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Thursday, October 28, 2021

‘Dangerous’ overcrowding as Qatar increases weekly vaccines by 200%


Complaints emerged on social media after videos of extreme overcrowding at Qatar National Convention Centre [QNCC] circulated on Twitter.

Health authorities on Tuesday stressed that only those with an existing appointment can get vaccinated at QNCC after disturbing videos revealed a dangerous level of overcrowding at the centre. 

“The Ministry of Public Health stressed that the Coronavirus, Covid-19, vaccine is only given to people who have received invitations to get vaccinated and who have met the criteria set forth in the framework of the national program for vaccination against Corona,” Qatar’s health ministry said on Twitter on Tuesday.

“We are aware of a serious overcrowding incident earlier today at the QNCC owing to a significant number of people arriving at the same time for vaccination without an appointment. The high turnout temporarily resulted in a situation where social distancing was not being followed. This is not acceptable,” it added.

Qatar’s largest vaccination centre has in recent weeks received an influx of visitors that includes eligible groups as well as other members of the community hoping to receive the vaccine, leading to overcrowding and long queues. This comes as Qatar ramps up efforts to speed up its inoculation drive to protect residents in the country as coronavirus cases continue to surge.

The ministry statement follows earlier protocol amendments by the Primary Health Care Corporation [PHCC] to ensure the procedure for vaccinations at QNCC is safe and secure for all visitors after numerous complaints surfaced online.

The new rules implemented more rigorous regulation at all entry points as well as waiting areas for visitors to ensure security, safety and social distancing at all times.

 Warming temperatures have also been taken into account, PHCC said, noting air conditioning and ventilation has been monitored to ensure better comfort.

A cafeteria was also made available for those waiting in long queues for their vaccination appointment.

Parking spaces are also being used as a starting point for those visiting the centre and specified spots have been dedicated for buses to avoid overcrowding. 

In a press release shared last week, PHCC said the latest amendments have been carried out in a way that guarantees safety for the public, medical and administrative staff, as well as organisers at the vaccination centre. 

However, despite the amendments and warnings, the centre remained severely overcrowded this week with people hoping to be vaccinated.

On Tuesday, videos that circulated on social media showed hundreds of people standing in lines with no social distancing or any health precautionary measures in place. In one incident, men are seen standing extremely close to one another while waiting in queues to enter the centre, posing a serious risk to spreading of the virus. 

“Covid must have created its own bubble to protect itself from this scene,” one sarcastic tweet read.

The QNCC, located in Gharafat Al Rayyan, was launched recently as part of Qatar’s efforts to expand and ramp up its national vaccination campaign.

Since then, social media users have been raising concerns and complaints over what has been described as a lack of organisation at the centre that has caused such scenes to occur.

However, the complaints did not emerge just last week. 

Doha News spoke to a number of people who visited the centre earlier this month and complained of long waiting lines as well as a lack of precautionary measures.

One person said they were made to wait over 4 hours to receive their first vaccination dose despite having an official appointment slot booked.

“When I arrived at QNCC, I was shocked to find that there were thousands of people waiting outside, especially considering it was 40 degrees. The lines outside weren’t socially distanced whatsoever. People were literally back to back,” the source said.

During the waiting process, only Qataris and diplomats were let in right away, with others claiming westerners were “using their white privilege” to jump the queue while the rest were left to wait for hours without proper direction or guidance.

Another resident said: “I went an hour before my appointment and still ended up getting vaccinated 3-4 hours late. We literally sat down on the floor because the line was so long, and couldn’t even leave to get a cup of water.

“It was honestly such an exhausting and inefficient experience. I am sure everyone at the centre is just doing the best they could, but the number of appointments were just too much for the service they can provide, not to mention waiting in a 40 degrees weather and barely implementing social distancing.”

Residents called on Qatar’s health ministry to impose stricter restrictions on those visiting QNCC to help smooth out the inoculation process, especially given the number of people waiting in line. 

Eligible groups

Responding to an influx of complaints after the videos emerged online, Hamad Medical Corporation stressed vaccinations at QNCC are by invite only, saying overcrowding and walk-ins are unacceptable.

“We would like to remind everyone that appointments at the QNCC are by invite only,” a statement read. 

“You will only be allowed to enter the vaccine centre following a verification process. Walk-Ins will not be accepted, we invite you to register your interest to take the vaccine on the MOPH site, this will be recorded and saved and you will be contacted when you are eligible,” the health institution added.

Since the launch of the inoculation drive in December, specific groups  have been prioritised to receive the Covid-19 vaccine depending on their age, health and the nature of their work.

“The vaccine at QNCC is intended for specific groups on a priority basis. The current stage targets the teaching and administrative staff in schools for their own safety and the safety of our students,” a statement noted. 

The eligibility list has been updated regularly to include more members of the community.

“Invitations will be sent in a gradual and phased manner to ensure the safety of society and a smooth and effective vaccination process,” MoPH said on February 20.

The Covid-19 vaccine which is being administered in phases, is free of charge to all Qatar’s citizens and residents.

Read also: Qatar vaccination drive expands with new centre for essential workers

So far, Qatar has administered a total of 790,676 vaccines and has recently increased its weekly rate by more than 200%. Currently, figures show 1 of 5 adults in the country have received at least one dose of the vaccine. 

According to Our World In Data, Qatar has vaccinated 26.5 people per 100 – the third highest in the GCC. The highest is the United Arab Emirates with 82.2 while Oman holds the lowest number with 2.7 per 100.

[Our World In Data]
The increase in appointments can be attributed to the ministry’s efforts in speeding up the Covid-19 vaccination drive to ensure the safety and well-being of the community. Authorities recently opened a second drive-through vaccination centre to help manage the process.

This comes as officials confirm the second Covid-19 wave is attributed to the emergence of the UK strain in the country.

On Tuesday, health authorities recorded more than 720 new cases and three fatalities.

Since January, infections have drastically increased and the total number of people currently under acute hospital care is 1590 while the number of those in intensive care stands at 315.

QNCC first opened its doors for teachers and school staff, however, with the increased availability of vaccines in the country, the centre started receiving students, Qataris and healthcare workers.

Walk-ins were also reportedly allowed in at night for hundreds of residents, though now it seems this will no longer be accepted.

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