Full awareness of economic, health, social impacts of Covid-19: Health Minister

Muscat: Dr Ahmed bin Mohammed al Saidi, Minister of Health, reaffirmed that the Supreme Committee tasked with tackling developments resulting from Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic is fully aware of the economic, health and social impacts of the disease.

Acting from this high level of awareness, the committee seeks to strike a balance in its decision aimed to serve the public interest, said the minister, adding that the panel coordinates with government and private sectors and owners of privately-owned businesses, particularly where it pertains to economy and business.

The minister explained that the Supreme Committee understands the challenges posed to owners of small and medium enterprises due to closure of business. It is aware that, the longer the lockdown, the heavier the losses incurred, but it is also aware that any immature reopening of business activities will have major negative consequences.

Dr Ahmed made the statement during the Supreme Committee’s 7th press conference on Thursday, which also saw the participation of Abdullah bin Mohammed al Sarmi, Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Higher Education, Brig Said bin Sulaiman al Aasmi, Director-General of Operations at Royal Oman Police, and Dr Saif bin Salim al Abri, Director-General of Contagious Diseases Surveillance and Control Department at the Ministry of Health.

The minister expressed his thanks to the government of His Majesty Sultan Haitham Bin Tarik and to all government, private and popular parties for their continuous support to the Supreme Committee towards implementation of decisions the panel have issued as part of measures to manage the crisis.

Thanking citizens and residents, the minister exhorted all to continue to maintain Stay-at-Home and social distancing measures, as well as avoiding assembling and all types of gathering.

The minister pointed out that the Supreme Committee’s meeting next Monday will monitor the situation and explore options ahead of Eid al Fitr holidays. Enough epidemiological data is available now, said the minister, who warned that in case gatherings are not moderated during the Eid holidays, the number of infected cases will go up.

Speaking about the current situation, Dr. Ahmed said that the Sultanate registered a total number of 4,341 cases of infection with Covid-19 and 17 deaths, while the number of people who recovered from the disease stood at 1,303. As many as 96 patients are hospitalized, of them 31 in intensive care units (ICUs). Unfortunately, ICU cases took longer than expected, said the minister, but he reaffirmed that mortality rate in the Sultanate among patients infected with Covid-19 is still quite low, just 0.4 per cent.

The minister cautioned that the issue of free medication for all expatriates in the Sultanate has been wrongly understood. “Every expatriate has a sponsor and the sponsor should bear the responsibility of his/her treatment. As for those who have health insurance, their insurance companies should bear the cost of their treatment. The issue is under discussion with insurance firms, he said.

The minister expressed his concern about some expatriates’ failure to stick to the instructions. He deplored this behavior as equally the fault of some sponsors and firms that he described as “negligent” and “irresponsible”. Testimony to this is the case of residence of 70 workers in a single house and the nonchalance of the company’s owner, who totally shrugged off his responsibility after epidemiological investigation indicated that one of the workers was infected.

Royal Oman Police and the departments concerned will step up action against offenders, said the minister, noting that many of them are now behind bars for committing similar crimes. It is time for authorities to take more deterrent action against offenders, said the minister.

Dr. Ahmed explained that the number of screened cases in the Sultanate crossed the 61,000 mark. He added that anyone who feels any symptoms should visit any government or private health establishments for checkup.

In a note of gratitude to donors, the minister said that donations to the Supreme Committee so far stood at RO 26.5 million (exactly RO 26,555,705), of which RO 18.5 million has been spent. The figure includes the sum of RO 10 million donated as a generous gesture by His Majesty Sultan Haitham Bin Tarik, said the minister, who reaffirmed that the government of His Majesty the Sultan and benevolent society will not turn their back to expatriates who are stranded in this crisis. The Relief and Shelter Committee and charity organizations will sustain the livelihood of the improverished residents, he added.

Dr. Ahmed pointed out that the Sultanate has always been in the forefront of nations that facilitated the return of their citizens and that it drew considerable sums from the designated Fund to secure the return of a large number of Omanis from abroad upon the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and that, despite the limited options of flights from abroad, the Supreme Committee will consider bringing the rest of Omanis who wish to come back from abroad.

The minister added that in Old Town Muttrah, the cases of infection are in decline, but in the Wilayat of Muttrah as a whole, the number of infected people is still going up, mostly in Al Hamriya and Al Wadi Al Kabir. He explained that the lockdown of the wilayat will continue till such a time that the number of infected cases declines to level reassuring to the departments concerned. The easing of the lockdown might come at a time earlier than specified by the Supreme Committee, depending on positive results, he added.

Dr. Ahmed pointed out that convalescent plasma therapy has been applied to 17 patients at hospital, 5 of them had breathing apparatus removed, and the rest of the cases are recovering quite fast.

The minister said that the discovery of a vaccine for Covid-19 needs a long time because side effects have to be known beforehand and addressed, said the minister.

He added that a team has been tasked by the Supreme Committee to undertake the Recovery Project in case we reach the period of coping with the situation, and this includes a certain lifestyle and practices to which we have to be accustomed.

Higher Education Ministry’s Under-Secretary Dr Abdullah al Sarmi said, “As soon as the outbreak of the disease was discovered, we started communicating with Omani dispatched for study abroad and they were asked to return home provided they finalized formalities with their respective educational establishments, as well as immigration procedures in their countries of study. Also, decisions were issued with regard to colleges of applied sciences and private colleges to facilitate students’ acquiring a reasonable level of learning during this period, said Al Sarmi.

He added that opportunities exist for dispatching students for study abroad, but the Ministry is considering postponing this to January 2021. He explained that students may choose to study at home or abroad.

Speaking about people’s passage through Command and Control Checkpoints, ROP’s Brig Said al Aasmi said that the Royal Oman Police considers humanitarians cases and emergency cases, like people who wish to go to hospital and owners of business activities. He urged parents to shoulder their responsibilities and avoid organizing any social events during the forthcoming Eid Al Fitr holidays to avoid causing an increase in number of infections.

Brig Al Aasmi added that certain telephone numbers have been dedicated to report any violations or breach of precautionary instructions, and the ROP’s response will be immediate.

He said that reporting of offenders is a social and ethical responsibility.

Brig Al Aasmi explained that ROP public service halls are closed for the time being. As for vehicle registration, this can be done online via the ROP’s website or through Sanad offices.

Meanwhile, Dr Saif al Abri, Director-General of Diseases Surveillance and Control at the Ministry of Health, said that convalescent plasma is prescribed only to patients in ICUs, and in accordance with established protocol. He pointed to big shortage in donation of convalescent plasma among those who recovered from Covid-19.

Dr Saif gave two reasons for an observed increase in number of Covid-19-positive cases. The first is due to free screening, which encouraged all to take the tests. The second deals with congested areas of residence of expatriate workers employed by companies that overcrowd the lodgings. –ONA

Oman Observer

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