Doha, qatar – More than 200,000 people in Qatar have tested positive for the coronavirus since the pandemic began last year.
The country also reported 428 deaths as of April 26, including 150 in the past 30 days, following an increase in daily cases and the number of casualties.
It has administered more than 1.4 million doses of the vaccine, with just over 19 percent of the population receiving both doses, officials said.
Earlier this month, Qatar announced Stricter COVID-19 Restrictions among a growing number of cases in recent weeks.
Al Jazeera spoke with Dr Abdullatif Al Khal, Chairman of the National Health Strategic Group on COVID-19 and Head of Infectious Diseases at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) about the reason for the spike and the authorities’ strategies to minimize the effects of the second wave.
Al Jazeera: Qatar saw an increase in cases in February and a larger one in March. The numbers continued to increase thereafter. What is the reason for the spike?
Abdullatif Al Khal: Like many countries around the world, we are currently experiencing a new wave of viruses.
This increase is due to the spread of British and South African strains. The British variant has been circulating in the community since March. Despite our strict quarantine policy which is in place for all travelers, the South African variant entered the community in early April.
Both of these strains are more infectious and cause more serious illness than the original strain and we believe they have had a significant impact on the increase in COVID cases.
Al Jazeera: Tighter restrictions were announced earlier this month. Should it have been done sooner given the peak?
Al Khal: Qatar has acted proactively throughout the pandemic. Although it has managed to keep the virus under control throughout the last quarter of 2020, Qatar has maintained a set of strict policies aimed at preventing a second wave.
Our quarantine policy for anyone entering Qatar has been one of the strictest of its kind in the world and has proven to be effective in delaying the introduction of new variants into Qatar at a time when many countries around the world were affected by these new strains. Additionally, we continued to keep preventative measures in place to prevent the virus from spreading.
A key principle of our COVID-19 strategy remains to ensure that we are proactive. Earlier this year, as we saw the number of new daily cases start to rise steadily, we moved quickly to introduce new restrictions in early February. Once we identified the British variant, we acted quickly to increase the restrictions. The latest development of this South African variant circulation pandemic in early April led once again to rapidly increasing restrictions.
Al Jazeera: There have been calls for another lock. Is Qatar heading for something similar to that seen last year?
Al Khal: The last set of restrictions implemented on April 9 was the third set of new restrictions to be introduced this year. While economic factors are important, these decisions are always made with the health of the population as a priority.
During the announcement, we made a commitment to abide by the remaining restrictions for a period of at least three weeks. We have now been in restrictions for 18 days and continue to monitor the data closely to see the impact of the restrictions.
While it is too early to make firm predictions, data shows hospital admission rates have stabilized and have even seen a slight decline in the past few days. This is very encouraging and the first indication that the combination of restrictions as well as the roll-out of vaccination are working to stop the spread of the virus.
However, if the data again shows signs of an increase in the number of cases, we will not hesitate to increase the restrictions further.
Al Jazeera: Childhood COVID cases are on the rise now. How worrying is this and is it because the schools are staying open?
Al Khal: It is clear that the South African and British variants affect people younger than the original strain. It is very worrying when children are affected by the virus, but to date we have seen a very small proportion of children become seriously ill from COVID-19.
Our school policy has always been very strict – even when cases remained low throughout the last quarter of 2020, schools were operating with a blended learning system.
This has made it possible to reduce class sizes in schools and support the implementation of preventive measures. All teachers, administrative staff and almost all children are required to wear masks, while social distancing is maintained and “ Ehteraz ” [official contact-tracing app] and temperature checks are carried out at the entrance to the school, with schools implementing a system of bubbles where classes do not mix.
We also have a strict quarantine policy in place for all confirmed and suspected cases – children and teachers. In addition, we have prioritized the vaccination of teachers and school staff and have a very high percentage of vaccination coverage within this group.
– Ministry of Public Health (@MOPHQatar) 25 April 2021
Al Jazeera: Overall, has Qatar been successful in containing cases and deaths compared to the rest of the world?
Al Khal: The entire health sector has played an important role in Qatar’s comprehensive measures to protect its population from COVID-19. The three key areas of our strategy have been expanding health care capacity, a proactive public health strategy, and protecting the most vulnerable population.
We have significantly increased our hospital capacity from 2,250 pre-pandemic beds to over 3,500 hospital beds today.
This is in addition to several thousand isolation beds for people infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus but who are not sick to be in an acute care facility.
Our proactive public health measures, including the screening and testing strategy, have allowed us to quickly identify positive cases and ensure they receive the medical care they need at an early stage, before their symptoms do not get worse.
How we have protected the most vulnerable members of our society has been a critical factor in keeping the death rate low.
In addition, we implemented targeted awareness and education programs for these at-risk groups to ensure they were aware of what to do to protect themselves during the pandemic.
Al Jazeera: Are we witnessing COVID fatigue on the streets of Qatar? How difficult is it to make residents aware of the need to respect safety rules and follow guidelines during these difficult times?
Al Khal: People in Qatar and around the world have been living under the threat of COVID-19 for over 14 months and overall the community in Qatar has acted very responsibly. Since the start of the pandemic, we have constantly disseminated information and advice on how people can protect themselves and others from the virus.
The successful suppression of the first wave of the virus in 2020 was a combined effort of government measures and the public’s commitment to follow them.
The deployment of the vaccine has shown that people fully understand the importance of protecting themselves from the virus and that vaccines are the best way to beat this pandemic, but the best results are obtained when vaccines are combined with adherence to the standard. preventive measures.
The vaccination rollout was overwhelmingly received by the public and we certainly do not see the great degree of reluctance to vaccination that was feared around the world prior to the rollout.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length