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Expats get free ‘lifesaver’ jabs

17 Aug 2021

The most vulnerable section of the expatriate population is now being covered by the National Immunisation Campaign against COVID-19. A large number of people were vaccinated on the second day of the free vaccination drive, who hailed the long awaited move. 

Shah Alam, a tailor who was among those awaiting their turn to get the first dose at the Sablat Muttrah vaccination centre, said he was ‘surprised and happy’ when officials visited his shop on Monday night and gave him a vaccine coupon. “I can’t bear the cost of the vaccine; this free vaccine is a lifesaver,” he said.

Alam’s friend Tanveer, who had visited several hospitals in the Ruwi area to get vaccinated, said, “Whichever hospital I went to, they claimed they’d run out of vaccines.”

After getting vaccine coupons on Monday evening, Bashaar Ahmed, a tailor from Muttrah, and his four colleagues reached Sablat Muttrah at 7am on Tuesday and patiently waited for the centre to open. They had been postponing purchasing vaccines from a private hospital due to the cost. “We’ve been struggling to make ends meet for more than a year. What we earn now hardly covers food and daily expenses,” Ahmed said. 

The second day of the free vaccination drive started on Monday morning by the Directorate General of Health Services (DHGS) in Muscat in coordination with Muscat Municipality was as busy as the first.

Dr Nihal Afifi, specialist and head of primary health care supporting services in the Department of Primary Health Care, DGHS, said, “This vaccination drive will protect the most vulnerable expatriate workers in the community who are helpless due to the nature of their jobs – barbers, tailors and small shop workers in Muttrah Souq and in and around Muscat governorate.”

She informed that Muscat Municipality is distributing 1,000 coupons every day among target groups, mostly male workers. “We advise people to visit (designated vaccination centres) only when they have a free vaccine coupon. We cannot vaccinate anyone without the coupon.”

On Tuesday, a large number of people without vaccine coupons had gathered in front of Sablat Muttrah. 

Though he didn’t have coupons, Kishore, a barber from Ruwi, decided to visit Sablat Muttrah with his wife, son and niece after he came to know about the government’s new vaccination drive. “It is a difficult time. My earnings are down and I’m struggling with daily needs. Free vaccines for my family will be a big support.” 

Kishore and his family weren’t the only ones who returned disappointed on Tuesday. Four tailors from Hamriya too decided to try their luck but Sablat Muttrah staff asked them to look out for the municipality officials’ visit to their neighbourhood distributing vaccine coupons. Sanjeev, who runs a laundry in Old Muscat, also came hoping to get vaccinated without the coupon. “Municipality officials distributed free coupons yesterday at around 2pm in my neighbourhood. But I missed them and the vaccine coupon as my shop is closed for lunch break in the afternoon.”

An official from Muscat Municipality informed that municipal staff in Mawaleh Central Market for Fruits and Vegetables have been vaccinated and all workers, contractors and drivers engaged in work in the market have been immunised through a free vaccine coupon system. “Now Mawaleh Central Market is fully vaccinated with two doses.”


Text and photos by Syed Fasiuddin

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