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.