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, 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.


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.