During his latest interview, the chair of Qatar’s National Strategic Group on COVID-19 and Head of the Infectious Diseases Division at Hamad Medical Corporation, Dr Abdullatif Khal, discussed the latest developments on the country’s fight against the pandemic.
Can you explain the decision to ease some of the restrictions under Phase 3 of the gradual lifting of the COVID-19 restrictions?
Thanks to the community’s adherence to the phased lifting of restrictions and their overwhelming response to the vaccination programme, COVID-19 cases in Qatar have remained relatively low in recent weeks. There has been a slight increase in COVID-19 cases following the recent Eid holiday, but this minimal increase was expected. With many people returning to Qatar in the next three weeks following travel abroad, there is a real risk that COVID-19 cases could increase during this time, particularly with the highly infectious Delta strain circulating in Qatar and many countries around the world. Considering this potential risk presented by returning travellers, it is risky to move to the full Phase 4. However, the changes coming into effect tomorrow will allow the easing of a set of restrictions throughout August.
I urge community members to adhere to the preventive measures and the restrictions imposed in Phase to help control the spread of the virus and to prevent any further rise in cases. We are all eager to get back toward normal as soon as possible, but what is most important is that we do not rush this process and jeopardize all the achievements we have made to get to where we are now.
The Delta strain of the virus is now in Qatar. What impact could this have on COVID-19 rates?
Over the past three or four months, the Delta strain has become the most dominant strain of COVID-19 in many countries around the world. Our strict travel and return policy helped to delay the entry of the Delta strain into Qatar but it has recently begun circulating in our community.
The Delta strain is a much more contagious strain of the virus than the strains we had previously seen in Qatar and causes more severe infection. It is important to realise that more than one-third of those infected will suffer from long-lasting complications of the disease such as fatigue, chronic headache, difficulty with memory or difficulty breathing even if they get a mild infection.
For this reason, it is more important than ever before for people to get vaccinated and get protected. Vaccination not only protects the person being vaccinated from getting sick; it also helps to protect other people around you as the vaccine reduces the ability to transmit the virus to other people.
The good news is that the vaccines we are administering in Qatar are highly effective at preventing infection and severe disease due to the Delta strain. The clinical evidence here in Qatar clearly shows that the vaccines are safe and highly effective – there have been very few incidences in recent months where fully vaccinated patients have been admitted to hospital with COVID-19. Almost all patients admitted to hospital wards or intensive care are either not vaccinated or have only had one dose.
How would you assess the current progress of the National COVID-19 Vaccination Program?
Since the launch of the National COVID-19 Vaccination Program the community’s response has been very encouraging. Among our eligible population – 12 years and over – 85% of people have received at least one dose and we continue to administer more than 20,000 doses a day on average.
This is a very encouraging vaccination rate and the more people that are vaccinated and protected from the virus, the safer our community will be and the faster we will return towards normal life. There is still a small minority of eligible people who have not yet accepted their invitations to get vaccinated. If you are one of these people, I ask you to please take the matter seriously as the new Delta strain is more contagious and virulent and to please do your part in beating the COVID-19 epidemic and helping the community return to normal life as soon as possible.
It is especially important that people in the following groups get vaccinated: elderly; people with chronic diseases; and pregnant women. Nine out of 10 people over 65 years have been vaccinated but older people remain most at risk of severe disease due to COVID-19, so it is important that every single one of our elderly population is fully vaccinated.
Pregnant women are at higher risk of severe COVID-19 compared with women of childbearing age who are not pregnant, so it is very important for pregnant women to get the vaccine. Around the world, hundreds of thousands of pregnant women have been vaccinated and no notable safety concerns have been identified.
I wish to remind people, including those who are fully vaccinated, of the importance of adhering to wearing masks when in public places and when visiting or socialising with others who are not from the same household. This will help them significantly reduce their risk of catching the new Delta strain of the virus and keep them and their loved ones safe.
For more COVID-19 updates, visit moph.gov.qa.
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