Monday, March 30, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Updates - Cases Per Day are Increasing

In the past the new cases each day were around 7-13 but two days ago it was 28, a worrying sign. Well yesterday has 44 new cases and they just announced today another 59 cases. Qatar now has 693 cases of covid-19. Looks like things are ramping up and a wave of cases are about to appear. Recoveries are still slow, just 3 today (and 51 total), which means many people have had the virus for at least 19 days. No new deaths though thankfully.

The Ministry says most of the new cases are from Qataris returning from abroad, especially the UK, and from people who were in contact with the returnees. Looks like people still don't understand what "self-quarantine" is, it means distance yourself from family members as well. And the Government continues to arrest Qataris who violate self-quarantine, 16 were arrested. It's good that the Government is arresting people.

I just don't get it -- why aren't people understanding the importance of this? Stay home! Isolate yourself if you are supposed to self-quarantine.

I'm on 11 days of not leaving the apartment, except to throw the trash out, and while I planned to do some grocery shopping next week it can wait if need be, I will still have supplies (though in a couple of weeks I might have to rely on multi-vitamins for some nutritional needs).

Stay safe everyone.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Updates - First Death in the Country

Unfortunately the Ministry announced the first death in Qatar due to covid-19, a 57-year old man with pre-existing medical issues. He had been in hospital for 12 days before finally succumbing.

Yesterday the number of new cases was 13, and today it was 28, which was a bit unnerving. 28 is the most new cases in a day for almost two weeks. Hopefully this won't be the start of a ramp-up of cases and we'll be seeing dozens every day. The Ministry said that while some of them were Qataris who had recently arrived from abroad some of the cases were "from contacts" which I assume means community transfer. We'll see if this starts to increase. Stay Home People! Qatar continues to arrest people who violate self-quarantine as well, which is a good thing.

Another thing people might not realize about covid-19 is that you can make you sick for a very long time. To date Qatar has reported that 45 people have recovered from the disease, yet on March 11th they found 238 new cases of the virus for a total of 262 cases. That means that most of them have not recovered yet -- 17 days later. That's been one of the most troubling parts so far, while the number of new cases has been going up by anywhere from 7 to 28, the number of people recovering each day only goes up by 2 to 4, which means those new cases add more strain on the health system (if they need hospitalization, hopefully most don't). This is why health systems in Europe are getting overwhelmed, every day there's hundreds or thousands of new cases but people spend so long in the hospital the hospitals becomes stretched to the limit in a few days because no one is discharged. I am hoping that over the next few days we will see a big increase in the number of people recovering from the illness as that group of 262 cases starts to recover.

If friends and family tell you that covid-19 is "not a big deal" let them know that the virus has a wide range of outcomes, it's not just either "you're fine" or "you're dead", they could spend weeks in the hospital with a respirator.

Stay home everyone if you can, and wash your hands.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Update -- Holding Steady but Preparing for the Worst

Today the Ministry announced another 12 cases, bringing the total to 549.

The curve for Qatar is still pretty flat: I couldn't find all of the past data but here is the number of cases since the 12th:

March 12th 238, then 58, 17, 64, <40, <25, <10, <10, <10, 11, 13, 7, 25, 11, 12 (March 26) so for the last week it is typically around 10-12 new cases a day. But the Government is not resting on its laurels, they are taking this very seriously and preparing for the worst. Yesterday ten more Qataris were arrested for violating self-quarantine, and the Government has banned all social gatherings, including hosting people at a majlis. Friends have told me that police are roaming Qatari neighborhoods looking for cars parked in front of majlises. One of my friends told me that in his neighbourhood someone was 'busted' for hosting people at his majlis and was given a QAR 5000 fine (US$ 1,370). Stay home people! Despite the low number of new cases preparations are underway for new hospital capacity. Aside from the hospital dedicated to coronavirus that the government announced over a week ago, a field hospital was built in Al Khor, and a private hospital has been taken over by the Government to enhance the number of beds and equipment if needed. The most surprising announcement was the Government converting an entire compound into a hospital. It'll be ready shortly and will have capacity for 18,000 beds! 18,000 beds is some serious expansion. (And based on the photo in the article the Minister and the people with him should be standing further apart, just saying.)

That is serious preparation though. I searched the internet for the median age in Qatar and kept seeing numbers in the 32 & 33 range. That's fairly young, EU countries tend to have a median age of 40 or more. Also because most of the population are temporary expats there would be a 'bulge' of people around the 20-40 age range, it would be a lot greater than in Western countries, so there would not be a lot of elderly people by comparison. In fact the Government enacted rules a few years ago that Government offices cannot have expat workers over the age of 60 without getting special permission. So the population of Qatar is fairly young.

If we assume that 50% of infected people don't show symptoms, and about 20% of infected require hospitalization (I actually assume the percentage for Qatar would be even less given the relatively young age of the population but we'll go with 20%) then to fill 18,000 beds would require there to be 90,000 cases. That's more than Italy has right now and it has 60 million people, Qatar only has 2.7 million. For comparison that would be the equivalent of the United States having 11 MILLION cases of Covid-19, or the UK having 2.2 million cases. And the 18,000 beds Qatar is preparing does not include the three other hospitals being used or prepared for Coronavirus patients.

Already having one dedicated hospital for coronavirus has helped other hospitals immensely. A Qatari friend of mine had to take his father to the hospital recently for a non-flu issue and he told me the hospital had almost no patients waiting! Since non-elective surgeries have been cancelled, and most doctor consultations are now done over the phone to minimize people with appointments going to the hospital, there were no crowds in the hospitals at all. He also told me the hospital was extremely clean and he saw workers even washing the walls with alcohol.

And where are the cleaning products coming from? Qatar has a factory for that so it doesn't need to rely on imports. I'm not sure if the factory could produce enough for everyone at the same time but you can be sure if the caseload rises the Government will prioritize hospitals for the cleaning products.

Hopefully that hospital compound will never need to be used, but Qatar is preparing for things to get "Italy-level" bad. It won't if everyone just stays home and stops being reckless.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- Slight Rise in Cases Each Day

Over the last three days the number of Coronavirus cases in Qatar has been growing slowly -- 11 one day, then 13, and today 7. The total number of cases is 501, and 37 have recovered. No deaths.

The Ministry of Health has been saying that the new cases relate to Qataris and expats who had returned to Qatar over the last while and who were in self-isolation or quarantine. That means Qatar has had three waves:

1 - initial wave of people who had visited Iran

2 - a cluster where some people at a compound tested positive so the Government cordoned off the area and tested everybody. From that they discovered around 300+ cases. I assume that compound is in the Industrial Area because the whole neighborhood was put under lockdown with restricted access both in and out. There was some criticism from a human rights group that it turned the neighbourhood essentially into a prison but that criticism was before other countries started heavy lockdowns and curfews. I bet Italy wishes it had done heavier lockdowns sooner. And what Qatar did seemed to have worked because the current cases are:

3 - Qataris and some expats who had returned to the country recently from abroad and were self-isolating.

If you look at the pattern of cases in other countries it tended to grow exponentially, by that basis Qatar should have thousands of cases now yet they don't. It appears the quick action by the Government to clamp down is working. Here's hoping it continues to work.

And if you are made to self-isolate the Government means it, you have to sign a paper promising you will not break quarantine. Yes, even Qataris. Do they listen? No, of course not, many broke their self-isolation. They weren't counting on being arrested though -- the Government is not fooling around with this. Every day in the paper now the Government reports how many were arrested for violating the Government's order and their names are published in the papers. Yep, Qatar 'names & shames' the offenders. To date 33 Qataris have been arrested. Hopefully everyone will start getting the message.

Nearly everything is closed: non-essential shops, parks, mosques, the Corniche, museums, public transit and so on. Mandatory work-from-home orders, bans on non-Qataris entering the country, the only thing missing is a curfew. Given the low number of daily cases they might not need to do that.

I've been tempted to wander around outside and take photos of empty places where people once gathered, like Souq Waqif, but nope I'm not going to do it. I'm staying home.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- Cases Slowly Growing, Most People Staying Home

Cases in the country are now at 460. It's a slow increase, for the last three days the number of cases has only gone up from 3 - 10 a day, which a good thing given previously it was going up 40+ a day and one day over 200. Over 9000 people have been tested.

Non-essential retail shops are closed and offices have to use work-from-home procedures where possible (at least 80% of staff should be working from home). I am now working from home and that is fine with me -- I can't catch the virus if I just stay inside my apartment. Hopefully I don't have it but I think it is unlikely. I have been pretty careful the past two+ weeks about social distancing, avoided using the metro, washed my hands a lot and had hand sanitizer on me at almost all times.

I have enough food for at least three weeks so it looks like I'm going to be in my apartment for a while. I planned ahead, made sure the food I got was mostly healthy stuff: oatmeal, legumes, dried & fresh fruit, canned vegetables, canned tuna, soups, nuts, UHT milk. I also bought some various vitamins to top-up in case my meals for the day were missing out on something, especially vitamin C for when the fresh fruit & greens runs out. I have to say I am eating healthier than I have for a while, absolutely zero fast food, no fried foods, no excess salt, desserts are dates or dried fruit, sometimes a protein bar with chocolate on it. I am trying to eat only 1600-1800 calories a day, might as well try to lose some weight while I am here.

I live in a neighborhood that is nothing but apartment buildings close together so sunlight is hard to come by. For about 90 minutes each day the sun shines directly through my windows, when it does I have a seat in the sunbeam to get some sunlight on my body and get some vitamin D. I think psychologically having a bit of time in the Sun is good for you as well.

For entertainment the Internet is working just fine and I have plenty of books to read. I have been following aerobics videos on YouTube for exercise, every now and then I'll do 10-15 minutes to keep myself moving. Seems okay so far. I'm not one to get lonely easily and it's simple enough to text or chat with friends using my phone to keep in touch with people.

I think I'll be fine for the next while just staying in my apartment. Some people are still going out in the evenings and visiting friends at majlises and stuff which I think is a bit risky. I'm not going to take the chance. I'm doing my part to prevent the spread of the virus.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Updates - Now Over 400 Cases

The Ministry of Public Health as reported an additional 64 cases today, bringing the total to 401. Sadly it will likely continue to increase.

The only question is when will it peak? If you look at other countries that had the virus spread rapidly earlier (South Korea, Italy, now Spain and Germany) when they reached this point it was the beginning of the sharp rise in cases, within a week it was thousands of cases. One week ago in Qatar it was only 15 cases.

Further restrictions have just been announced. Cancelling all public transport, mandating that people over 55 and people with health issues can work from home, mandatory 14-day quarantine for anyone coming into the country (if they allowed in at all, it might be that just Qatari citizens will be allowed in now).

Qatar might peak at a smaller number, the country is small, mostly one city, and people were starting to be careful over a week ago, even before significant cancelling of events etc started. Was it enough and in time? One can hope.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Updates - now over 300 cases

Looks like I spoke too soon about no new cases. Within an hour of the last post the Ministry of Public Health announced 58 more cases, taking the total to 320. This morning they announced another 17, so the current total is 337.

That might not seem like a lot compared to other nations but don't forget Qatar is a small country of 2.7m people. 337 cases would be the equivalent of 4,400 cases in Canada (they currently have ~200) or 40,700 in America (they currently have ~2,000). On a per capita basis Qatar now has about as many cases as South Korea, which is not good.

The Government reports that almost all of the new cases relate to the compound where 200+ cases were discovered weeks ago. I assume they have been quarantining people who were in contact with them and the positive tests are now appearing. If so then the workers would likely all be under 50 years of age so there is only a small chance of anyone dying from the virus. So far Qatar has reported no deaths. If it spreads to the Qatari community though it will most certainly kill a lot of elderly people.

For the most part people seem to be obeying recommendations for avoiding crowds and washing/sanitizing hands. I see a lot more people wearing masks or covering their mouths with things like scarves.

I was talking to a Qatari today who confirmed to me why Qatar has plenty of supplies in the shops. After the blockade the Government set minimum standards for shops to have back-up supplies of crucial items, and the Government even built storage facilities for grocery stores to store the inventory. In addition the blockade forced Qatar to ramp-up self-sufficiency so the country is now able to internally produce enough dairy products, eggs, drinking water and cleaning products/sanitizer to keep things going without significant disruption. It was a costly process to do this after the blockade happened but it's paying off now. Qatar might be in better standing than some Western nations right now in terms of having staple foods in the shops.

Let's hope Qatar got a handle on that outbreak in a compound, otherwise we'll see the number of cases continue to ramp up and stricter control measures taken.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Update -- Further Closings

No new cases announced thankfully (still at 262) but the government has now closed places like gyms, playgrounds, and wedding halls. The metro is closed for the weekend. Events have been pretty much cancelled across the board. The government is emphasizing good hygiene and maintaining "social distance". The government also recommends no one travel and elderly people should try to stay home as much as possible and at a minimum avoid crowded places. A clinic has now been dedicated for only Covid-19 patients so I'm guessing the government is expecting more cases soon.

Unlike some parts of the West the grocery stores seem to be doing fine. There was a surge in shopping during the week but people can still find supplies. I think credit can go in part to the blockade, which made the Qatari Government aware of the importance of stockpiling food and supplies. As for hand sanitizer a factory is up and running in Qatar now that is producing sanitizer and other cleaning products and getting it out to the shops. I had never heard of this factory before so how did it get up and running so quickly? Again, I think post-blockade emergency preparation had a lot to do with it.

I spent today at home. I have plenty of food so I can stay here for two weeks no problem if it is needed. Not that the country is on lockdown or anything but it makes sense to curtail outside interactions for a while. A lot of people, especially Qataris, have health and obesity issues so if the virus spreads rapidly it will become a huge issue. Hopefully everyone stays calm and is mindful of not spreading the virus by staying at home for the most part and if going out washing their hands and using sanitizer frequently.

Sadly I had to cancel an upcoming trip to Canada but it is certainly not worth the risk travelling right now. These are crazy times.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Update -- Huge Jump in Cases!

Last post Qatar had 15 cases.

Then it became 18.

Then it became 24. Qatar has now closed schools and universities. Travelers from a list of 15 countries are no longer allowed to enter. Shisha cafes have been shut and most events in the country have been cancelled.

Now the Government just announced an additional 238 cases were diagnosed. Yes, two-hundred thirty-eight, bringing the total to 262. This would mean on a per capita basis Qatar (9.7 cases per 100,000 people) is just behind Italy and Iran (~14 cases per 100,000).

The new cases appear to be due to the three "free-ranging" cases discovered a few days ago, where authorities then quarantined their apartment building/compound and started testing everyone. Looks like a lot of people caught it.

Hopefully the Government managed to contain things. Even then I expect stricter measures to be imposed by the Government, and if more clusters are found outside this compound the country might need to lock-down like Italy has done.

I'm stocked up with food etc so can stay home for an extended period if need be, ever since the virus was announced in China I had been buying extra groceries every time I went to the store so slowly built-up food in case a lock-down happened. I do it is not necessary though.

Sunday, March 08, 2020

Qatar Coronavirus Update - and What to do if you Can't Find Hand Sanitizer

Until recently the number of cases in Qatar was 12 but they were all from the extradition flight from Iran so had safely been quarantined without interacting with any of the public here. Unfortunately there was an announcement this afternoon by the Ministry of Public Health that three more cases have been discovered -- but they weren't part of that Iran flight. It means that Qatar now has its first independent cases.

According to the Ministry the apartment building where the three were staying at has been quarantined and authorities are testing anyone who may have been in close contact with them. Hopefully the three weren't wandering around Qatar for too long.

It is possible they were under quarantine already, many expats who arrived from high risk countries were quarantined in designated apartment buildings (yesterday a friend of mine was telling me about one Italian colleague who was sequestered in such a building). We'll see in the next few days if more free-roaming cases appear.

Qatar is already preparing for problems and coronavirus is on people's minds. Some of my colleagues have been avoiding crowded areas like malls, and my office building has installed hand sanitizer stations in the elevators. Public bathrooms have signs instructing people how to properly wash their hands and how to minimize the risk of acquiring the virus. I'm seeing people wearing masks now, maybe 10-15% of people wandering around are wearing them. Schools are still open (Kuwait, Bahrain and UAE closed them) but I suspect if more cases appear then Qatar will close the schools as well.

There's been no panic-buying yet, plenty of toilet paper in the shops (why toilet paper has been a craze in the West I don't know), but hand sanitizer is definitely hard to come by. I picked some up last weekend but there wasn't much left. But there are other ways to sanitize. Surprisingly while the hand sanitizers were running low there were plenty of bottles of 70% ethyl alcohol as well as 70% isopropyl alcohol bottles right by where you would buy sanitizer. I don't know if people realize those alcohols are the main ingredient of most hand sanitizers and work just as well. There are online recipes for making at-home hand sanitizer with either of those alcohols but just using them as they are will work fine. I did some searching and as long as the strength is at least 60% it will kill the virus. The alcohols are a liquid so maybe get something like an eye-dropper so you don't use too much.

Hopefully in Qatar things don't get as extreme as in the nearby countries. Saudi has quarantined one city today, and closed the bridge and Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to non-commercial traffic. Kuwait is not letting most (all?) non-citizens into the country, basically trying to seal the country off, and Bahrain now has 85 cases, which is more per capita than China. As long as everyone stays calm, takes precautions, and keeps washing their hands things shouldn't get too severe.

Monday, March 02, 2020

Qatar and the Coronavirus

Okay, it has been an exciting last couple of weeks to say the least. Slowly but surely the Coronavirus has been making its way around the world and now there are cases all over the Middle East, mostly thanks to the outbreak in Iran.

People here are definitely concerned but not panicking. Coronavirus is the main topic of conversation wherever you go. Many people have canceled trips abroad, including my friends who canceled a weekend trip to Istanbul due to worries over Coronavirus -- and then though no cases have been reported yet in Turkey. There hasn't been panic-buying yet and the shops are still well-stocked with food and essentials.

Currently Qatar has seven cases (it was three but it changed as I was typing this) but it is not a concern; a few days ago the Qatar Government sent a special flight to Iran to pick up citizens stranded there and took them straight to quarantine. All seven cases are from that flight. So far there are no cases in Qatar from people independent of that flight.

It's not to say that Qatar is not testing for it, if someone goes to the hospital or clinic with symptoms they get checked for the virus. Luckily no other cases so far. The blockade is actually proving to be a help here, the only ways into the country are through the airport or by ship, and measures are in place at both places. Even goods offloaded from ships are left in storage for at least two days before being moved in. The Ministry of Health appears to be taking Coronavirus seriously and has been making preparations for an outbreak.

The rest of the Gulf is not so fortunate. Kuwait has over 50 cases, Bahrain nearly as many, UAE has over 20 and Saudi is recording its first cases now. Most of these were from people flying in from Iran or people in close contact with them, though in the UAE some cases were from China and Italy. Lots of travel restrictions are now in place, Saudi is cancelling most types of visit visas, Kuwait is not allowing many travellers in and advised its citizens not to travel. Bahrain has only one million people so 50 cases is a lot per capita (it would be the equivalent of United States having 15,000 cases) so they need to be extra-careful lest it turn into a major problem.

It's clear that some countries are either underreporting or do not have the ability to detect most of the cases. There is no way Iran has so few cases. Back when they were claiming they had 95 cases around 60 people flying to the Gulf from Iran were found to have the virus. Unless a symptom of the Coronavirus is a burning desire to buy plane tickets to the Gulf there is no chance that many people would have it if only 95 cases had been in the country. I read an article a few days ago where some Canadian researchers estimated Iran probably had 18,000 or so cases. Now it is probably more. I spoke with some Iranian friends who live in Qatar and they said people in Iran are really concerned and no believes the Government numbers. That Turkey is reporting none is also odd given it shares a border with Iran. Yes it closed the border a while ago but given it can take many days for symptoms to show there has to be some who crossed into Turkey (or flew there) beforehand. Egypt is also a big question mark, so few cases reported yet in other countries they are detecting cases in Egyptians. Many Gulf countries have banned travellers from Egypt or who have recently been in Egypt, I think they suspect it is a bigger problem in Egypt than the Government is letting on.

Anyway, I'm fine. Things in Qatar are still normal, no lock-downs or school closures. I have stocked up on essentials but hope things don't get worse here.