longer test positive for the virus. So if a person spends 2-3 weeks in hospital they still have 2 weeks of quarantine to go before being declared recovered.

At the moment Qatar has the highest per capita infection rate in the world (behind micronations San Marino and the Vatican) but one of the lowest death rates. I explained in earlier posts it is likely due to the demographics, the majority of the population in Qatar are expat workers in their 20s-40s so are less susceptible to complications from Covid-19. Interestingly I think this plays out when you look at the other nearby countries:



Qatar has 2.8m people and Qataris make up only 10-12% of the population so there are a limited number of elderly in the country. There are some expat elderly here but not a lot. 28,272 cases, 14 deaths.

UAE has 10m people and a similar local population, Emiratis are around 10% or so of the people in the country. But the UAE has a much more extensive property development market, especially in Dubai, so has a greater population of elderly people from other countries who live/retire there. 21,084 cases, 208 deaths

Kuwait is about 4.7m, doesn't attract expats with property developments but the population is about 30-40% Kuwaiti so there are also more elderly. 11,975 cases, 88 deaths

Bahrain's population is 1.4m and about 50% local but its death rate is lower than places like UAE and Kuwait. 6,069 cases, 10 deaths.

Saudi Arabia's population is larger than all of the others combined at ~30m and is about 65% local. 46,869 cases, 283 deaths.



My self-isolation continues, it's been over 50 days now, I think 56, and it's not going to end anytime soon.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Update - over 1,100 new cases a day now!

In the last four days the number of daily cases has been over 1,100, and on one of those days it was 1,311 -- the highest amount of cases in one day yet.

Is this the peak? I sure hope so cause this is getting wild. Qatar is at 23,623 cases now. If the 1000+ cases a day continues then in 4-5 days a full 1% of the population will have had the virus (28,000 cases is 1%). That is A LOT! It's the equivalent of 3.3 million cases in the US or 350,000 cases in Canada. Neither country is close to that, at least under the official figures.

Two more people have unfortunately passed away, bringing the total to 14. It's tragic, but I guess a lot of countries wish their death rate would be that low.

Recoveries per day are still in the 100-200 range so it hasn't come close to the number of new cases discovered. That means more strain on health resources. However most of the cases are mild and don't need hospitalization, a couple of days ago a Ministry of Health spokesman said that there are still plenty of beds available for treating patients, and plans are in place to open more if needed. Mass testing of potential contacts of existing cases are discovering the mild cases.

At this rate it will be a long time before restrictions in Qatar are loosened. European countries are either talking about it or have already relaxed some restrictions. Canada as well. Qatar isn't even planning it yet. I can't blame them though.

Friday, May 08, 2020

14 Years in Qatar


With all of the Coronavirus isolation I completely forgot that as of May 1st I have been in Qatar for 14 years! I did not plan that at all, for all I knew I would be here 3-5 years then moved on. I'm glad I stayed and personally don't have plans to leave yet. Of course if I lose my job that's another story but so far so good. We'll see how the economic downturn due to low oil prices pans out over the next year.

10 years ago I had some black-and-white photos taken by a photographer so today I figured I would recreate the poses to see how much I've aged over the decade. I couldn't get the lighting the same, and my 'lockdown beard' adds a few years, but it was an interesting contrast.


Here's hoping there'll be a few more years here.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Ramadan 2020 - Traditional Iftar Meal


Day 42 of isolation in the apartment. But yesterday I was chatting with a friend on the phone and invited me to stop by his family's majlis today to pick up some food for iftar so that have some traditional Qatari iftar food. Every Ramadan my friend's father makes extra food for iftar that he gives away to people. Since quickly going to a majlis didn't seem too risky to me I decided to head out to pick up the food. It would be a pleasant change from the lockdown food I have been eating for the last seven weeks, especially meat. The only animal protein that I've been eating is the occasional can of tuna.

When I arrived at the majlis there were dozens of containers waiting for people to pick them up. When my friend said his father makes extra food for people he wasn't kidding -- there was probably enough food to feed over 100 people. And the family does this every day of Ramadan. After chatting a bit with my friend and his father (from a safe distance) I picked up my food, thanked them kindly for the meal, and headed home for iftar.


Here is the food. It was indeed a lot of traditional food. From left to right is some harees, desserts, curried chicken on rice, some samosas (that's not its name in Arabic but I can't remember what it is) and some thareed. You don't know what harees and thareed are? That's okay, I have a blog post from 2013 that explains it.


It was nice to have something different for dinner, the thareed especially was quite nice. It was a lot of food though, it will last me at least four meals.


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Today is also the Qatari holiday of Garangao, which is in the middle of Ramadan (more information here). Sadly with the restrictions in place kids will not really be able to celebrate it. I think some places are offering 'virtual garangao' but I'm not really sure how that would work.


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Coronavirus update: Things are unfortunately holding steady. Over 900 cases today, but no deaths thankfully. Over a hundred are recovering every day but there's over 16,000 in quarantine now. I'm not sure when the curve will peak.

Stay safe everyone.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Update - Day 40 of Isolating, Cases Are Still High


Day 42 and in Qatar things have still not settled. Cases are up-and-down, 600+ one day, 700+ another. Today was 951 new cases for a total of 17,142. It's a lot given the size of the population. A website called worldometers has been keeping track and I sorted their table by "Total Cases per 1m population" (click on the photo for a clearer view):


Qatar is fifth on the table and the only ones above it are small countries with fewer than 700,000 people (fewer than 100,000 if we remove Luxembourg), where even a handful of cases could cause the per million number to skyrocket. I expect Qatar to be fourth on the table tomorrow. However deaths in Qatar are stable at 12, one of the lowest mortality rates in the world.

The virus is spreading mostly through worker dormitories and neighbourhoods, the crowded conditions cause the virus to spread rapidly. Qatar is focusing on contact testing so as they discover cases they test the people they are in contact with, or even entire dormitories. As Qatar tests them they are finding around 25-35% of people tested have the virus.

I think because the majority of cases are workers in compounds/dorms some people here are getting a false sense of security and figuring they will be fine since the virus is concentrated in certain areas. People seem to forget just how ubiquitous these workers are in Qatar. Yes they might live in a compounds or dormitories but during the day they're out working in malls, restaurants, parks, offices, construction sites, everywhere. And given the young age of most workers many of them will not have any symptoms of the virus, yet they can still unknowingly spread it. One should not be reckless and assume it's low risk because the virus is spreading amongst South Asian workers. Qataris are getting the virus as well.

Qatar is now implementing a random sample testing of the population. About 2500 people will be contacted by the Ministry to show up at a health centre for a survey and then be tested for the virus (this can apparently be done from your car). This is being done likely as a measure to see if the virus is in the population unknown to the contact tracers. It's a good idea and random sampling should continue.



In other coronavirus news India is going to allow special flights into the country in order to repatriate Indian stranded abroad. I think at the moment India's not allowing commercial flights into the country leaving a lot of people who want to return stranded in other countries. The Indian government expects to repatriate about 14,000 people over the next week and there will be two flights from Qatar. It's a nice gesture but it's a drop in the bucket -- in Qatar alone 40,000 Indians have registered with the embassy to be repatriated. In the UAE it is nearly 200,000.


Stay safe everyone!


Friday, May 01, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Update - Holding Steady at 600-900 Cases Per Day


In the last four days there were anywhere from 600-900 cases a day (three days at 600+, one day at 800+). The total number of cases is now 14,096. Unfortunately two more people have passed away, a 96-year old and a 40-year old, so in total 12 people have died here.

Blood plasma treatment is starting to get back in the news as a promising treatment to help lessen symptoms. Qatar is using it now but the two deaths does show that while it might help (studies are still ongoing) it is not a miracle cure and people still need to be careful.

Restrictions in Qatar continue. The Council of Ministers agreed to extend them for a while yet. With 600+ cases a day I don't blame them. The Health Ministry held a press conference yesterday and noted that testing capability has been increased and that the majority of cases continues to be mild. In terms of age range 73% of the cases are in the age range of 15-44, people over the age of 65 are only 1.3% of cases.

Qatar has one of the highest per capita rates of infection in the world right now, at 4,893 per million people. Based on the trajectory I expect Qatar will surpass Spain (5,125/million) tomorrow or Sunday. I think this is because of Qatar's testing methodology though -- mass testing of people potentially in contact with known cases, regardless of whether they show symptoms. It caught a number of asymptomatic cases and is one of the reasons why the mortality rate is so low (the low median age of the people in Qatar is the other factor). In the West many countries could only test people who showed symptoms, were high-risk, or who went to hospital. Qatar, and similar places like Singapore, demonstrate that asymptomatic and mild symptom cases are likely more widespread in the West then the official number of cases would indicate. A number of news articles are already calling into question the figures reported in countries such as Italy and the US, and other indirect methods (for example looking at total deaths over time compared to prior years, or antibody testing a sample of people) indicates much higher case rates, and deaths.

Daily recoveries in Qatar are around 60-100 a day, far fewer than the number of new cases, so I expect Qatar will not loosen restrictions for some time yet.


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Distraction of the Day: The YouTube channel "Real Stories", a channel that posts British documentaries that were broadcast on channels such as the BBC. Medical documentaries, human interest, sociology, there are tons of documentaries on the channel for people to enjoy. I personally love documentaries so I was happy to have stumbled on this channel.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Update -- Over 10,000 Cases Now


Last post I mentioned that Qatar was now identifying over 600 cases a day. Then it became over 700 . . . then 800. Today the Ministry of Health reported 929 new cases, bringing the total number of cases to 10,287.

No one has died in the last three days thankfully, and now 70-100 are recovering each day. I do expect the number of deaths to increase soon. Based on a 0.2% mortality rate for 10,000 cases there would be 19-23 deaths, Qatar is currently at 10. But it takes time for the virus to take its toll, the last poor soul who died was in hospital for a month before succumbing. A spike in deaths likely won't occur for at least two weeks.

The number of cases is truly worrying. We know that in most Western countries there is underreporting due to lack of testing or only testing people who are ill, but based on the reported numbers, on a per capita basis, Qatar has more cases than Italy. Or Switzerland. Or the US. Or France. (Not as many as Spain though).

Aside from a complete and total lockdown for weeks I don't think there is much more the Qatari Government can do. Most businesses are already shut, people are working from home, people can't enter the country except Qataris who are automatically quarantined for two weeks. The country just has to keep up with the aggressive testing of people in contact with known cases and try to stay on top of things until this starts to subside.


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Naturally this was the one day that I had to finally leave the apartment.

Work needed to make some upgrades on my laptop so I had to bring it in. Since I was low on groceries I figured I may as well combine this with a trip to the grocery store, my first outing in something like 35 days.

I chose a store I thought would not be too busy and figured morning would be the quietest time at the store. I brought a mask with me (as Qatar now requires them to enter grocery stores) and was there at 9:30. A man was there wiping down the carts with disinfectant, and to enter the store you first had to stand in front of a thermal camera to check your temperature. I was correct in that it wasn't that busy so it was easy to get around without getting too close to people. I think I bought enough non-perishable food to last me for six weeks.

During the drive I couldn't believe how many signs there were telling people to stay home. In the office building the same thing, and the elevators had signs for things you should do after returning home to reduce the virus risk (leaving your outer clothes by the door, immediately showering etc.) After getting the laptop upgraded at work I went back home, left all of the groceries by the door, left my outer clothing by the door, washed my hands, then my face, then my hands again, then had a shower, threw any towel I touched in the washing machine, washed my hands again, then mopped the floor near my front door with strong disinfectant. I have enough food for a while so I am not even going to touch the new groceries for at least four or five days, which should be enough to kill any virus particles that might be on the bags or the food. I'm not going to touch the discarded clothes either, those can sit there for the next two weeks for all I care.

So I think I'm good for a while, I shouldn't need to leave my apartment for at least six weeks. Unfortunately I will be anxious for the next two weeks -- any sniffle, tiredness, or feeling hot and I'll probably be wondering, "Is this it? Did I catch it?". I think the odds are slim based on the precautions that I took, but I did go outside thus going from 0% chance of catching it to a slim chance. And this while over 900 cases a day are being detected.


Hopefully things get better soon and this is the peak.