With continued lax attitudes among the general public as well as delayed measures from authorities, Qatar can expect another lockdown.
Sources have told Doha News that a lockdown with restrictions similar to those experienced during the start of the pandemic last year will be announced within the next 48 hours.
Restaurants will no longer accept dine-in customers, office capacities will be reduced, and unconfirmed reports suggest all retail shops, except supermarkets and pharmacies, will be shut as part of the measures.
As Qatar grapples with a second Covid-19 wave, some believe this upcoming lockdown is quite simply too little, too late.
At the end of 2020, Qatar wrapped up the year in a much better position with regards to handling the novel coronavirus than other countries around the world. However, this success has been brought into jeopardy, with concerning numbers in recent weeks ringing alarm bells.
Over the past year, Qatar has maintained the world’s lowest coronavirus mortality rate and has been rightly praised for doing so. But the once-contained Covid-19 situation in the country has now almost spiralled out of control and the number of deaths and Intensive Care Unit admissions are increasing higher than seen even at the height of the pandemic last year.
Recent inaction, an apparent lack of clarity from authorities on how to deal with new strains of the virus and an all-out denial that Qatar could face a second wave after initially flattening the curve has now set the country back significantly and put it on the cusp of yet another lockdown.
After months of denial, health authorities finally accepted the emergence of the country’s second wave and quickly scrambled to hit the brakes with a set of new restrictions in late February, but many saw these measures as too soft and ineffective. The numbers vindicated the skeptics.
According to official health ministry figures, eight people died from the novel coronavirus in December. The number decreased to three in January before shooting up to 10 in February, including an 11-year-old child. In March, 33 people succumbed to the virus.
On Monday, 910 positive new cases were recorded, bumping the total number of active infections up to 17,587. Just days earlier, the Covid-19 death toll surpassed 300 for the first time. The official statistics show 40 people were admitted to ICU in the past 24 hours – a shocking figure that showcases the severity of the recently-found UK strain.
In the face of all of this, many have questioned why authorities have not matched the worsening conditions with the same resoluteness and firmness seen in 2020. Afterall, it was the government’s swift action, competence and firm measures that were behind the reason for flattening the curve in the first place.
But an entire years’ worth of a pandemic is difficult to deal with. Qatar’s business community has been lobbying hard to sway authorities away from reimposing restrictions to allow for companies to recover from economic strain. It’s clear to see, though, that these business owners were shortsighted in their analysis of the situation, failing to see how a lack of imminent action to stop the spread of the virus now can and will deal a major blow to their pockets in the long-term.
Meanwhile, a source at Hamad Medical Corporation told Doha News that a change of leadership has also led to a lack of clear-cut strategy. Last year, Qatar’s health ministry appointed the director of HMC to implement strict measures – he did so successfully. However, a different official has since been given the reigns and sources say he has been “unable to steer the ship with the same efficiency as his predecessor”.
Last year, frontliners knew what to do, how to react and who to answer to. Directives and protocols have become too lax and vague since then, according to medical staff we’ve spoken to.
Possibly the clearest of differences between the circumstances of 2020 and 2021 is the increase of spread among children. Schools were shut for the majority of last year and children were banned from shopping malls and playgrounds at public parks. Since those restrictions were lifted, figures show a notable rise in Covid-19 positive cases particularly with the presence of the new UK strain.
But it’s not just authorities who have dropped the ball.
Needless to say, and as expected, the public has grown extremely tired of the global state of affairs. This fatigue has been clearly demonstrated across the world, where people have started to take a more lax approach to precautionary measures.
Those who wore masks, gloves and even sanitised their shopping before unpacking at home now barely think twice about such precautions. After a year of restrictions and lockdown, society is simply tired of distancing themselves from friends and loved ones, and many have started to mingle in large groups indoors.
Strength in numbers
Meanwhile, with the rollout of the nationwide inoculation drive, people have become more complacent and less concerned. Although we all welcome the latest scientific developments, no vaccine provides 100% protection from the virus and a source told Doha News that some who received the first dose of the vaccine have been admitted to hospital after catching the infection.
When the pandemic was first declared in March 2020, Qatari society came together, as was seen during the 2017 blockade, to work towards protecting the community as a whole. This swift responsiveness, undoubtedly triggered by a shock, has allowed Qatar to ride all waves and come out both unharmed and stronger.
An irresponsible approach by society, as well as a lack of urgency from authorities to combat the second wave, could see the pandemic linger around for a lot longer than expected.
It is crystal clear that the only way to battle Covid-19 is to unite as a community – when one person is infected, we are all at risk. It’s time now to unite once more to kick this virus to the curb, once and for all.