Sunday, September 19, 2021

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- Steady Improvement, both Vaccination and Cases

Things have been slowly progressing and it looks like Qatar has dodged having a bad third wave. Yesterday, for the first time in a long time, the daily cases (both community and travellers) was under 100. Today it was 101, but still lower than it has been for months. Community cases are around 50-75 a day now. Only 67 people are in hospital, of which 19 are in ICU. The last death was almost two weeks ago.

This success has to be mostly due to the vaccination effort and Government restrictions. The Government recently announced that 80% of the total population has now received two doses, one of the highest rates in the world. Unfortunately they removed some of the granular vaccination data because now they are giving out booster doses to vulnerable people, so it is more challenging to simply take the number of doses administered and divide by the population as some people are now getting a third dose. I fully expect over the coming months that they will roll it out to everyone to get a booster, eight months after you received your second dose. By then the approval should have also come to vaccinate children, at which point Qatar should quickly achieve 90+% vaccination rates.

Sadly the situation in the US provides a stark reminder of what could have happened here if vaccination rates were low and restrictions not in place. The Delta variant of Covid is pretty frightening in terms of how fast it spreads and how deadly it can be. Imagine if it had been the "original" Covid, back when there was no vaccination. The death rate would probably be 5x what it is now, millions more would have perished.

For example, Mississippi. It has a population of 2.9 million, similar to Qatar's 2.6 million. Right now the 7-day average death toll is Mississippi is 45 deaths, PER DAY. That's 315 deaths in one week from Covid! By comparison Qatar has had 604 deaths -- since the start of the pandemic. That's the power of Delta when you have a lot of unvaccinated people. Other states like Tennessee and Idaho are having similar waves and the death toll is rapidly rising. That people would rather eat horse dewormer than get a free vaccine is mind-boggling. Glad vaccinations rates in Qatar are so good.

Overall I think once vaccines are approved for people under 12 Covid will really start to get under control. Because of how contagious Delta is I am not sure Covid will ever be eliminated entirely, but at least it should allow life to get back to normal.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- Is Herd Immunity Possible Against Delta?

Welp, Qatar had another 138 community cases (and another 67 from travellers in quarantine), pretty typical daily amount I'm afraid. 100-180 a day seems to be the new norm. The death rate is way lower though, thankfully, with maybe one person dying every week or so. Qatar does have one of the lowest per capita COVID death rates in the world (214 per million, the US and UK are nearly at 2,000).

That cases are still 100+ despite the high vaccination rate is worrisome. Qatar is currently at 81.6% of the total population having at least one dose (not eligible population, TOTAL population) and 73.7% have had both doses. Yes community transmission continues at a rate of about double what it was earlier this year. The Delta-variant is much more contagious than regular COVID so the herd-immunity percentage becomes higher. Clearly 73.7% is not enough, but what will? In a months time the rest will have their second dose and Qatar will be at 81%. I am skeptical that it will be enough.

And we can't count on vaccinating more people aged 12+, according to the Government 94.2% of the eligible population has at least one dose, there are few people left who can get vaccinated.

That leaves vaccinating children. Qatar will surely wait for announcements from the US or the EU regarding whether the vaccine can be used on kids, but when will that be? I've read articles it'll be this winter, it'll be early 2022, it'll be later than that, it'll only be for kids aged 6+, all sorts of speculation is flying around. Meanwhile schools have just opened back up in Qatar, though apparently at 50% capacity, I think by rotating, having one group for a week then another group for a week. Given children are the most vulnerable to infection given they are not vaccinated I expect a jump in cases in the next couple of weeks, a mini "third wave" essentially. 

All of this is getting me a bit anxious again. Studies are showing that vaccine effectiveness starts to diminish after six months, and Delta is capable of infecting vaccinated people, so I no longer feel completely safe. My last dose of vaccine was in June so I should be good for a few more months but all the same it is a bit unnerving knowing there is still a risk of reinfection. I am guessing boosters will be announced for everyone soon so a third dose is on the horizon.

I'll feel better if Qatar can get below 75 cases a day, but I don't think that'll happen until late-October, or maybe only after children can get the vaccine.


 

Monday, August 23, 2021

Back From Vacation

 So I have returned from a long break, my first vacation since the pandemic started. Canada finally relaxed the quarantine rules, allowing fully vaccinated citizens to visit without having to quarantine, so off I went for a long-deserved vacation. Sadly the pandemic is still not over so things are not back to 'normal' but at least with a PCR test and wearing masks on the plane I could travel.


At the time I arrived Canada's case average was lower than Qatar's but then there was a Delta outbreak in the valley where my Mom lives and cases started rising. Within a week British Columbia's case rate was more than Qatar -- and rising. It's still not great (around 85/day per million people, Qatar is around 70) but it's nothing compared to the US. I don't know what it is about America and vaccines but they are paying a price now, case rates are crazy, especially in the South. People need to realize that vaccines significantly reduce the risk of catching COVID and, if you do catch it, from having complications from it.


Not only was there a COVID outbreak in BC the province was also having issues with forest fires. There were so many fires burning that some days thick smoke descended into the valley. It was like a fog, and flights were cancelled, which led to me scrambling to find ways to get to/from the valley and Vancouver as three attempts to catch flights ended up with all of them cancelled. Things were better in Vancouver as the city did not have much in the way of smoke.


In COVID news while I was gone Qatar announced the detection of the Delta variant in community cases. This likely explains the increase in cases, now averaging around 150-200 community cases a day. A month or so ago it was around 50-80 a day. 150-200 a day doesn't seem like much but bear in mind Qatar has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, currently 92.6% of eligible people have had at least one dose -- and 81% have had both. Despite that there are still 150-200 cases a day, no doubt in part to how contagious Delta is. Qatar was to have removed the COVID restrictions by now but with the increase in cases they kept it where is was. I assume most of the cases are in young people or children as hospitalizations is actually down from before. Currently 69 are in hospital and 19 are in ICU, a great improvement from months ago. I think in the entire month I was gone only one or two people died.


It looks like restrictions will be in place until children can be vaccinated. With Delta being so contagious I don't think herd immunity can be achieved just by vaccinating people aged 12 and older. I expect that won't begin until December or January, these types of studies take time.


In the meantime everyone needs to keep wearing a mask and not be too reckless.


Friday, July 09, 2021

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- Phase 3 of Lifting Restrictions

 As scheduled the Government announced further loosening of restrictions. Basically an increase to capacity in places like restaurants, barbershops and other businesses. Small steps but not a significant change. 

They did add a new green/yellow/red list of countries in terms of travel. If you go to countries on the red list you are likely to have to quarantine whether you're vaccinated or not. Qatar has detected the delta variant in quarantined travelers but I believe so far it is not in the community (alpha and beta are though, I suspect I was infected with alpha). Yesterday there were only 55 community cases of Covid, one of the lowest figures I've seen this year. Vaccination is continuing at a brisk pace, with 25-35 thousand doses being given out each day. 77.6% of people 16 and older have had at least one dose now (and 65.4% have had two), which means Qatar will reach 75% having both doses in about three weeks. I wish they provided data for 12-16 range but I can figure out the total population vaccinated as they gave the total numbers:  1,839,827 have had at least one dose and 1,529,336 have had both. That corresponds to roughly 71% of the total population have one dose and 59% have had both. 75% of the total population being vaccinated should occur within 5-6 weeks.

Deaths are still occurring, maybe 6-10 a week, but the number in hospitals is slowly decreasing. Bahrain is also over its third wave thankfully and while rates are still higher than Qatar they are no where near as bad as before. Oman is still having difficulties, as is Kuwait.

If things go as planned almost all restrictions (except for incoming travelers) will be removed by the Government in three weeks.


Saturday, July 03, 2021

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- Decreasing Cases, Light on the Horizon

Qatar is now reporting around 50-80 community cases a day, and it should trickle lower as the weeks go on. There are fewer than 100 people in hospital now, and 46 in ICU.

Vaccination has picked up again, with over 30,000 doses being administered every day. There still appears to be high demand, a young person I know called almost two weeks ago for an appointment and the earliest they could get was July 10, which while not great for them does demonstrate the demand.

Sadly I think it was the horrible second wave in India and Nepal which spurred demand from many that were initially hesitant to get vaccinated. Over half the population of Qatar is from South Asia and the tragedy: people dying in the streets, relatives pleading on social media for oxygen or hospital beds, hundreds of bodies in the Ganges, must have been heartbreaking for people from there. Couple that with Qatar only giving out Pfizer or Moderna -- the vaccine of choice for the rich & famous of South Asia, and demand for vaccination here would naturally increase.  

As of now 75% of people 16 and older have had one dose, and 64.5% have had both. If demand continues then in less than two weeks over 80% will have at least one dose. Even better, over 92% of people 40 and older have had at least one dose (84% have had both). Herd immunity is very close to being achieved, my guess is over 80% will have had two doses within 4-5 weeks.

Today I was in another neighbourhood, to collect a package from DHL, and it amazed me how much had changed in terms of the roads, shops, etc. and then I realized that because of COVID lockdowns it had been close to two years since I was last in the area. In fact it's been at least a year and a half since I had been in most of Doha: Katara, the Pearl, the Museums, it's weird to think how long life has not been 'normal'. Once the summer is over I might have to have a re-explore of Qatar.


Friday, June 18, 2021

Qatar Coronavirus Updates - Mandatory Testing Announced

Last post I mentioned a rumour that some offices were looking into mandatory weekly testing for unvaccinated staff. Looks like I was partly correct, it was not offices that were looking at doing it, it was the Government.

As part of moving to Phase 2 of lifting restrictions they announced:

"All employees in the public and private sector must carry out a rapid antigen test that is accredited by the Ministry of Public Health on a weekly basis. This applies to employees who did not receive or continue all the doses of their COVID-19 vaccines. Those who did take both doses, recovered from the disease, or those whose health condition does not allow based on a medical report accredited by MoPH, are exempt from taking the rapid antigen test."

And so this is required by all employers. Later that day was the announcement from our office about it. Other details:

-- the employee bears the cost for the test, and 

-- if they have to quarantine then it comes out of their annual leave, not sick leave.

Glad I got my second dose this week. Yes, I have recovered from COVID so technically do not need to do the test but still, nice to be fully vaccinated now.

Looks like the Government is getting serious about people who are hesitant to get vaccinated. I said it last post and I'll say it again, I expect in the future that they will not renew work permits for unvaccinated expats. Essentially there will be some kind of measure that unvaccinated expats will need to leave the country. You heard it here first.


Tuesday, June 15, 2021

I'm vaccinated!

Yesterday I received my second shot of Moderna from the clinic so I am now fully vaccinated. Just need to be careful for a couple of more weeks so that the vaccine has time to develop antibodies. There are a lot of variants in the world now but thankfully the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) have shown to be effective against all variants so far. This should mean that I will not have any trouble travelling this summer.

Community cases (as opposed to cases from travelers in quarantine) in Qatar have been stubbornly stuck at 80-100 a day for a while now. While it's a low number, comparable to lower-case areas in Canada and the US, I was hoping they would get below 80 by now. According to Government data 68.8% of eligible people have had one shot, and 53.7% have had two (including me!) so I would have thought community cases would have decreased further by now. The rate of vaccinations have slowed, now at 15-20 thousand a day, at that rate it the amount vaccinated will go up roughly 1% every three days. It's a bit frustrating, I was hoping we would hit 75% by now but it looks like it'll be early next month.

The restrictions are scheduled to go to Phase 2 on the 18th. I'm not sure what that will entail but likely a greater % can be in offices, restaurants and places like barbers. I'm sure the lifting of restrictions will only target the fully vaccinated, the Government will continue to offer this as an incentive for people to get vaccinated. Restaurants have been pretty strict about it, I went to a Tim Hortons the other day and they wouldn't let me sit in the restaurant unless I showed proof of vaccination.

There are some Qataris who are not getting vaccinated for whatever reason, but many did, only because if they don't then they can't travel. If Qatar does not reach 75-80% I could see more measures being taken, probably not against citizens but perhaps mandatory vaccination for expats. If all expats had to be vaccinated then 90+% would be easily achieved. I heard a rumour that one Qatari organization is planning an imposed mandatory PCR test for staff who are not vaccinated -- weekly, and that the cost of the test will come out of the employee's pocket or something like that. Basically a way to say 'get vaccinated or leave'. It was just a rumour though, my office certainly has not imposed anything like that, not that they need to as I think everyone is in the process of being vaccinated. That said my office is keeping track, asking every member of staff if they have been vaccinated and when. 

So in two weeks I'll be as fully-protected as I can be. Time to start planning vacations.


Saturday, May 29, 2021

Qatar Coronavirus Updates - Phase 1 of Restrictions Easing on the Back of Lower Case Numbers

Yesterday some restrictions were eased, as planned by the Govt. Restaurants, hair salons and so forth can now open in limited capacity. 

Because I am not full vaccinated I figured I was out of luck and would not be able to go anywhere until mid-June but I saw an announcement today from the Ministry of Health that people who recovered from COVID and have had one dose of vaccine can have the same privileges as fully vaccinated people, I just need to show my ID and vaccination card. So I guess I can go to restaurants and cafes again!

And cases in Qatar continue to move downward as vaccination rates pick up. Yesterday was a grand total of 156 cases, of which 98 were community cases, the first time in months it has been that low. Only 234 people are in hospital now and 133 in ICU. It wasn't all that long ago that over 1,000 people were in hospital. 

Just across the water in Bahrain things continue to spiral out of control. The county imposed a heavy lockdown a few days ago as cases are now around 3,000 a day and about 20 people are dying every day there. Scary.

If Qatar can keep things under control then I expect in the next month over 70% of the population will have been vaccinated. Right now 46.7% have been fully vaccinated and an additional 16% have one dose. I am not sure at what percentage herd immunity kicks in (it varies from virus to virus) but Qatar should be on track to achieving it within 1-2 months.  


Sunday, May 23, 2021

Got My First Vaccine Dose!

This week I finally was able to get my first dose of vaccine. Under Qatar's rules if you came down with COVID you couldn't get vaccinated for 90 days and that was in May. Managed to get an appointment (two weeks later) and went to the clinic to get vaccinated. I was told it could be a long wait, some of my friends had to wait an hour or two, but it was pretty smooth and I was in front of the nurse in about 20 minutes. Qatar only uses Pfizer and Moderna but which one you get is dependent on availability. I was offered Moderna and I didn't mind, studies are showing that both are more effective than other vaccines at protecting from COVID and the variants going around. Probably because they are both mRNA vaccines, whereas the others were developed using different techniques.

Arm was sore for a few days and two nights later I had a mild headache and difficulties sleeping but that was it overall for side effects. Next dose is four weeks after the first, so by mid-June I'll have the second dose.

Cases of COVID in Qatar have stabilized, every day now there are around 150-250 community cases. The Government is hesitant to relax restrictions as they are concerned that cases will increase due to people socializing over the Eid holiday (last week) so we'll see how things develop.

The Government is right to be concerned because next door, in Bahrain, things are getting out of hand. In the past week the country has been averaging around 2,500 cases and over 12 deaths a day, in a country of 1.7m people! That's roughly the equivalent of the US having 475,000 cases and 2,000 deaths a day. Not good. I spoke to a Bahraini about it and he thinks it is because the country did not enforce as severe a lockdown as in Qatar (Bahrain imposed some restrictions during Eid so when they announced they would people rushed around visiting relatives and stocking up on goods) and also because they primarily used the Sinopharm vaccine, and it's effectiveness is now being questioned. Hopefully things improve there soon.

There's a light at the end of the tunnel, as vaccinations continue things will get under control. Hopefully I can travel this summer.


Monday, May 10, 2021

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- Restrictions to Start Lifting May 28

Yesterday the Government announced a four-phase plan for lifting the current restrictions, with Phase 1 coming into effect May 28 and the other phases at three, six and nine weeks later. That means the current restrictions will stay for another two-and-a-half weeks, and over the Eid period (starting Wednesday or Thursday).

 

The Government was encouraged by the drop in cases. They are still trending downward and today there were fewer than 300 community cases -- a great improvement from the last 4-5 weeks. We're not out of the woods yet, sadly deaths are still occurring, six yesterday and four today. About 500 people remain in hospital with over 200 in ICU. The Government did mention that so far they have not found the Indian variant of the virus in the country.


One of the interesting things that the Government is doing is that the lifting of restrictions is geared towards vaccinated people. Schools and nurseries can't open unless all staff are vaccinated. Restaurants can have limited indoor seating but only for people who are vaccinated. Indoor gatherings will be limited to 5 people if all are vaccinated. Theme parks, leisure centres, cinemas and gyms can open at limited capacity and only for vaccinated people. Barbers as well, vaccinated clients only.


Basically Qatar is saying, "Don't want to get vaccinated? Then stay home."  Sucks a bit for me as my appointment for my first dose is May 17th so I won't be fully vaccinated until June, but I still support what the Government is doing.


As everything regarding vaccination is centralized with the Health Ministry it is easy to see who is vaccinated. The Ehteraz tracking app that everyone is required to have indicates if you are vaccinated. No need to worry about people having fake vaccination papers and stuff. 


So I'll be under the restrictions a couple of weeks longer than everyone else. I don't mind, as long as we get through this pandemic.


Monday, May 03, 2021

15 Years in Qatar!

Wow, it's been 15 years now. I landed in Qatar in May 2006 to start a new job, expecting to be here maybe 3 or 4 years and here we are 15 years later. 

And to celebrate I stayed home. No restaurants, no malls. I don't have a liquor license anymore so no celebratory drinks either. 2021 is still not a time for celebrations and socializing.

Covid-wise things are still not great in Qatar. Community cases are at around 300-500 a day and 7-10 people die each day. It is sad looking at the news and knowing that people in their 40s and 50s are passing away from it every day, something that was uncommon last year. COVID is no longer an illness that puts people at 65+ at risk, now it's 40+, maybe even 35+. Scary. The UK variant and South African variant are here and I'm sure it's only a matter of time for the Indian one gets hold. The Qatar Government has placed a mandatory hotel quarantine for anyone arriving from South Asia, even if they are vaccinated, I assume in a bid to stop the Indian variant circulating in the community. If vaccination can stop the variants then Qatar just needs to get through the next month or so but it goes to show how contagious the new variants are that there are so many cases here despite the vaccination rollout.

Qatar has stepped up vaccination though, from around 25 thousand doses a day to 30 thousand. That means up to 100,000 people will have received their second dose each week, pretty good for a country of 2.6 million. I believe over 500,000 people have been fully vaccinated already.  I have an appointment in two weeks for my first dose. It will be either Pfizer or Moderna as those are the only two given in Qatar. That means by mid-June I will receive my second dose and can relax a little. A recent article in the Guardian shows that the number of doses given out so far in Europe is around 33 per 100 people, though in the UK it is a fantastic 73.4 doses per 100 people, which is why case rates and deaths in the UK are now quite low (yesterday they had only one COVID death). The US is also at 70+. Canada is at 36-37. In Qatar it is at 61 doses per 100 people, well ahead of the EU average. 

Celebrations will maybe be in June. For now I am trying to stay safe.


Monday, April 26, 2021

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- Possibly Reached the Peak of the Second Wave

Community cases are starting to ease, they are now at around 500 a day and the number of people recovering is outpacing the number of new cases.  It is still a challenging time, over 1000 people are in hospital and hundreds are in ICU.


The new strains of COVID are quite scary in just how deadly they are.  At the height of the pandemic last year, now known as the first wave, around 4-7 people were dying every day and there were over 2000 cases a day. Now Qatar has not even reached 1000 cases a day yet 5-10 people die every day of COVID. And it is affecting younger people as well, every day when I look at the government press release about the deaths I know that I will see ages in the 40s to 50s, sometimes even in the 30s. COVID is now less of a disease that primarily impacts people over the age of 65 and more something that puts people over the age of 40 at risk. Really scary.


Because of the restrictions there's not much happening this Ramadan, I miss seeing the Ramadan Cannon and attending other festivities as this will be the second Ramadan under lockdown restrictions, but catching COVID is just not worth it so the government is doing the right thing.


Like everyone I'm just getting tired of this and so wish things were back to normal. We're so close though. Hopefully after this wave subsides the vaccination program will reach most of the population. If only vaccination had started a month or two earlier this wave might not have even happened.


Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Ramadan Kareem!

Ramadan has started. Unfortunately with all the recent troubles with COVID and the lockdowns it hasn’t been much of festive atmosphere here. Given last year during Ramadan I was almost completely locked down in my apartment I suppose just being able to go out is a step up. The start of the pandemic seems so long ago it is hard to believe it has been just a little over a year.

 

I did decaffeinate in preparation for Ramadan as I always do and, as usual, I will be fasting. The first day was tough, I don’t think I drank enough water beforehand so by the late afternoon I was really lethargic and had a headache. I made a conscious effort to drink a lot more water today (does 3:30am count as ‘today?).

 

I am not sure what the general population are going to do given the COVID restrictions. Only family members from one household can meet indoors, and if you are outside the limit for meeting is five unrelated people – and all five of them must be vaccinated. That means no visits to friends and relatives. Mosques have strict opening and closing times to prevent people from hanging around, and are not allowed to hold tarawih prayers, a special set of prayers held during Ramadan after the evening Isha prayer. Offices are at 50% with the rest expected to work from home, less strict than last year (30%) but that still means working from home some days. Most stores are shut. I expect all of these restrictions will remain in place throughout Ramadan. Qatar is still reporting over 900 cases of COVID a day, although recent numbers seem to show that fewer of them are community transmissions and more are from travelers in quarantine, yesterday 250 of the cases were from travelers. Who are all of these people travelling right now that in one day 250 people would test positive in Qatar?! Stop travelling everyone!

 

Today I received a Ramadan dinner from a Qatari gentleman, the father of a friend of mine. Every day during Ramadan he does dozens and dozens of meals that he distributes to others and last year he invited me to take one home every day and it would be rude to refuse the hospitality. Today it was . . .

 


 

A meat/bread pudding, coconut cake for desert, and what looks like brownish mashed potatoes is actually haris, a ground grain mixed with a bit of meat. Qatari cooking doesn't go too heavy on vegetables though so I added those myself, cooking up some beans and miscellaneous veggies.

Now there was WAY too much food for just me to eat in a day (what you see in the photo is maybe a fifth of it), and I will be receiving a meal every day during Ramadan, so I take some for myself and share the rest with the security guards in my apartment building. I will be fine for meals all month.

Please stay safe everyone.


 

Friday, April 09, 2021

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- Over 900 Cases a Day and New Restrictions

As feared things are getting worse, cases are over 900 a day, and deaths have been increasing. The other day eight people died of the virus, sadly a new one-day record since the pandemic started. It is likely due to the highly contagious UK strain.


The Government held a press conference to outline new restrictions: restaurants take-out and delivery only, 50% capacity in offices, metro restrictions, total ban on functions like weddings etc. Outdoor meeting of five people or less and only if they are from the same family or all have been vaccinated. It's tough restrictions but not as harsh as during the first wave last year. One of the Government's concerns is not just the numbers but how they are seeing more hospitalizations of younger people. This is also playing out with the deaths, it seems like there are a lot more in their 30s and 40s than before.


Vaccine distribution is still going well, at around 25 thousand doses a day. The Government estimates that at least 25% of the adult population have received at least one dose. My estimate is it will increase by almost 1% every two days. If Qatar just gets through this lockdown, likely to last through the month of Ramadan (which starts next week), then I think we'll be through the worst of it and the case rates will rapidly drop.


So it looks like I'm mostly working from home again. Stay safe everyone, we're almost through it.


Friday, March 26, 2021

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- Restrictions Re-imposed

For that last few days Qatar has gone over 500 cases a day, and today we crossed the 600-mark at 602. Hospitals are starting to fill up again and the deaths are climbing, in the last three days seven people have passed away from the virus. To give you an idea on 21 December I posted that there were fewer than 220 people in hospital for COVID of which 22 were in ICU. Now there are 1,350 people in hospital and 244 in ICU. This week two cases occurred in the office where I worked so the whole floor was shut and everyone had to work from home. Well, except me as I recently recovered from COVID so I went in each day and 'held the fort' so to speak. It was odd having the whole floor to myself.


The Government has reimposed restrictions, shutting some types of business, banning people under 12 from malls, restricting capacity at restaurants, and majlises can have only up to five people. The restrictions seemed geared towards Qataris as offices are still allowed to run at 80% occupancy so I suspect a lot of the cases are amongst the Qatari population. 


Vaccination efforts have stepped up and the Government how gives daily stats on the number of doses administered. It is around 700,000 doses now so I suspect about 200-250 thousand people are fully vaccinated and the rest have their first dose. Around 20,000 doses are being administered every day now. There's still a ways to go yet, at that rate to get 70% of the population vaccinated would take around 5-6 months. I think expats 50 and older can book an appointment now, and any Qatari over the age of 16.


So it looks like another time to semi-isolate. I have food stocked up so I don't need to go to the grocery store for a few weeks. I will still stop by a friend's majlis occasionally, pretty much everyone there is now either fully vaccinated or recovered from COVID recently. Last time I was there there were 10 people and two were not vaccinated/recovered yet, of whom one was someone who was rarely there. The other guy is getting his first vaccine dose on Sunday.



Stay safe everyone.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- and watching Roger Federer Play Tennis

 Qatar is still averaging over 400 cases a day (roughly the equivalent of 50,000 cases a day in the US) so the semi-restrictions are still in place. I heard a rumour that if it ever goes above 500 a day the Government will do a harsher lockdown but over the last few weeks it never reached that. I think the daily rate won't go much higher as it appears to be slowly going down in other GCC countries.

Qatar is still doing better than the rest of the GCC, both in terms of daily rates and in deaths, so the Government's actions are making a difference.

The Government has stated that over 300,000 doses of vaccine have been given out, but that means that probably less than 10% of the population has received at least one dose, still a long way to go. The vaccine is now available to every Qatari over 16, and to expats age 50 or older. As I came down with Covid in February I have to wait 90 days to receive the vaccine but almost all of my Qatari friends have been vaccinated now. That incident at a majlis where myself and three others were infected really spooked everyone and they rushed out to get vaccinated, which was a good thing I suppose. Wish some of us didn't get sick first.

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So I tried to buy tickets to the Qatar ExxonMobil Tennis tournament. As usual there were some great stars, including Roger Federer in his first tournament in over a year due to getting knee surgery, so there was a lot of excitement in the tennis world and all the major papers were following the event. Going online this is what I saw:


Federer's first match was Wednesday.

So on Wednesday night I was sitting at home when I got a call from a friend.

"I managed to get tickets! Can you get to the stadium ASAP?"

Luckily I live within a few metro stations of the tennis stadium so I was off, got there in about 30 minutes. Turns out my friend knew someone who had tickets but had to cancel so called my friend and offered the tickets to him.

We got inside just as the second set was underway.

Of course we had to show our Covid tracking app as well just to get into the grounds. Now the Government was strict about the social distancing, you could only sit in every fourth seat. All the other seats were tied shut so you could not open them to sit next to someone. It was staggered so you were not sitting near someone in the next row either, they were two seats away. It was a bit weird, sitting in a quarter-full stadium with everyone equally spaced.

Worth it to see Roger Federer though.



The match (against British no. 1 Daniel Evans) was a bit up and down, Dan was playing well but Federer was brilliant one moment, then shanking the ball the next. At the end of the last set suddenly Dan messed up a couple of points, giving Federer an opportunity and he managed to finish it on the second match point. It really could have gone either way.



It was great to see him play again -- who knows if there will ever be another opportunity. Unfortunately Federer lost his match the next day so the only chance to see him play again will be if he comes to the tournament next year. Not guaranteed to happen, he's skipped it before.



Sunday, February 21, 2021

Qatar Coronavirus Updates (and an update about me too)

 My quarantine ended about five days ago and I was free! I did not come down with any other severe symptoms so after a rough first week things generally got better. Though I wound up with a mild-ish case COVID is no joke and it was not something I would like to repeat.

So far five of my friends have also come down with COVID and four of them had mild symptoms and recovered. One of my friends though, who is in his mid-30s, has had a much rougher time of it. Harsher symptoms, lasting much longer, lung issues, you name it.  He's on Day 16 from when symptoms started and he has been admitted to hospital twice now. He told me that things are improving and he hopes to be released from hospital in three days, he has a lung infection that they are treating but all of his other COVID symptoms are gone now. It was quite worrisome how bad he got this, and there is no reason why it couldn't have been me, or anyone for that matter. That is what is so scary about COVID, if you get it you have no idea what will happen and there is little that doctors can do except help you treat the symptoms while you fight off the virus.

Government rules for vaccination are that if you came down with COVID you have to wait 90 days before you can receive the vaccine. That means I won't get the vaccine until May. Yes I have some level of immunity in the meantime but I will not be able to travel without having to quarantine when I return. Once vaccinated I should be able to enter Qatar without quarantine. Meanwhile the age to register for the vaccine has been lowered to people 50 and older so the vaccine is slowly but surely being distributed in the country. I do not know how many people have been vaccinated now, I assume around 5% of the population, but things are progressing well. The country is still under some restrictions that were imposed a couple of weeks ago, those will likely remain for at least another month. Qatar is still at 400+ new cases a day but it has levelled off at that amount. Not great, better than the rest of the GCC but not great. 

I am hopeful that within a month enough people in Qatar will have been vaccinated that the case rates will drop significantly, and that by two months it will be back below 100 cases a day again.


Tuesday, February 09, 2021

I Have Tested Positive for COVID-19

So at the end of my previous post I said:

"So I think I will need to be more careful for the next while and hope this all passes."

If you look at the previous post there is a picture of a TV with the Government press conference, but there are other people in the room. That's because I was at a friend's place to hang out and watch the Thursday press conference. There were, I think, six of us there.

And unbeknownst to us one of them had COVID.

He felt fine and had no idea that he was ill, basically asymptomatic. But the next day (Friday) he started feeling unwell so went to get tested. On Saturday morning I received the call -- he had tested positive. I immediately locked down in the apartment, now I was going to have to self-quarantine for two weeks. Everyone was calling each other with updates and some had gone to the hospital to get tested. A friend of mine in the medical field told me not to get tested yet as it had only been 36 hours, not enough time for the virus to build up enough for me to register a positive test, if I tested now it would likely be negative. Better to wait a couple of days first then get tested.

It didn't take long, by Sunday evening the fever started. I got tested on Monday and had the results Tuesday.

It has now been about 12 days since the encounter and nine days since the first symptoms began. The first few days were the roughest: constant mild fever and loss of appetite. Panadol would sometimes help the fever but sometimes didn't. After that it seemed like one symptom would fade and another would appear. After the fever and loss of appetite came the muscle aches, then after a couple of days that went away and I got a stuffed up nose, then after that a bout of fatigue, then the occasional mild dry cough, it has been really weird. It does play on your mind, you're hopeful as a symptom fades that'll be the last of it but then something else happens and then I'm left wondering if something more severe is on its way.

Thankfully I never needed hospitalization and never had shortness of breath or a rough cough. The clinic did a chest X-ray when I went to get tested and they said it was fine. Given I haven't had any lung issues yet I am hopeful the virus never really got into my lungs.

Because I started getting symptoms after three days there was speculation that maybe I picked it up somewhere else. None of the other guys who were there that Thursday night came down with it, or so we thought. Yes, my symptoms showed up right away (three days, typically it's something like 5-8 days but 2-10 days is possible), unfortunately for the others it was later. So far two others have now tested positive, and one of them started getting sick eight days later. Now hoping their families didn't catch it. Thankfully no one has been hospitalized yet. I thank my lucky stars I have been okay so far, once you get it it's really a spin of the roulette wheel how it will affect you. Hoping the worst is over.

Meanwhile the cases keep increasing, now Qatar has over 400 a day. New restrictions have been implemented. Weddings and events are cancelled, malls and restaurants have reduced capacity. 

Sadly, too late for my friends and I.  


Sunday, January 31, 2021

Qatar Coronavirus Updates - Cases Increasing, Government Considering Further Measures

Over the last couple of weeks the number of cases started increasing and community transmission is now at over 300 a day, remember a couple of months back it was just under 100 a day. Along with the increase in cases has been a slow and steady increase in hospitalizations and ICU admissions. The Government held a press conference last Thursday and everyone was watching, the rumour was there would be some sort of restrictions put back in place, so everyone wanted to know what the Government would say. That there were rumours of restrictions were not far-fetched, a couple of days previously Bahrain closed schools and in-restaurant dining for three weeks, and the UAE has started to reintroduce restrictions as well. At the presser the Government did not announce any new restrictions but from what my friends told me the message to everyone was to essentially "get their act together" or more restrictions would be put in place. 



I have registered for the vaccine but haven't heard anything yet. When I get called will really depend on when and how much vaccine Qatar gets in future shipments. I am hoping within a month but who knows. 

Not that I will be travelling anytime soon, countries are increasing lockdowns. Canada implemented mandatory hotel stays for people entering the country and the UK has been banning flights from certain countries, including the UAE. Not a month ago the UAE was on the UK's safe travel list and now planes aren't even allowed to fly between the UK and UAE. Goes to show how things can change in a heartbeat. And now there's that new COVID variant in Brazil which is causing concern.

So I think I will need to be more careful for the next while and hope this all passes.


Monday, January 18, 2021

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- Levelling off, Vaccine Becoming More Available

Community transmission is still at ~150-170 a day, worse than a month ago but it seems to have levelled off and thankfully is not getting any worse. I was shocked to see what was happening in the UAE, I think in December they got some sort of safe travel designation from the UK, so people could go from the UK to the UAE and return without going into quarantine. Now the UAE is reporting 3,000+ cases of COVID a day! On a per-capita basis that's around six to seven times more than Qatar! The UK has since dropped them from the safe travel designation and now UK travelers have to quarantine. The UAE is now reporting 4-6 deaths a day and I expect it will get worse in the coming weeks. Good thing Qatar did not lessen travel restrictions. In fact the quarantine-hotel restrictions have been extended until May. I'm not sure if that applies if you get vaccinated though.

As for the vaccine Qatar has now lowered the age to get the vaccine to 60. The Ministry of Health has also started an online registration process for everyone else, you can register and when they have vaccine available for you they will contact you. I figure when the next shipment arrives I will be able to get my first dose, I just don't know when that will be.  

People have been making travel plans in anticipation of being vaccinated but I haven't really thought of that yet. It'll be at least a month from when I receive the first dose before I can travel so we are looking at April or maybe even May. Got time to sort out what to do.

The opening of the border with Saudi has not appeared to create much of a change in Qatar. Many Qataris went into Saudi to visit relatives, property they had left behind, go to Mecca, but not a lot of people coming into Qatar, I assume because they would have to quarantine first. Qataris I spoke to are a bit cautious about the developments, they welcome it but at the same time most have no plans to visit the blockading countries for a while yet, especially the UAE, who they especially do not trust. From word of mouth I heard that Qataris who have gone to Saudi have not experienced any troubles. I haven't heard of anyone going to Bahrain or Egypt yet.

Flights are now available to the blockading countries (maybe not Bahrain yet but that will be soon), which is great news. I have Bahraini friends and for them to get to Bahrain, normally a 25-minute flight, would take 5-8 hours as they had to go to Kuwait or Oman first then board a flight to Bahrain from there. It was also WAY more expensive to do that, typically triple the price of the Doha-Bahrain flight, or more!

And finally everyone is waiting with baited breath to see what other craziness is going to happen out of the USA. I mean, if what is happening there was a Hollywood script it would be rejected as being too outlandish and unrealistic. 


Friday, January 08, 2021

The Blockade has Ended! (Yes, things happened elsewhere in the World aside from the USA)

 So . . . did anyone hear that on January 5th the GCC met in Saudi Arabia and signed an agreement to end the blockade of Qatar? You didn't?! I guess it got buried in page 20 of the newspapers, you know, after the stories about the Democrats winning the Senate elections and the President unleashing a mob of "Y'all Qaeda" terrorists on the Capitol Building in Washington.

America is truly the World's "crazy-ex". Constant drama, and even when you want to ignore them and have them out of your life they get you caught up in all the craziness and you can't look away. Everything. Must. Have. Drama.   America can't seem to do things like normal countries.

Anyway, the blockade is over after three-and-a-half years. The borders will reopen, Qatar Airways can fly over Saudi airspace again, flights between the countries will commence shortly. It is not the end of the matter, the agreement was the 'good faith' step to get the countries to complete negotiations to resolve other issues. The blockading countries had 13 demands at the start of this situation and so far Qatar has not done any of them. Zero. So let's see where this goes from here.

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I said I would avoid malls and restaurants for a while due to COVID cases ticking up in Qatar but then I realized if Qatar opens the border then thousands of Saudis could potentially flood in. Saudi Arabia has pretty much given up on COVID testing, every day they report around 100 cases of COVID, yet around 10 people die every day, which is more indicative of 3000+ cases a day. Basically there is tons of undetected COVID going around Saudi Arabia. So I went to the grocery store and stocked up on a few things, hopefully that'll be it until I get vaccinated. Then I found out the Qatar Government had already thought about this as well and stated that anyone crossing the border from Saudi Arabia would need to be quarantined for a week. Great news for keeping COVID down in Qatar, bad news for the tourism industry who I am sure were gearing up for an influx of Saudi tourists.

Local community transmission is still over 100 a day so that slight uptick continues. It looks like other GCC countries like Bahrain are seeing big increases, and it's possible a third wave is on the horizon. I think Qatar's measures will at least keep that more-contagious UK strain out of the country, others in the region might not be so lucky.


 

Monday, January 04, 2021

Qatar Coronavirus Updates -- starting to get worse

 After the months of slow decline in the number of cases my worries have come true and the case rate is increasing again. Now the daily cases is around 200 a day, with 120-160 being community transmission. The recoveries are around 100-120 a day so the number of active cases is growing. That will likely mean deaths will start to rise.

With the new strain going around Europe and other countries Qatar tightened quarantine restrictions on incoming travelers, most now must do mandatory quarantine at a hotel instead of self-quarantine at home, especially travelers from the UK and other high-risk nations. Hopefully the new strain has not reached here.

So is the case rate increase due to the National Day celebrations? Possibly not but the timing seems about right as the increase started 10 days or so after National Day. However Qatari friends of mine have also said that wedding celebrations are happening again so a lot of socializing is occurring there, and is a likely source of cases. I'm guessing the announcement of a vaccine has been making people lax about precautions as well.

I'll hold my hands up on this one -- in the last two weeks I attended two weddings. One was essentially held in a covered porch area so was effectively outside, the other was indoors, most people wore masks and my friends and I arrived early so we would not be with crowds of people, and left after 20 minutes. Hopefully there aren't any more invites, with the case increases I would be nervous attending any more. Have only been to a shop once in the last two weeks and that was a pharmacy so I have been careful in that regards,

Today the Ministry of Health announced that they were lowering the age for vaccine access, from 70+ to 65+. You have to book an appointment but anyone 65 and older can get the vaccine now. That's good news, hopefully a second batch arrives soon so more people can get the vaccine. I'm booking an appointment as soon as I can. Apparently it is two doses, taken 2-3 weeks apart, and you would not be deemed safe to travel until a week after your second dose, so I would have a month from my first dose until I am successfully vaccinated. I am hopeful by March I can get the first dose.

Hopefully in a few months Qatar will be generally free of COVID and life returns to normal. Qatar has done really well so far given there was no second wave.  Remember how for many months Qatar had the highest per capita case rate in the world? Now, if Qatar was a US State, Qatar would be 42nd for per capita cases, and last for the death rate (by far, it's not even close to the death rate in other States). Qatar has had 245 deaths so far during the pandemic, and a few days ago the State of Kansas (roughly the same population) had 193 deaths -- in one day! That is frightening to think about.

Just a few more months everyone. Stay safe!