Muscat: The Supreme Committee tasked with tackling developments resulting from coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic held a media briefing at the Diplomatic Club on Monday where editors from Oman News Agency (ONA), Oman TV and other mass media received updates.
Dr. Abdullah Nasser Al Harrasi, Minister of Information, member of the Supreme Committee, said that His Majesty Sultan Haitham Bin Tarik formed the COVID-19 Supreme Committee at an early stage of coronavirus’s outbreak at a global level. He noted that the Supreme Committee took prompt action to safeguard public health, namely by issuing decisions aimed to curb the spread of the virus and keep it in minimum levels in Oman.
“Nowadays we live through critical stages of the coronavirus pandemic that caused a lot of suffering to humanity since the start of last year and despite all the efforts exerted by the departments concerned, topped by the Health Ministry and other health institutions in the country. However, daily figures show a sharp and serious surge in cases admitted at hospital wards and intensive care units, as well as death cases,” said Dr. Abdullah.
The minister pointed out that the Supreme Committee, at the behest of His Majesty the Sultan, took into consideration the need to minimise the impacts of any related procedures on different aspects of life in the Sultanate or government services or private sector performance.
Dr. Abdullah explained that the precautionary measures undertaken by the Sultanate to tackle the pandemic covered all sectors, including the health, security, military, education, economic, transport, logistics and foodstuff sectors.
The minister said that the Supreme Committee understands the opinions of segments of society and their response to the exceptional conditions that gave rise to the Committee’s decisions.
He reaffirmed that the decisions and procedures were aimed, in the first place, at protecting all against infection with the disease, which might lead to death.
Due to the pandemic’s novel and dangerous nature, the state has carried out the largest public awareness campaign in its history, said the minister, who laid emphasis on the significance of the precautionary and preventive measures and urging all individuals in the Sultanate to stick to them. The awareness campaign was conducted by the official, private and social media.
“This is a time of crisis. Every individual is expected to take the initiative in self-protection. We have seen the collapse of the health sector in many countries due to their inability to take the pressure from record rise in number of infected people. We do not wish to see that happen in our country. However, the unprecedented rise in numbers of patients admitted to hospital wards and intensive care units sounds the alarm of an impending danger,” said Dr. Abdullah.
He noted that the government is standing by its mandate to provide all means of protection for society against more propagation of the disease. The Ministry of Health announced that the National Anti-COVID-19 Immunisation Strategy targets immunising 3,200,000 people (70 per cent of Oman’s population) in two stages, the first of which concludes by the end of June and the second by the end of December 2021, the minister added.
“We would have been in a worse situation had we not implemented the Supreme Committee’s decisions, informed by expert opinion furnished by specialised teams.
The minister pointed out that the decisions taken by the Committee for the Holy Month of Ramadan might be revised at any moment if the number of infection/death cases subsides. The decisions can either be relaxed or toughened, depending on the pandemic situation, said Dr. Abdullah, who urged all to stick to the instructions and, in particular, avoid gatherings.
Laying emphasis on the same point, Health Minister Dr. Ahmed Mohammed Al Sa’eedi said that gatherings and failure to wear face masks are the main culprits behind the current increase in infection with the new variants of the virus, which, he said has mutated more than one time.
Dr. Ahmed added that a committee was formed within the Health Ministry (under the chairmanship of the Health Affairs Under-Secretary) to follow up updates on vaccinations.
The minister explained that the strategy undertaken by the Health Ministry seeks forging deals with companies with established history in conducting research and producing vaccines. The minister deplored politicising vaccine acquisition at a global level, a measure by which some countries book quotas far more than their actual needs while other countries prohibited the exportation of vaccines. This is in addition to the fact that the firm with which contract was signed to provide vaccines failed to honour its pledge.
The minister pointed out that the Sultanate signed an undertaking with the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations (GAVI) to book 10 per cent of the vaccines, but delay in handing over the consignments and firms reneging their promises complicated the arrival of vaccines in the Sultanate.
Dr. Ahmed affirmed that the National Immunisation Strategy targets the immunisation of 70 per cent of the Sultanate’s population and that the proportion of vaccination of the first segment (those aged 65 years) stood at more than 95 per cent.
“However, rumours made some of the target people shun the vaccines. As a result, some of them had to be admitted at ICUs and later passed away,” the minister added.
Dr. Ahmed said that the non-availability of vaccines in Oman has nothing to do with fiscal issues. This is because His Majesty Sultan Haitham Bin Tarik is lending strong support to the supply of vaccines, the minister added.
On his turn, Qais Mohammed Al Yousef, Minister of Commerce, Industry and Investment Promotion, said that a proposal was made to exempt the delivery service from ban imposed on movement, but it was decided not to allow delivery service because it is difficult to monitor this activity.
However, in the Supreme Committee’s decision on movement ban during Ramadan, exemptions will be given to some activities, including the movement of 3-tonne trucks, the operation of pharmacies and the movement of employees of health and media sectors who hold relevant permissions.
The minister pointed out that the package of the Fiscal Balance Plan, announced recently, will support establishments by providing them with interest-free loans from Oman Development Bank, besides emergency loans within regulations to be announced by the Authority for Small and Medium Enterprises Development.
This is in addition to direct orders from His Majesty the Sultan on studying the conditions of companies adversely affected by certain regulations. Views on this will be forwarded to the Council of Ministers, said Al Yousef.
Meanwhile, Eng. Said Hamoud Al Ma’awali, Minister of Transport, Communications and Information Technology, said that considerable rise in seaport activity by (90 per cent) has been observed in the Sultanate.
The minister stressed the need to upgrade digital communication and attract more business. He also underscored the significance of connecting airports with seaports due to the conditions brought about by the pandemic.
Maj. Abdullah Ali Al-Harthy, Assistant Inspector General of Police and Customs for Operations, said that two call centres are actively operating. The first, mainly for reporting traffic issues, can be accessed via phone number (9999) and the second, to report violations of decisions of the Supreme Committee can be contacted via (1099).
In response to a query about movement during the period of nighttime movement ban, Maj. Al-Harthy said that any person who holds a ticket and a valid visa will be allowed to travel via Muscat International Airport.