Monday, December 27, 2021

Qatar Coronavirus Updates - Omicron Driving an Increase in Case Numbers

Got my booster shot of Moderna today! Glad I was able to get that sorted. When I received my previous two doses I was a bit out of it the next day, though it was worse for the second shot. Hopefully I won't have any issues tomorrow but I will work from home just in case.

Omicron in now circulating in Qatar and community cases the last few days have been over 200 a day. And that's with hundreds of thousands of people currently out of the country for Christmas/New Year holidays. In my office there's been five cases in the last week so it certainly was making me anxious so I was trying to be careful before getting my booster. I have also changed from wearing cloth masks to KN95 masks as I believe they are better at protecting from the virus. It's not 100% of course, I'm not deluding myself, but it will help reduce the chances of catching it. Reports from around the world are showing that Omicron is really, really contagious. At least it appears to not be as deadly as Delta but it could still hospitalize vaccinated people so everyone needs to be careful. Hospitalizations are increasing here, last report had 162 people in hospital, and 18 in the ICU, a big increase from the last few weeks. They are articles in the local newspapers, it seems every day now, by the Ministry of Public Health urging people to get booster shots.

No announcements of new restrictions but many countries have been added to the travel 'red list', which means a lot of people who left on vacation will likely need to self-quarantine when they return (2 days, until their PCR results come in). I expect some level of restrictions will be announced in the coming days if case rates increase. I doubt full lockdowns but maybe back to 'phase 3'. We'll see. Hopefully Qatar does not have an Omicron 'wave' like we are seeing in the UK and US.


Sunday, December 19, 2021

More Arab Cup, and Omicron appears.

The Government announced four cases of Omicron yesterday but all from people entering the country and who had been undergoing quarantine.

That said I expect an announcement shortly as a large-scale screening was undertaken. A week ago I had received a message asking me, since I attended an Arab Cup match, to take part of a health survey & screening by going to a health centre on the 18th (also Qatar's National Day) and get a free Covid test, and they'll also check the swab for influenza and RSV. I thought that was a good thing to take part in so I went. I figure I'll get the results today or tomorrow. I'm sure I'm fine but the survey will allow the Government to get a better idea of the presence of Covid in people who attended the matches, and they'll likely scan the samples for Omicron as well. If the overall results are not good then restrictions and lockdowns will be happening.

As for the Arab Cup the tickets came in fast and furious (having friends working in places that get hospitality tickets help) and I wound up going to three more games. Firstly the Tunisia/Egypt semi-finals at Stadium 974.

It looks a bit weird, right? Like it would be a street art museum? Well, this stadium is temporary and made up partly of shipping containers. When Qatar bid for the World Cup one of the questions was what a country of 2.5m people would be doing with eight huge stadiums, and Qatar stated that some of them would be modular, to be dismantled, donated to developing countries, and reassembled. That's what Stadium 974 is (named 974 as it is Qatar's phone country code and is the number of shipping containers used). 

The atmosphere inside was great and I had seats in the corner, between the Tunisian fans and the Egyptian fans. It was pretty noisy.

But I couldn't stay for the whole match as my friends and I had tickets to the other match that evening, the Qatar/Algeria semi-final match at Al Thumama Stadium. The place would be full so we needed to give ourselves lots of time to get there.

It's a beautiful (and permanent) stadium. designed to look like a ghafiya, a white head covering men wear underneath the ghurtra.

Much like Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor we had to park across a busy highway from the stadium but they had a nice pedestrian walkway over the road.

This time we had really nice seats, right in the middle.

It was a good game, lots of crazy things. In the end the injury time wound up being something like 19-20 minutes (might be a new record?) because of all of the drama, but Qatar lost 2-1 due to a last-play penalty kick by Algeria. 

While I was watching the game I showed up for a second on TV when the cameras were doing shots of the crowd. I then received messages from friends with screenshots showing me (I cropped the photo so my friend's faces aren't shown). 

Another person at work also commented that they saw me on TV. I think because I was wearing a suit in a sea of white thobes I stood out on the screen.

Qatar is not a big country and people keep an eye out for who is in the crowd and quickly circulate stills on social media. Case in point, there were some ladies seated a row behind us and a few seats down but from the angle of the TV camera they looked like they were in the same row. One of my Qatari friends who was with us at the game told me he woke up the next morning to his wife holding a screenshot of the picture and asking, "Who are these ladies you're sitting next to?".  Lol.

Naturally the home crowd was disappointed as Qatar was not going to be playing in the final but it did mean that there were tickets to be had for the Third Place match between Qatar and Egypt on the 18th, so a bunch of us went to that. It was at Stadium 974 as well.

This time we had nosebleed seats.

The game was not particularly exciting, Qatar fielded many of their 'B-team' players and brought on the big guns in the second half. Even then the score was 0-0 and it went to penalties, with Qatar getting the win.

The final (Tunisia v Algeria) was that evening in Al Khor, but we watched it on TV at a majlis. It was an intense game, both teams really came to win and after much drama Algeria pulled through 2-0, with the second goal occurring on the last play to officially kill Tunisia's hopes of a comeback. 

So, a busy last few days. I didn't even go see any of the National Day events as I was busy watching soccer games.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Qatar Coronavirus Updates - Slight Increase in Cases but Hospitalizations Decreasing

For the last while community cases have been at 140-170 a day, a slight increase from before, and there were two deaths, the only two in the last month or so. Surprisingly hospitalizations are down, 79 are in the hospital now and 10 are in ICU (it was 90/17 a few weeks ago).

Qatar has not reported any cases of the Omicron variant but I wonder if it is here and responsible for the decreased hospitalizations. Preliminary data from other countries seems to indicate that, while more contagious than Delta, in vaccinated people it produces generally milder symptoms than Delta. In Qatar almost all people aged 12+ are vaccinated so there aren't many unvaccinated adults for Omicron to hospitalize. 

There have been close calls. A friend's mother tested positive and he had visited her the day before he met with myself and some friends. One day isn't enough for him to be contagious and he's quarantining now, taking Covid tests every two days (all negative so far). His main worry was his infant son, who Grandma took care of that day. Sure enough, nine days later the baby tested positive. I was told grandma and baby are fine. Despite the unlikelihood of being able to spread Covid to people he met one day after being exposed many of my friends have been tested. All negative. I was tested as well seven days after the exposure (PCR, not the rapid test that I did to go see the Qatar/UAE game) and was negative.

The Arab Cup is still on, if Omicron was starting to spread in Qatar I would not expect any restrictions/lockdowns until after the tournament on December 18th. If hospitalizations are decreasing then maybe restrictions won't be necessary.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

2021 FIFA Arab Cup

This is one of my few posts not focused on COVID since the pandemic started. Qatar is hosting the Arab Cup (basically teams from the Middle East and North Africa) and a friend of mine managed to get a bunch of us tickets to the hottest match in town -- Qatar vs the UAE. 

I took a rapid test that morning as a precaution since I'll be sitting in close quarters with friends for a few hours, thankfully it was negative, so I was on my way to the city of Al Khor where the match would be that evening. A friend has a house there and hosted a BBQ for us before the game.

The game was at 10:00pm so we watched the 6pm game (Tunisia vs Oman) at the house then went to the stadium. The traffic was crazy, I mean you would expect that but I mean it was crazier than that. Leaving at 8pm to get to a stadium a few kilometers away there were times I wasn't sure we would make it in time for the kickoff. In the end we had to take a backroad to find a roundabout route to the large swath of desert serving as the parking lots. From there it was still a long walk, the parking lots were on the other side of the highway from the stadium. There is a huge pedestrian walkway over the highway for that purpose but it meant thousands of people walking to the walkway and then walking to the stadium from there.

We eventually got to the stadium, called Al Bayt (the house), one of the largest stadiums in Qatar. Built for the upcoming World Cup, it's a really cool design meant to look like an Arabic tent.

In terms of organization once we actually got to the parking lot things went pretty smoothly, there were plenty of staff and signs to direct you to where you needed to go. The biggest issue was getting to the parking lots, there were simply not enough roads/entrances to handle all of the traffic. When I was crossing the pedestrian bridge (at around 9:30) I could still see hundreds and hundreds of cars backed up into the highway trying to get into the parking lots. There was no way those people were going to make it in time for the kickoff. It'll be the main thing that Qatar will need to work on for next year's tournament, reconfiguring things so that more cars can enter the parking area in a short span of time. Getting through security, getting tickets checked, etc., that went fine.

Inside there were tens of thousands of people. It wasn't full when we arrived but that's because there were thousands more trying to find parking and getting in. It was eventually full. We had great seats on the 16th row near one of the goals.

Unluckily for us the UAE goal was on the other side of the field because the first half was a total rout.

Yep, 5-0 for Qatar after the half. UAE were making tons of mistakes, giveaways, and penalties, I think that alone counted for four of the goals. It was crazy -- and all happening at the other side of the field. Not that any of the Qatari fans cared. They were so happy.

And that's how the score ended, when the UAE goal moved to our side there were no goals. A couple of good chances, and I would say Qatar was the stronger side in that half as well, but no goals from either team. The fans were thrilled.

Getting home took a while as almost everyone was funneled to the pedestrian bridge in order to get back to the parking lots. It got crowded but there was some level of crowd control to try to keep it spaced out and not have everyone crushing each other. In the end it took about 45 minutes to reach the car and I was home close to 2:00am. 

All in all a great night, Qatar just needs to work on the parking access. The Arab Cup is a practice run for the World Cup next year (and there'll be 10x as many people showing up) so the Government is using the Arab Cup to figure out what is working and what isn't.