Muscat: Dr. Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Saidi, Minister of Health, member of the Supreme Committee tasked with tackling developments of coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, has said that the resumption of office work and economic activities does not by any means denote the abolishing of health measures and should not signal practicing unhealthy habits.
“In the meantime, there is no evidence that the re-opening of the first, second or third set of activities has had any direct role in increasing COVID-19-positive cases,” Dr. Ahmed added.
The minister made the statement during the 11th press conference held by the Supreme COVID-19 Control Committee since the outbreak of the pandemic. The meeting also saw the participation of Dr. Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Futaisi, Minister of Transport (Member of the Supreme Committee), Dr. Saif bin Salim Al Abri, Director-General of Disease Control and Surveillance Department at the Ministry of Health, Sayyid Dr. Mujahid bin Raffea Al Busaidi, Senior Consultant of Internal Medicine at Sultan Qaboos University Hospital, and Dr. Huda bint Abdullah Al Khalili, Intensive Care Consultant and in-charge of COVID-19 Unit.
Dr. Ahmed pointed out that most countries began to open activities and that countries have to choose one of two options: Either economic collapse or shouldering a collective responsibility (shared by individuals, establishments and institutions) to avoid the disease. In this context, the minister affirmed that the resumption of office work and economic activities does not imply dropping health precautions. He pointed out that official procedures related to shutting down or resuming activities have been implemented gradually.
The minister noted that, it was the first time in the Sultanate’s history that the number of patients admitted to intensive care units exceeded 100 cases as a result of a single disease. He said that the total number of hospitalised people stood at 1,769 since the outbreak of the pandemic.
Dr. Ahmed affirmed that the Supreme Committee issued decisions for severe punitive penalties against anyone who breaches the official procedures. Still, the number of registered positive cases among Omanis are on a steady rise due to family-transfused transmission of infection, said Dr. Ahmed.
The Minister stressed the tenacity of the health sector in the Sultanate, but he cautioned that it is feared that health establishments might land in a situation where they would not be able to accommodate all cases requiring hospitalisation or intensive care.
Al Saidi pointed out that the decision to lock down Dhofar Governorate and some tourist sites was aimed at preventing gatherings. The lockdown, he observed, will continue till the 3rd of July and that the decision is being revised and could be amended, extended or cancelled, depending on the findings.
The minister said that the number of patients who recovered during the period of isolation is also on a steady rise. He pointed out that 75 per cent to 80 per cent of hospitalised patients were later discharged. He added that medical measures will be implemented for patients suffering from chronic diseases, with the prime aim of helping these patients avoid going to the workplace. Within the same context, an appropriate mechanism will be devised for pregnant women, he added.
Dr. Ahmed explained that it was agreed with insurance companies and private health establishments to set specific prices for the treatment of patients provided that sponsors shoulder their responsibilities. He said that negotiation is ongoing with some firms that expressed reservation to the agreed terms because they consider that the terms do not cover the cost of treatment.
The minister stressed the fact that the tolerant religion of Islam considers the preservation of human health a fundamental obligation. No decision that might compromise people’s life (expose it to risk) will be taken, said the minister, who explained that the activities and tasks that involve assembling of large numbers of people in one place require undertaking more firm procedures. He said that no specific date can be fixed for the opening of any such activities (that involve mass gathering).
The minister of health added that, “In case the number of infections rises (beyond health existing health establishments’ capacity), we might be compelled to open field hospitals to deal with the cases.”
The minister reaffirmed the abundance of respiratory equipment and the availability of additional intensive care beds, as well the recruitment of extra staff to look after the additional beds, if necessary.
So far, the Sultanate’s health programmes are not affected, including the vaccination programme and the programme of emergency cases, and that the programmes are progressing at the same rate as the pre-corona situation. However, he noted that the longer the pandemic persists, the more likely that many people will be deprived, at a global level, of treatment that they need or deserve.
The minister of health said that the Sultanate's Government under the leadership of His Majesty Sultan Haitham Bin Tarik will spare no effort in providing care needed at health establishments.
In other comments, he noted that donations made till yesterday stood at OMR31.62 million, of which OMR10 million was contributed by His Majesty the Sultan as a personal gesture. He affirmed that the government will never waver in its support to the health sector, not only in handling the pandemic, but also other diseases.
The minister pointed out that next week will witness heightened monitoring upon the resumption of more activities, adding that “We always count on self-monitoring and social awareness. In this context, he said that some countries took decisions to shut down some establishments, “but we hope that we will not be compelled to take such decisions”.
The minister said that lenience in executing health measures and instructions led to the rise of cases of infection, and this is this highly regrettable. He reaffirmed that most cases of infection in health workers happed as a result of community-based transfer (social mingling), not because of work. Yet, infection among health workers in Oman is considered quite low in Oman (450 cases, among them two in intensive care).
The minister noted that The Research Council announced opportunities for research and that, accordingly, 400 papers were submitted, some on COVID-19 and others on online work, online education and associated social impacts. A sum of OMR250,000 was slated for research in these areas.
On his turn, Dr. Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Futaisi, Minister of Transport, member of the Supreme COVID-19 Control Committee, announced the Sultanate civil aviation sector’s preparedness for a resumption of flights, but the decision on this issue is still under discussion in most countries. The Sultanate is watching out and assessing the situation in the local, regional and global arenas.
He added that there might be a complete recession of air traffic, revenues and returns in the Sultanate’s aviation sector, noting that, generally, the contribution of this sector’s to the GDP dropped by 50 per cent.
Al Futaisi pointed out that Oman Aviation Group exerted tremendous efforts in cutting down operational expenses to as low as 40 per cent.
As for travel, a paper is being prepared on terms of entry to the country, including diagnoses and those who carry out the tests, among other terms and conditions that will be presented to the Supreme Committee. An initiative was agreed by the GCC health under-secretaries to devise unified (health) terms, said the minister.
He pointed out that there is coordination between the ministries of transport and manpower to draft a binding decision to Omanise the job of home delivery of parcels ordered online so that only Omanis can deliver the parcels at their destinations.
Speaking about Asyad, the minister said that the operations of the company in Omani ports are progressing efficiently and that they secure the needs of the Sultanate, particularly where food stocks are involved.
He said that the number of containers transported by Oman Shipping Company rose by 31 per cent this year as against last year, while the expense of ports dropped by not less than 20 per cent, compared to regional ports. A total of 24,000 tonnes of vegetables and fruits were transported via small and medium ports run by Marafi company, he noted.
On his part, Dr. Saif bin Salim Al Abri, Director-General of Disease Control and Surveillance at the Ministry of Health, said that the number of daily tests conducted by the ministry ranges between 3,500 to 4,500 specimens. All people having symptoms are diagnosed in the Sultanate, while in some other countries resort to isolation without conducting diagnosis.
As for Dhofar Governorate, Al Abri said that 438 people tested positive to COVID-19 until yesterday, among them 102 were Omanis and 336 non-Omanis. Eighty residents are undergoing isolation in the Wusta Governorate, he said.
As for the Wilayat of A'Seeb, Al Abri said that the wilayat registered 24 per cent of the total number of COVID-19 cases at the level of the Sultanate. Most cases of infection in A'Seeb are focused in the Rusayl Industrial Estate, factories and big companies, he added, noting that measures similar to those implemented in Muttrah were applied in the case of A'Seeb.
Al Abri said that a plan devised for the transport sector will be unveiled soon, with coordination among GCC states, which approved the formation of a team of health specialists to draft joint measures for the movement of citizens and residents in GCC states.
He explained that, based on a study on the epidemiological situation, Al Wadi Al Kabir and Al Hamria areas will be opened with effect from the 28th of June. He added that commercial activities will be opened during the weekend in Hamria and Ruwi and that the Municipality will coordinate with the Ministry of Health about the type of activities to be opened.
Sayyid Dr. Mujahid bin Raffea Al Busaidi, Senior Consultant of Internal Medicine at Sultan Qaboos University Hospital said that there are instances of young people catching COVID-19 without showing permanent symptoms, but cautioned that, after a patient leaves the ICU, he might experience a shrinking of respiratory muscles and need to be assisted continuously with a respiratory equipment until he/she recovers.
Dr. Mujahid said that 10 cases have been treated with convalescent plasma therapy at the ICU of Sultan Qaboos University Hospital, but the outcome is not known so far.
Meanwhile, Dr. Huda bint Abdullah Al Khalili, Intensive Care Consultant and In-charge of COVID-19 Unit said that it should be noted that treatment at the ICU is a supportive treatment. She noted that all medications presented so far on COVID-19 are empirical and that most countries applied those medications due to the ferocious nature of the disease, but the treatments have not undergone any scrutiny or exhaustive study as per global criteria. The studies on these medications might take years before effective results are confirmed.