Clear plan to deal with community spread: Health Minister

Muscat: Beginning Friday, free test to check COVID-19 will be done on both citizens and expats in the Wilayat of Muttrah.

“We will begin to expand the examination on Friday (April 10) in Muttrah for more expats, as our idea is to focus on people and not their nationalities”, said Dr Ahmed bin Mohammed al Saeedi, Minister of Health, in an online press conference on Thursday.

He said that to make the communication more clear to the expat community, different languages will be used to guide them to the places of examination, he said.

According to the minister, the government will examine and treat all expats at free of cost and “other issues will not be considered.”

Expats coming for the tests will not be asked about their whereabouts or residence cards, and the goal is to test maximum number of people, he revealed.

While giving a hint of more cases in coming weeks, the minister said, “I believe in the next two weeks we expect to reach the peak of the curve, that is, by the end of April. We can skip the peak if everyone adheres to the instructions of the Ministry of Health. We have reported 38 new cases, bringing the total number to 475, including 211 expatriates. 109 patients have recovered and 33 are hospitalised.”

He added that as of now, the country has enough medical devices and equipment.

“The Sultanate received a shipment of testing gear, and it will be distributed to health institutions to examine the largest sample of people in the coming days. Also, by April 15, we will get new devices and equipment from aboard. We already received five shipments of medical equipment and supplies from China in cooperation with the Royal Air Force of Oman and new shipments will be coming soon. Laboratory equipment, however, remain the biggest challenge”, he said.

The minister confirmed that the country has contacted several countries to exchange medical supplies if needed, saying “We are discussing a plan to exchange ventilators with other countries at the time of need. I want to stress that the Sultanate has sufficient stocks of ventilators and masks now. However, during this crisis, many local industries have come out with solutions for face masks and protective suits. It is something great to discuss.”

Dr Saif al Abri, DG of Diseases Surveillance and Control, pointed that there were cases of infection among Omani students coming from abroad. The MoH is in the process of intensifying the tests and new measures will be taken soon.

 “We have a clear plan if there is a community transmission anywhere in the Sultanate. Muttrah is currently witnessing this problem as 31 of the new 38 cases that were reported on Thursday are from Muttrah,” he said.

He said hospitalisation in government healthcare is now limited to expectant mothers, dialysis patients and other emergency cases.

The Supreme Committee tasked with tackling COVID-19, reiterated its call for the citizens and residents in the Sultanate to adhere to the instructions of the Ministry of Health (MoH) and give special care to those suffering from chronic diseases like those taking immunosuppressive drugs because they are more vulnerable to get infected.

“It is preferable to isolate the elderly inside houses and apply social distancing even among the family members,” said the Supreme Committee members during the online briefing at the headquarters of the Ministry of Education.

Dr Saif al Maamari, Adviser to the Minister of Education, while explaining about the ministry’s plan, said,  “it created a platform for distance education. The experiment that we are doing now may be inevitable even in future, as networks and devices were provided to some students”, he said.

Coordination is in progress with the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) to develop plans with ‘Unified Admission’ for public diploma students, he said.

Al Maamari clarified, “We are exploring alternatives with the suspension of classroom study. I assure you that solutions will be in the best interest of the students, as we care for their future.”

Brigadier General Saeed al Asimi, Director-General of Operations at the Royal Oman Police, said the check points at the Muscat Governorate have been activated.

“Movement of individuals to and from the governorate will be limited, and we appeal to everyone to understand the main reason for this. In light of this national crisis, we ask everyone to be careful and cooperate. The closure decision has been taken to limit the spread of the virus. It is all in the interest of the homeland and the people”, he said.