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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

How Qatar used technology to fend off second lockdown


Modern technology has greatly helped Qatar monitor and contain the spread of Covid-19, health officials said. 

Qatar managed to avoid a full lockdown during the peaks of Covid-19 thanks to the country’s investment in top-tier smart technology, a senior official at the health ministry said on Wednesday.

To ensure full and efficient connectivity during the pandemic, the Gulf country set up one central system for all public health facilities through Cerner, an American supplier of health information technology services, devices and hardware.

This helped the entire healthcare system stay connected together as one unit, thus enabling better communication and care.

“We also invested more in smart monitoring systems, such as Ehteraz and other smart systems,” said Mohamed bin Hamad al-Thani, the director of the ministry’s Public Health Department, at a panel discussion at the Qatar Economic Forum [QEF].

“This investment in smart technologies helped Qatar avoid a full lockdown, which most other countries in the world had to face.”

The official added that the country knew using modern technology was necessary to tackle a drastic situation, like the Covid-19 pandemic, while also analysing the situation globally and working together to make the world a safer place.

“The Internet of Things is one area we were very keen to invest in. This could lower the pressure on healthcare system and assured confidence in the economy during the lockdown.”

“Qatar had worked out a clear policy right from the beginning to face the pandemic, and we had observed the situation keenly,” he added.

Despite the restrictions implemented by the government to curb the virus, Qatar’s economy has proved resilient through the usage of modern technology to prevent an economic crisis.

The government’s investment in modern technologies such as IoT and cloud computing helped in overcoming challenging obstacles throughout the months.

“When we started investing in these technologies, it was a very costly affair, but we are getting real benefits of this investment and the people and country are benefiting from it,” said Al Thani.

GE Healthcare chief medical officer Dr Mathias Goyen said the pandemic served as a “wake-up call” for the entire healthcare industry and a catalyst for technology implementations for better care across all sectors.

The attitude towards mobile and virtual health have greatly progressed in the last 10-12 months, the official highlighted, adding that patients and hospital officials are now more open to embracing new technologies.

“Patients do not tend to go to a provider for a physical visit if a virtual visit can solve the issue,” Dr Goyen added. “We need a real change management system and a paradigm shift,” he said. “The clinicians and people who are dealing with the new technologies should promote it internally and become agents of change.”

Qatar has been working with different technologies to provide better and more reliable healthcare services, while also using innovative means to ensure precautionary measures are strictly followed in the country.

The most prominent of which is the usage of mobile applications, such as Ehteraz, as well as high-quality testing means and temperature detectors to monitor the spread of the virus and prevent infection.

Ehteraz was recently updated to show the vaccination date, name of the vaccine, the results of last test taken and if the person has previously recovered from the virus. This is to make it easier for fully vaccinated people and those who recovered from the virus to enjoy certain privileges during the phases of easing restrictions.

Return of weddings, kids at malls: Qatar outlines Phase 2 conditions for easing restrictions


Gradual lifting of restrictions

Qatar has seen a huge dip in Covid-19 numbers since the implementation of new restrictions in late April. In the last few days, the country has been reporting less than 200 daily cases— an 87 percent decrease since the peak of the second wave in April.

The recent drop in numbers can be attributed to the availability of more vaccines as well as the opening of more vaccination centres, which allowed the country to exponentially ramp up its national inoculation campaign.

The implementation of strict restrictions to curb the virus has also played an essential role in flattening the curve, which is expected to further decrease in the upcoming days.

In addition, Qatar is set to be among the first countries to achieve herd immunity against Covid-19 in a months time, Dr. Mohammed bin Hamad Al Thani, Director of Public Health at the Ministry of Public Health has announced earlier this month.

Earlier this month, Qatar’s cabinet has issued a list of all the conditions and directives for Phase 2 of the gradual lifting of Covid-19 restrictions.

The new eased regulations are part of a four-phase plan introduced by the ministry of health and the ministry of commerce in early May following a significant dip in daily and active cases in the last month.

The regulations include increasing workforce capacity to 80%, allowing kids in malls and souqs again, allowing in-door and out-door weddings with a certain capacity, and allowing vaccinated fans to attend matches and tournaments in the country.

Amusement parks and all entertainment centres are also now open at a capacity not exceeding 30% in open spaces and 20% in closed spaces, provided that 75% of the customers are fully vaccinated.

Restrictions to remain until virus is suppressed

Despite the progress, Qatar’s health minister said restrictions against those who have not been vaccinated against Covid-19 are set to remain in place until the virus is suppressed.

The comments were made during the ‘The Economics of Ecology and Public Health’ session of the Qatar Economic Forum [QEF] on Wednesday, during which she stressed the importance of testing to  nsure the safety of the community as the workforce continues in the country.

Dr Hanan Mohamed al-Kuwari added that the level of vaccination around the world has yet to reach the stage where the virus “has been suppressed.”

“It is important to protect the community through several restrictions as well as additional tests,” she noted. “Testing, along with the prevailing restrictions, is a very safe way for opening up businesses in unvaccinated areas.”

She added that though authorities are still working on how the country look like post-testing and herd immunity, it is highly likely that restrictions will be further eased soon.

“We are optimistic that with most countries reaching a sufficient level of vaccination, we will see less and less testing, fewer restrictions, and more opening up of countries and economies,” she added.

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