Drop in infections is no excuse for laxity in exercising caution

MUSCAT: Dr Ahmed bin Mohammed al Saeedi, Minister of Health, member of the Supreme Committee tasked with tackling developments resulting from coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, has said that the number of infections with the virus has come down, but that should not be taken as an excuse to relax abidance by precautionary measures.

The minister noted that, prior to the decline, the number of intensive care unit (ICU) patients reached 220.

He pointed out that His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tarik is keeping himself continuously updated about developments of the situation and that His Majesty’s constant directives underscore the necessity of maintaining public health — the life of citizens and residents alike — and, when taking decisions, to strike a balance between maintaining health requirements and considering the economic impacts.

The minister made the statement during the 19th press conference held at the Ministry of Education by the COVID-19 control Supreme Committee.

As many as 5,000 health workers in the Sultanate have been infected with the virus, said the minister.

In reply to a query, Dr Ahmed said that the announcement of a vaccine announced by one of the international firms is good, but declared results are still in preliminary stages and that study is still developing.

The Sultanate endorses the principle of checking the validity of any vaccine in its country of origin first, and then checks its efficiency and the way to which it could be safe to use, said the minister, adding that “We intend to obtain enough vaccines to cover 40% of the population as a first stage, hopefully before the end of this year.”

So far, companies have not set a date for the production of the vaccine, but, if received, priority in distributing the vaccine will be given to frontline individuals, health workers, then patients suffering from chronic diseases and then people aged above 50 years, the minister added.
He explained that many vaccines have been announced, but, so far, no cases of application beyond clinical experiments have been registered. “Some firms proposed vaccines for emergency cases, that’s all,” said Dr Ahmed, who advised that no lenience should be allowed, even after experiments reach 90 per cent. “The picture about these vaccines is still vague,” he observed.

Speaking about infant mortality rates, Dr Ahmed said that, before the year 1970, as many as 180 newborns out of 1,000 die, and this percentage dropped to 10.5 deaths per 1,000 newborns, thanks to the application of vaccines against contagious diseases and the improvement of public health.

On travel, the health minister said, the borders are open with the neighbouring countries, and travel is allowed for Omanis and residents as long as they adhere to the announced procedures.

Only expatriates with valid residence visa will be allowed to return to the country, with the government still reviewing the situation to allow certain types of visas.

The Supreme Committee approved that the passengers entering the Sultanate through all border ports should obtain a PCR coronavirus test of no more than 96 hours prior to entering the Sultanate.

Passengers should also undergo the same test upon arrival in the Sultanate and a 7-day quarantine as well as a PCR test to be conducted on the eighth day.

Cautioning against mix messages, the minister said that, a certain time ago in the Sultanate there was some decline in infection cases, but this decline was followed by sharp rise in infection cases due to non-compliance with precautionary measures. As a result, some activities have not yet been re-opened across some sectors, and there is still the issue of visas to be considered.

In his turn, Dr Mohammed bin Said al Ma’amari, Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs, said that the closure of mosques in view of coronavirus was in realisation of legitimate Sharia purpose of safeguarding public health. In the meantime, the re-opening of mosques as announced by the Supreme Committee, has been elaborately studied and will be approached in a gradual manner because we are still in the recovery period and the disease is still lurking.

Instructions provide for the re-opening of 30 per cent of the mosques and the rest will follow suit — 3,000 mosques in all governorates of the Sultanate, he added.

Al Ma’amari explained that mosques that have a capacity of less than 400 worshippers would not be spacious enough for distancing as required by the Ministry of Health.

Meanwhile, Shaikh Rashid bin Ahmed al Shamsi, Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Social Development, said that the target segment of volunteers wishing to participate in tackling coronavirus should be aged between 25 and 60 years, have required medical and legal qualifications and free of chronic diseases. The tasks of a volunteer focus on intensifying health awareness and monitor commitment to the instructions. Registration for volunteering is open for 7 days via an electronic link to be published in the media, Al Shamsi added.
He pointed out that the next step will be the allocation of roles of volunteers in each wilayat in coordination with the Wali. Identification cards will be given to each volunteer and joint committees will be formed from volunteers from the Ministry of Information and Ministry of Health.

Dr Saif bin Salim al Abri, Director-General of Surveillance and Disease Control at the Ministry of Health, said that the third phase of COVID-19 national seriological survey began in October and that results are beginning to appear. He explained that infection proportion in society stood at 15 per cent.

The fourth and final phase of the survey, targeting 5,000 persons, began on Sunday, said Dr Saif, noting that random samples will contribute to a study on estimating the need quantity of COVID-19 vaccine.

Meanwhile, Hamad bin Khalfan al Rashdi, Director-General of Education in South Al Batinah Governorate, said that classroom experience is not mere gathering of students and teachers, but a process that requires the presence of a teacher at the workplace.

The Ministry of Education had endorsed electronic platforms, initially meant to serve as the sole point of access for students and teachers, but some challenges necessitated the existence of another method due to the fact that the Class 1-4 platform named “Minthara” saw only as low as 41 per cent volume of access among pupils and teachers because of methodological differences as compared to other classes.
On the contrary, Google Classroom saw 90 per cent volume of access among students and teaching staff and this excellent proportion is set to touch 100 per cent by next week, said Al Rashdi.

In his turn, Abdullah bin Hamdan al Hamadi, Director of Information Systems Department at the Directorate General of Information Technology, Ministry of Education, said that interaction between students and teachers reached 102,000 hours during online classes and that a 100 per cent-Omani team is supervising the Google Classroom platform.

Al Hamadi added that 260 schools across the Sultanate are fully equipped with Wi-Fi and that there are instances of teachers and students meeting comfortably via special cloud-enhanced (Synced) chambers.

Al Hamadi pointed out that each platform operates two systems and that a Chat plugin is added to Google Classroom for further interaction between students and teachers. The total number of chats in this plugin stood at around 2 million within a matter of two weeks, compared to 860,000 chats at Minthara platform, which means that the number of documents loaded for teachers to see at Minthara platform stood at 6,200 attachments.

— With inputs from ONA