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.


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.


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.


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.


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 ( 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.


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.


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.


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.