Oman’s pandemic scenario has witnessed deplorable changes

Muscat: Dr Ahmed bin Mohammed al Saidi, Minister of Health, member of the Supreme Committee tasked with tackling developments resulting from Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, has said that the past six weeks in the Sultanate’s pandemic scenario witnessed annoying, deplorable and frightful changes.

The current situation is a far cry from our experience during the first months of the pandemic outbreak when we all managed to limit the number of infection cases due to the cooperation of all people and their adherence to precautionary measures set by the Supreme Committee, the Minister explained.

“It is really sad that our experience suffered a radical setback over the past 6 months as a result of the nonchalance of some people, leading to an astonishing surge in new cases of infection, hitting higher than 9,000!” said the minister, noting that more than 43 deaths occurred just within a span of one week, from last Thursday till today.

The minister made the statement during the 12th press conference held by the Supreme Covid-19 Control Committee since the outbreak of the pandemic. The press conference also saw the participation of Dr Ahmed bin Mohammed al Futaisi, Minister of Transport, member of the Supreme Covid-19 Control Committee, Dr Abdul Aziz bin Mohammed al Hinai, Chief Executive Office of Oman Development Bank (ODB), Dr Saif Bin Salim al Abri, Director General of Disease Control and Surveillance at the Ministry of Health and Dr Ali bin Abdullah al Muqbali, Director of Disease Surveillance and Control Department in the Governorate of North Al Batina.

The Minister of Health underscored that responsibility should be “collective between the government as institutions and as individuals”. He pointed out that failure to stick to health guidelines can cause the transfer of the infection to people having chronic diseases or elderly people, causing severe suffering or even death in some cases.

The minister recalled the decision of Minister of Manpower on escalating penalties on private sector establishments that do not abide by the precautions. “Penalties deterred many, but we are still studying ways of accentuating and escalating them against offenders and non-abiding individuals,” said Dr Ahmed.

He added, “It is high time we acted firmly with offenders. Their names should be announced.” The minister said that deliberate offense causing the infection is considered an equivalent of murder. “In order to sense the risk, we should all feel as potential carriers of the virus,” said the minister.

The Minister of Health said that the health establishments in the Sultanate are still intact and coping. He spoke about a plan to increase the capacity of intensive care units.

He pointed out that there is great indifference and that gatherings were detected in family homes. Some people were found playing football on the beach. Others converged in masses at shopping outlets.

The minister explained that lockdown procedures depend on epidemiological data, noting that this pandemic impaired health establishments, compromising their ability to cope with other diseases and treatments.

The minister urged all those who feel the symptoms of the disease to immediately isolate themselves at their residences. In case the symptoms become more serious, the patient should visit the nearest health centre, said the minister, who advised all those to have mingled with infected persons to act wise and isolate themselves for two weeks.

Al Saidi pointed out that intensive care units are experiencing immense pressure. He added that there is cooperation and willingness at government and private health establishments to deal with the situation, but a plan is under way to set up a field hospital in Muscat Governorate for non-critical cases, with a capacity ranging between 250-300 beds.

On his turn, Dr Ahmed al Futaisi, Minister of Transport, said that inspection and penalties conducted daily by Royal Oman Police and that these operations will be intensified and increased during the current period. He pointed out that the penalty of RO20 awarded for failure to wear facemasks is no longer a determent and that this penalty will be made more severe.

Al Futaisi said that Oman Air has been impacted negatively, like similar international airlines, and added that it had already been reported that the losses in this sector are big. In this context, he referred to the formation of an emergency committee to cut down these losses. “We have already shrunk the operational budget for 2020 by 43 percent, which led to the alleviation of losses,” said the minister.

Al Futaisi pointed out that the government will not allow the aviation (system) sector to collapse and will not falter in supporting it. He said that international organisations estimate that the recovery of aviation activity to normal business status in the Middle East will take between 3 to 4 years.

Speaking about other business activities, the minister said that the discussions covered the printing of newspapers and the issue was entrusted to a technical team to include this in the 5th list of commercial activities to be considered by the Supreme Committee for resumption during its upcoming meeting.

He added that activities of the sports sector will not be opened, except for camel training, but the Supreme Committee is currently studying scopes for opening gyms in hotels and other places.

Meanwhile, Dr. Abdul Aziz al Hinai, CEO of ODB, said that, “In the implementation of Royal directives of His Majesty Sultan Haitham Bin Tarik endorsing a programme of interest-free emergency loans to help business establishments that took the brunt of the pandemic, the Supreme Committee has entrusted the programme to ODB, which will coordinate with other departments concerned, notably the Public Authority for Small and Medium Enterprises (Riyada) and Al Raffd Fund.

The programme will target the following business segments:

-Those who dedicate their full time to the management of their own businesses like owners of taxis and driving instruction businesses, women’s enterprises, notably beauty parlors and nursery schools,

-Small and Medium Enterprises whose owners hold Riyada Card—including borrowers from Al Raffd Fund, micro business firms and the most stricken segment of borrowers and ODB customers.

The period of repayment will range from four years to 6 months to be treated as a grace period, said Al Hinai, who called upon the target segments to submit their applications via branches of the ODB with effect from Sunday, July 5.

Al Hinai pointed out that the government’s directives are clear on the issue of loans. He added that loans granted by ODB have been rescheduled for a period of 6 months and will be revised by the end of the duration, if necessary.

He pointed out that priority is given to SMEs that have large numbers of employees whose salaries have been slashed, as well as owners of beauty parlors. “We welcome all applications, depending on priorities and capacities,” he said.

Al Hinai explained that the emergency loans programme does not set a fixed sum for beneficiaries. He added that the volume of loss incurred by the beneficiary is the main factor in considering loans. He said that more than 25,000 applicants benefited from the emergency loan programme.

The bank has about 25,000 accounts, which means 25,000 borrowers, among them 19,000 benefiting from interest-free loans . This proves that the government accords great attention to micro businesses, particularly self-employed owners, vocation entrepreneurs and crafts people.

Meanwhile, Dr Saif bin Salim al Abri, Director-General of Disease Control and Surveillance, said that a national investigative survey on measuring the prevalence of Covid-19 will begin on  July 12. The survey will cover all age groups, Omanis and expatriates alike, he added, noting that the 10-week programme will test Covid-19-related antibodies in the patients’ blood. He explained that the survey will be conducted during 4 courses, 5 days each, with intervals of two weeks.

Al Abri added that a “co-existence document (on ways to live with/adapt to the disease)” has been approved by the specialised team headed by Dr Abdullah al Harrasi, Chairman of the Public Authority for Radio and Television. He said that the document will be submitted to the Supreme Committee for endorsement. The document sets guidelines for a gradual return to normal life, along with the application of precautionary measures.

Al Abri explained that the smart application Tarassud Plus is a type of platform that serves three purposes: data collection, data analysis and medical detection.

Al Abri said that the app provides for communication with 24,000 people who undergo home quarantine at a rate of 3 times a day and in 5 languages. The patients will communicate with a Medical Supervisor (Mushrif app) that proved its worth as a tracking device to monitor the condition of patients, people who have mingled with infected persons and truck drivers.

On his turn, Dr Ali al Muqbali said that gatherings are the biggest culprit of the recent spate in cases of infection in North Al Batinah Governorate. He cited examples of wedding parties which, he said, put hospitals on the verge.

Sohar Hospital alone has 26 Covid-19 patients who have been put under oxygen apparatuses, 6 in intensive care units and under breathing devices, he added. –ONA

Oman Observer

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