Muscat: With a rising number of hospitalisations and ICU admissions due to the COVID-19, just 14 beds are available in intensive care units (ICUs) across the country.
As 751 patients were taken to hospitals, the number of admissions in the ICUs rose to 234. The highest figure during the pandemic so far was reached on 11 April, 2021. 96 per cent of all beds in intensive care are now occupied by COVID patients.
The total number of cases in the country stands at 173,029, inclusive of 153,986 recoveries and 1,789 deaths.
Although more beds in intensive care are required to accommodate future admissions, Dr Faryal Al Lawati, the head of the Infectious Diseases Unit at the Royal Hospital, said it is not as easy as it seems to expand ICUs, owing to a number of reasons.
“Vacant beds in hospitals cannot be occupied by just COVID-19 patients, and if we do increase the number of beds for them, by converting existing beds to one designed for intensive care, it means we have to reduce other health services provided, in exchange for more coronavirus admissions,” explained Al Lawati, who is also a senior infectious diseases consultant at the hospital.
“If the rise in the number of COVID cases does continue, the healthcare sector in the hospitals will be forced to halt some of their health services provided to ordinary people – many of these are essential functions,” she said.
“We only have a limited number of staff in hospitals in Oman,” she said. “It is difficult to provide staff to cover this increase at present: Three shifts per ICU patient are needed every day to provide care for them, which means each patient requires three nurses per shift to take care of him on a daily basis.
“When the numbers of COVID cases increase, other departments of the health sector have to release their medical teams and transfer them to the coronavirus wards or the ICU so that they can cover the shortage of staff we face in treating these patients,” admitted Al Lawati.
“Each hospital has a certain number of beds and assigned medical staff, that has not changed since their inception.”
The increase in cases of infection in the country and the subsequent spike in hospital admissions has also forced all hospitals to postpone both essential and non-essential surgical procedures required by many in the country. Earlier, hospitals in other governorates used to also send their staff to Muscat, which had the highest numbers of COVID cases in the country, but now that other regions are also experiencing increased infection rates, hospital there can no longer send their staff to supplement medical teams in the capital.
Providing an example of the elaborate nature of care required for COVID patients in ICUs, Faryal Al Lawati said, “To cover 40 beds, we need a total of 170 nurses. We also need six additional nurses from other departments to provide immediate assistance in the care of a single COVID patient, such as transferring them from one bed to another, or helping fix tubes for them, so you can imagine how many people we need to take care of COVID patients.
“For this reason, increasing the numbers of beds for COVID patients in ICUs is not that easy,” she added, reminding people once again to avoid gatherings, and stop overcrowding in shops and other public places, as well as practice proper hygiene in the form of masks and regular handwashing.
Ibrahim Al Maimani, a data analyst in the country, added, “We are still seeing record numbers of inpatients in hospitals, as well as in intensive care. The 1,480 cases reported on 12 April was the highest single-day increase seen in 265 days.”
The record of 13 deaths in a single day is also the highest witnessed since the end of October 2020.
“It is noteworthy that on March 31, 2021 the number of people in hospitals was 515, which increased to 751 cases by April 12, an increase of 46 percent or 236 cases.“
“There is also an increase in the number of intensive care admissions during the same period with a rise of 78 inpatients from 156 on March 31 to reach 234 cases by the April 12,” he added.
To bring down the rates of infections during the Holy Month of Ramadan, a number of measures have been adopted by the Supreme Committee to deal with COVID-19. These include a ban on movement and commercial activities between 9pm and 4am. Only emergency services, goods trucks, and individuals in certain fields who have been previously issued passes can move about during this time. Ramadan prayers in mosques are also prohibited during the Holy Month.
Dr Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Saidi, the Minister of Health, attributed the jump in cases and related hospitalisations to a number of reasons. He said: “The strains of the virus in Oman have mutated more than once, and failure to comply with precautionary measures such as gatherings are among the reasons for the increase in the numbers of cases and new strains.
“Some people refused vaccination due to unfounded rumours around them, and some of them got admitted in intensive care and passed away,” he added.
Dr Abdullah Nasser bin Khalifa Al Harrasi, the Minister of Information, added that things could have been worse if these measures had not been adopted. “We all have no choice but to continue our commitment to the established controls, and this commitment will guarantee a faster return to life as we knew it before the emergence of this global epidemic,” he said.
Qais bin Mohammed Al Yousef, the Minister of Commerce, Industry, and Investment Planning, added that although plans to allow delivery services to run during the lockdown were considered, these were dropped, because of the inability to properly monitor them.