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S African variant behind spike in COVID-19 cases: Dr Al Khal

S African variant behind spike in COVID-19 cases: Dr Al Khal

Tribune News Network
Doha
The South African variant has had a significant impact on the rise in COVID-19 cases in the past 10 days and the new restrictions coming into force from Friday were the most needed one, a senior health official has said.
“At the start of the year as we saw the number of new daily cases begin to rise steadily, we acted quickly to introduce further restrictions in the beginning of February. These restrictions proved effective at suppressing the spread of the virus and for many weeks the number of new daily infections remained steady,” Dr Abdullatif Al Khal, chair of Qatar’s National Health Strategic Group on COVID-19, said at a press conference on Wednesday.
“During the past two weeks, we have seen a significant increase in the number of new daily COVID-19 cases and we have recorded more than 900 new cases each day in the past few days. Of particular concern is the high number of people in intensive care. This figure is now significantly higher than at the peak of the first wave last year,” he added.
Dr Al Khal said, however, the introduction of the UK variant into the community in March saw further increases in cases and, notably, hospitalizations and “we responded with further restrictions”.
“The latest development in this pandemic of the circulation of the South African variant has meant we are once again moving quickly to further increase the restrictions. Despite our strict quarantine policy that is in place for all travellers, the South Africa variant has now made its way into the community — meaning we have both the UK and South Africa variants circulating,” he said.
Dr Al Khal said both these new strains cause more severe symptoms than the original strain.
“We believe the South Africa variant has had a significant impact on the rise in COVID-19 cases in the past ten days,” he added.
He reminded that Qatar was still going through a second wave of the virus transmissions.
“We have not reached the peak yet, and it is worth noting that most of the infections in this wave are among citizens and residents with white collar jobs and among their families.”
Dr Al Khal singled out family visits as the biggest cause of infections as he drew a grave picture of the current situation.
“We are witnessing a remarkable increase in the number of cases requiring admission to intensive care. As many as 266 people were admitted to ICUs in the past week,” he said.
The percentage of positive tests for those with symptoms is 30 percent, and the percentage of positivity among contacts reaches 11 percent, Dr Khal added.
According to Dr Khal, the vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have proven effective against the South African and British strains of the coronavirus.
Dr Al Khal said, “I know that today’s announcement of new restrictions, just one week before the start of the Holy Month of Ramadan, will be difficult for many people. With these new restrictions in place for at least the next two weeks the start of the Ramadan will be impacted. But as always, as individuals and as a community, we have the will and the power to suppress the spread of the virus like we did the first time.”
“If we fail to play our part in following the restrictions and preventive measures, and cases continue to rise, we may need to escalate the restriction further.”
He said, however, if each and every one of us takes responsibility and acts appropriately over the next two to four weeks we can begin to see a decline in cases, and “we can consider easing some of the restrictions”.
“Having given one million doses of the vaccine is a great achievement that saw 26 percent of the adult population getting at least one dose,” he said.
“We ask everyone, including those who have taken the vaccine, to make sure to apply the new preventive measures and restrictions more than ever, because this is the fastest way now to reduce infections and deaths.
“Despite the rise in people requiring admission to hospital, the healthcare system has sufficient capacity to ensure everyone who needs medical care can receive it without delay,” he said.
“While managing to keep the virus under control throughout the last quarter of 2020, Qatar maintained a set of strict policies aimed at preventing a second wave. We continued to keep in place measures to prevent the virus from spreading — this included quarantine for travelers, mask wearing, social distancing, limits on gatherings, temperature and Ehteraz checks in all public buildings, and blended learning in schools,” Dr Al Khal pointed out.
“Despite these ongoing efforts to prevent a second wave, Qatar, like many countries in the region and around the world, has not been able to prevent a second wave,” he added.
Dr Al Khal said, “People who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 will be gradually exempted from several restrictions meant to stem the spread of the coronavirus.”
“More exceptions are coming for those who received the vaccine,” he added.