* No significant rise in Covid cases since start of September
* Country 'ready to re-escalate Covid-19 restrictions if needed, if the indicators show virus is coming back'
There has been no significant increase in the rate of Covid-19 infections in Qatar since the start of September, a senior health official has said.
While this is somewhat reassuring, the country is "ready to re-escalate Covid-19 restrictions if needed, if the indicators show that the virus is coming back", Dr Abdullatif al-Khal, chair of the National Strategic Group on Covid-19 and head of the Infectious Diseases Division at Hamad Medical Corporation, said while delivering an online lecture on how Qatar has handled Covid-19.
The lecture, in which Dr al-Khal also referred to the need for a safe and effective vaccine, was an initiative of the Global Public Diplomacy Network (GPDNet), which is presided over by Katara - the Cultural Village Foundation.
He said the mortality rate is significantly lower in Qatar than in other countries - about 10-fold lower - and noted how adequate and prompt steps were taken across the healthcare system to deal with Covid-19. He also acknowledged the key role played by the country's academic sector in fighting the pandemic.
"At this point, the epidemic in Qatar is of low-to-medium level endemicity, the virus is still there but it's not coming back in waves like you're seeing in other countries - such as the European countries, fortunately. The figures are going up and down from day to day," he said.
"Most of the spread of the virus is through social gathering, social visits and social occasions like parties or meetings in majlises. It's less so from schools or businesses, which is somewhat reassuring. However, it is worrying at the same time because it is affecting, at this point, Qataris and white-collar professionals. This sub-population, as I had described earlier, hosts the most vulnerable group of people for Covid-19, which are the elderly and those with chronic conditions," Dr al-Khal said.
Noting that Qatar is now in Phase 4 of the gradual lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, Dr al-Khal said: "The Ministry of Public Health has put together nine indicators that it's following. These indicators are related to epidemiology, healthcare capacity and public health, and they will guide the ministry to make recommendations to the government if the current level of lifting of restrictions should continue, or if there should be the reimposing of some restrictions to contain the virus."
"The only way out of this pandemic, I think, for Qatar and the rest of the world is to have a safe and effective vaccine. There are many promising candidates that are in the pipeline, and we hope to start seeing the results of Phase 3 of the clinical trials by the end of October for some of them. Hopefully that will lead to the approval of some of them to be used for the prevention of the virus's spread."
He said although vaccines may be approved before the end of the year, it may take time for all - or most - of the countries to acquire the vaccines in large-enough quantities to protect their population.
"Most likely the virus will behave, for the next few years, like influenza - where it's coming back every year in waves. This can be controlled or reduced with the use of vaccine, which could be annual, every other year or every few years....hopefully we will be able to control the virus and start going back to the normal level of activities, whether it's business, economy, travel, social activities, education, etc," Dr al-Khal added.
The full lecture can be seen on YouTube at https://youtu.be/mpT2rdMsy6k