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!


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 ( it is September 16th but things could change. Just now the Government rolled it back a week, earlier today the website showed September 23rd.


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.


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".


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.