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Are we going back to square one?

22 Mar 2021 By SHADDAD AL MUSALMY

Epidemiological situation linked to pandemic ‘worrying’ as daily count of cases rises further

As the daily count of COVID-19 cases rises further, and the epidemiological situation linked to the pandemic becomes ‘worrying’ given the increase in hospitalisations and deaths, it begs the question – are we going back to square one?

On Monday, the Ministry of Health (MoH) announced 728 new cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours – the biggest jump and the highest daily count since July last year – taking the total to 151,528. The number of deaths reported during the same time was seven, taking the total to 1,629.

The number of patients in hospitals and intensive care units is also increasing alarmingly. As of Monday, a total of 356 patients were admitted in health institutions, including 104 in ICUs. 

H E Dr Ahmed bin Mohammed al Sa’eedi, Minister of Health, has described the epidemiological situation as ‘painful and worrying’ since mid-January when the number of infections started to spike. 

“Intensive care units are under pressure again,” he said recently.

“Safety precautions and adherence to the necessary decisions must continue. The Supreme Committee is monitoring the situation and may take extra precautionary measures,” H E Dr Sa’eedi said last week. 

The Supreme Committee has attributed the steep surge in infections and deaths to the prevalence of new, mutated variants of the virus. Data reflecting the increase in numbers of patients in hospitals and deaths related to the virus in all parts of the country prompted its decision to suspend commercial activities between 8pm and 5am. 

According to H E Mohammed al Hosni, Undersecretary in the ministry, Oman is currently in the third wave of the pandemic. “We must do everything to reduce infections,” he said in an interview to Oman TV last week.

Dr Faryal al Lawati, consultant – Infectious Diseases at The Royal Hospital, noted that social distancing is the key until vaccination programmes are fully successful. “Until then, social distancing is the only intervention available to help individuals stay healthy and to break the chain of transmission, giving more vulnerable populations a fighting chance of surviving this pandemic,” she said. At last count, 101,818 individuals had been vaccinated.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean is working with countries to safely prepare for mass gathering events in 2021 as part of its ongoing support to strengthen national capacities for prevention, detection and response to public health events, including COVID-19.

“Especially in the context of COVID-19, mass gathering events could trigger a rise in the number of cases, and introduce opportunities for public health risks to emerge. These events provide an opportunity for WHO to work with countries to boost core capacities under the International Health Regulations across sectors and strengthen public health systems,” said Dr Ahmed al Mandhari, regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean at WHO.

Mass gatherings attracting larger crowds from around the world are on the horizon this year. Saudi Arabia is assessing its decisions for upcoming Umrah and Hajj pilgrimages, and the UAE and Qatar are scheduled to host the Dubai Expo and the FIFA Arab Cup, respectively, later in the year, anticipating millions of visitors. “In 2020, efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 resulted in a number of mass gathering events being cancelled or taking place with reduced participation. This year, despite the rollout of vaccines, the pandemic is still a major public health crisis. Countries and populations, as well as visitors to mass gathering events, need to stay vigilant and alert,” Dr Mandhari said.

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