Monday, March 04, 2024 | Daily Newspaper published by GPPC Doha, Qatar.
 Joseph Varghese
Joseph Varghese
A journalist with a penchant for reporting events, Joseph Varghese digs deep to unearth facts. With several years of experience, including at Gulf Times, Joseph handles health, science and technology, IT and education in addition to everyday developments.
A wheelchair-bound patient was repatriated recently by Punarjani Qatar.
Punarjani Qatar, a beacon of light for Indian community

* Punarjani Qatar, a philanthropic community organisation affiliated with Indian Community Benevolent Forum (ICBF) has been at the forefront of helping the needy Punarjani Qatar, a philanthropic community organisation affiliated with Indian Community Benevolent Forum (ICBF) has been at the forefront helping the needy and low-income members of Indian community in the country. They have been providing medical, legal and financial assistance and support for the past several years. “We are committed to the service of our community. Our volunteers never spare any efforts in assisting people in difficulties. With a dedicated team of hardworking volunteers, we aim to make every gloomy face happy with new hope, new lease of life. That is Punarjani,” said, Govind, co-ordinator of Punarjani Qatar and the one who is leading the humanitarian efforts of the organisation. “We have been regularly visiting hospitals under Hamad Medical Corporation. We also co-ordinate to provide financial assistance to the needy and low-income people; provide moral support for people in prison and co-ordinate their release from jail. Additionally, we are providing travel assistance for people at the deportation centre with the support of the Indian embassy and Qatar authorities,” he said. Govind noted that Punarjani was the first organisation in Qatar to make arrangements to transfer a critical patient on ventilator to an Indian hospital. “He was accompanied by a medical team consisting of a doctor, a nurse and an assistant. Thereafter, we have repatriated nearly two dozens of patients who were in coma or critically ill and also for people who needed medical assistance at their native place in India. All this could be done with the constant support of Indian embassy, ICBF, HMC and community well-wishers,” explained the official. He also highlighted that Punarjani provides many low-income patients at hospitals, especially those suffering from cancer or fractures with medical equipment, medicines and even financial assistance. He said the organisation has been reporting community issues to the Embassy of India in Qatar and other Qatar authorities directly and through Madad, a Government of India initiative, with constant follow-up until the issues are resolved. According to Govind, Punarjani has also been proactive to help needy people especially those who need legal assistance. He pointed out several instances on how the organisation came to the assistance of Indians who were either trapped by their agents or those who were falsely implicated in legal cases and had to undergo imprisonment. The volunteers of Punarjani also visit labour camps and provide assistance in finding jobs to those who have lost their jobs. Many unemployed were provided food and other necessities and in a specific case, the number exceeded more than 500. “We have assisted in the deportation of the mortal remains of several Indian expatriates with the support of HMC staff and Indian embassy. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Punarjani distributed hundreds of food packages for needy people including other nationalities. We have also arranged free air tickets by chartered flight organised by Punarjani as part of the Vandhe Bharath Mission for needy people who were unable to travel back to India,” he recounted. Moreover, Punarjani organises a blood donation campaign every six months in co-ordination with the HMC Blood Donor Center where 200-300 of its volunteers and well-wishers actively participate. Punarjani is also providing round-the-clock assistance to needy Indian citizens for embassy-related activities and has been extending a helping hand to several people working in unorganised sectors. “In recognition of the humanitarian services, ICBF honoured our fraternity co-ordinator Govind with the prestigious K P Abdul Hameed Memorial Humanitarian Award in October 2020 which is an inspiration to the selfless volunteers of team Punarjani,” added an official of Punarjani.

The panellists at the webinar.
Al-Ula summit is beginning of a new phase for GCC: Brookings webinar

Al-Ula Summit is beginning  of a new phase for the GCC as a whole and dialogue must be the way forward, said experts expressing cautious optimism at a webinar yesterday while highlighting the need for legal frame work such as a GCC court to settle regional issues. The webinar, “After the Al-Ula Summit: Prospects for a GCC Rapprochement,” was organised by Brookings Doha Centre. Hesham Alghannam, senior research fellow at the Gulf Research Centre, Cambridge; Ebtesam al-Ketbi, president, Emirates Policy Centre; Majed al-Ansari president, Qatar International Academy for Security Studies and Abdullah al-Shayji, professor of International Relations and US Politics, Kuwait University shared their views on the recent development in GCC as well as the way forward.  The session was moderated by Noah Aboueldahab, fellow at Brookings Doha Centre. Al-Ketbi said the GCC needed a court of its own to solve the issues. “There needs to be confidence building measures and a proper mechanism to settle the issues. European Union has its own court. Similarly, GCC needs a court that can resolve many of the regional issues. Al-Ula is the beginning of a new phase for the GCC,” she noted. Alghannam highlighted that GCC has to go forward resolving all the differences. “GCC is here to stay and everyone wants to maintain it. There was no conflict between the countries but certain differences. It might take some time to heal all the issues and restore trust deficit so that a crisis such as the resolved one, never happens again,” he explained. The panellists also highlighted that bilateral resolutions are necessary to gain the trust of each country and country to country level discussions will help in solving the issues. They noted that such practices will help in preventing any such crisis in the future. “Differences should be resolved through strategic dialogue, which is the only way forward. There must be a proper framework to get them sorted out which will naturally result in more development for everyone,” said Dr al-Ansari. The panellists also highlighted the role played by Kuwait in bringing the rapprochement as well as the mediation efforts of the US. Al-Shayji added: “GCC unity is a necessity and not a luxury. There was lack of communication as well as lack of trust.  As we turn a new page in GCC history, it has to be followed up with measures to build up a stronger bond among all the countries.”

Dr Soha al-Bayat
Those infected with Covid-19 have to complete 90 days to get vaccinated: official

* Covid-19 vaccine only for citizens and residents, not visitors People who have been infected with Covid-19 have to complete 90 days to get vaccinated, a senior official of the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) has said. “People who test positive for Covid-19 have to wait for 90 days from the first day of infection to get vaccinated," Dr Soha al-Bayat, head of vaccination at the MoPH, said during an Instagram question-and-answer session. She also noted that visitors to the country will not be given Covid-19 vaccination as only citizens and residents are eligible for the vaccine in Qatar currently. “As of now, we are giving the vaccine only to the citizens and residents of the country and no visitors will be given the vaccination,” Dr al-Bayat said. According to Dr al-Bayat, the Covid-19 vaccination is not mandatory for travel to Qatar but might be needed for travel to some places as Saudi Arabia has advised people travelling for Umrah to get vaccinated. On the differences between the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, she said: “Qatar has signed agreements for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. We have already started with the Pfizer vaccine while Moderna is expected to arrive in the country within several weeks. The major difference between them is the storage requirement and in the time of the second dose. "The second dose of the Pfizer vaccine is given after 21 days while it is a 28-day gap for the Moderna vaccine.” “So far, there has been no serious side effects of any sort for those who have taken the vaccination," she continued. "All the side effects were very mild and did not last beyond 24 hours. These were mild headache or body temperature or mild tenderness and itching in the injection area." Dr al-Bayat highlighted that there was no issue with the capacity of facilities in the country to treat Covid-19 patients. “Ever since the pandemic started, Qatar has expanded medical facilities all around the country and increased the number of beds and intensive care units. We never reached the full capacity. We have never had any capacity issues from Day 1,” she pointed out. In the first phase of vaccination, one category of people are those who suffer from chronic illness with complications such as renal issues or other major problems. People who are suffering from hypertension or diabetes but are stable may not be included in the first stage of vaccination, she added.

Dr Mohan Thomas.rnrn
Prominent Doha physician awarded Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award

Dr Mohan Thomas, a prominent Doha-based physician, has been conferred the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award from Qatar for his noble services in medicine. Indian President Ram Nath Kovind, who delivered the valedictory address on the third and final day of the 16th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas celebrations, presented the awards at a virtual event. The event was also attended by Dr S Jaishankar, Indian External Affairs Minister. The Pravasi Bharatiya Samman award is the highest honour conferred on a Non-Resident Indian (NRI), Person of Indian Origin (PIO) and organisation or institution established and run by NRIs or PIOs as part of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) Convention. Including Dr Thomas, 30 people from different countries have been honoured with the award this year. The ceremony was held virtually due to the Covid-19 scenario and the award comprises a gold medal and a citation. “It is indeed a great honour for me to receive the 16th Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award. It is a recognition given by the government of India and and I am thankful to the government for this noble gesture. I pledge to continue working for the welfare of the community as well as to serve the people in all possible ways,” Dr Thomas told Gulf Times. Dr Thomas, who is also the president-elect of the Indian Sports Centre, is a prominent Indian community leader in Qatar and has been active in community services for about four decades. Besides being a renowned otolaryngologist and head and neck surgeon, and an alumnus of the prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, he has been at the forefront of philanthropic activities -- serving hundreds of needy and low-income members of the community in Qatar as well as helping a large number of downtrodden people back in India. An ardent sports lover, he had been a football player in his college days and is presently engaged in promoting sports activities among the community members. He is the founder-president of Birla Public School and a leading entrepreneur in the country. Congratulating him, Sanjiv Arora, former secretary (Consular, Passport & Visa and Overseas Indian Affairs) at the Ministry of External Affairs, India, and a former Indian ambassador in Qatar, told Gulf Times from Delhi: “Dr Thomas is among the stalwarts of the large, vibrant and highly regarded Indian community in Qatar. The award conferred upon him is a tribute to our wonderful community in Qatar. A multifaceted, versatile and popular personality, he has served our community and the lofty cause of the historic India-Qatar friendship with dedication, aplomb and distinction. "As a doctor, community leader, entrepreneur, educationist and philanthropist, he has been at the forefront of many notable initiatives and activities in Qatar and India."

Dr Ahmed Elmagarmidrnrn
QCRI introduces innovative solutions to fight cyberattacks

Qatar Computer Research Institute (QCRI), a part of Hamad Bin Khalifa University, has introduced a number of innovative solutions to combat cyberattacks, especially on the healthcare systems, Gulf Times has learnt. "Cyberattacks on healthcare systems are on the rise globally and amid the widespread disruption of the pandemic, cybercriminals have launched complex and co-ordinated attacks – from financial threats to those targeting privacy," according to Dr Ahmed Elmagarmid, founding executive director, QCRI. “There is no silver bullet for the growing global cybersecurity challenges that we face today. Instead, we must analyse the unique challenges facing healthcare systems and adapt existing solutions or develop new ones to address each of them. To a certain degree, cybersecurity is becoming more of a data analytics problem.” The new tools include QCRI’s ‘guilt-by-association’ tool used to identify suspicious domains or predict malicious attacks by analysing the previous movements of the domain address. QCRI has built another tool to utilise enterprise data logs to identify dormant attackers and amplify low attack signals within the enterprise network. A third invention offers actionable recommendations to take down attack sources based on the type of hosting infrastructure, while minimising the collateral damage to benign providers and customers. Another tool offers a new technology that identifies unwanted e-mails solely from their headers and enterprise communication patterns. The solution is valuable when end-to-end e-mail encryption is used, which restricts access to the full email content to the sender and receiver alone. Through its ongoing project, SIHA (System for Integrated Health Analytics), in collaboration with Hamad Medical Corporation, Sidra Medicine, and others, QCRI is confronting many of the challenges facing the next generation of health solutions. SIHA (health in Arabic) combines data from wearables, smart health IoT devices, and medical devices with other sources to deliver predictive analytics using machine learning. Dr Faisal Farooq, principal scientist and head of the Centre for Digital Health and Precision Medicine, QCRI, compared SIHA with typical enterprise health systems, “Systems like SIHA are connected to consumer devices over potentially multiple heterogeneous and open networks, making them vulnerable to cyberattacks and exposing protected health information in the public domain. To safeguard against this, QCRI deploys data encryption techniques, multilevel authentication mechanisms, and adherence to the stringent security standards of the health domain.” Dr Elmagarmid says that the health sector has unique vulnerabilities, providing very large attack surfaces because of the number of diverse interacting entities, the fast adoption of the Internet of Things and remote connectivity. Insider breaches and compromised credentials also pose very real threats, as different entities access electronic medical records, often with conflicting interests. He supports the zero-trust model adopted by Qatar, a holistic approach to cybersecurity involving several technologies and processes through which access to all resources can be authenticated and verified. The approach combines a "least privilege model" and access control, with logging and inspecting all activities performed using security analytics. Qatar has also launched the National Security Operations Centre, which logs and inspects activities, as well as applying regular authentication and security solutions. Dr Issa M Khalil, principal scientist, QCRI, noted: “I agree that the solution to solving the problem of attack attribution is technical, but novel technical solutions have to go hand in hand with stakeholder collaborations, both nationally and internationally.” Among these novel solutions, according to Dr Khalil, are private data sharing and analytics. Federated learning, searching encrypted data, and content-agnostic detection of indicators of compromise, combined with big data curation and advanced machine learning algorithms, can enable real-time monitoring, logging, and correlation of logs across different vantage points. Such a combined effort could help in connecting the dots and tracing attack actions to the infrastructure exploited an important step towards attribution. “Ecosystems like those driving SIHA present unique security and privacy challenges that require further research and standardisation of protocols to instill trust in users – consumers and healthcare providers. Like other domains, it is impossible to ensure security attacks never happen in healthcare systems. What’s important is how we respond to such attacks. Healthcare systems need to be constantly monitored, so attacks can be detected on time and their impact mitigated,” Dr Elmagarmid said.

Dr Soha al-Bayat speaking at the event.
Covid-19 vaccine safe for those with food allergies

The Covid-19 vaccine currently being administered in Qatar is safe for even those who have any food allergy, a top official of the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) said Wednesday. "However, people who have allergic issues should consult their physician and confirm they are not allergic to any components of the vaccine,” said Dr Soha al-Bayat, head of vaccination, at MoPH. She was answering a question at the weekly question-answer session on the Instagram account of the MoPH. The official took questions from the general public regarding Covid-19 vaccination and gave clarifications. According to Dr al-Bayat, millions of people have been vaccinated around the world and there were no serious side effects. “As for Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, there has been only very mild side effects. No major or significant side effects were reported in Qatar too. Some had allergy to the components of the vaccine. Otherwise, no significant side effects,” she said. “Most common is pain at the sight of the injection lasting for a few hours or up to 24 hours. Some had elevated temperature, while others had headache, but nothing beyond the first 24 hours,” continued the official. Dr al-Bayat noted that the eligiblity criteria for the first phase of Covid-19 vaccination will be updated in the coming weeks taking various factors into consideration as well as the emerging scenario. “We are in phase one of the vaccination campaign for Covid-19. Currently people who are 65 and above, those with chronic illnesses with complications, and frontline healthcare workers are eligible at this stage. In the coming phases we will expand it to other categories of people. The Ministry of Public Health will announce more details about expanding the vaccination as and when required,” she explained . “Presently, we have signed agreement for Covid-19 vaccine with Pfizer-BioNTech, and Moderna. We have received the first batch from Pfizer while we are hopeful that we will receive the first batch from Moderna in the immediate future,” pointed out, the official. She reiterated there are no vaccines available for people aged 16 and below at present. “Clinical trials for the Covid-19 vaccine have been conducted among those above 16 years. So, it is approved for the age of 16 and above. Now more clinical trials are being done for those aged 12 and above. When we get sufficient data of its safety and effectiveness, and as more and more trials happen, other age groups will be included,” added the official.

Dr Mariam Abdul Malik
Three more health centres offer Covid-19 vaccination

Three more health centres have started providing the Covid-19 vaccine while over 10% of the target group in the first phase of vaccination were inoculated during the first week, a top official told Gulf Times on Monday. "Al Khor, Qatar University and Al Waab health centres have been added to the existing seven health centres for Covid-19 vaccination," Primary Health Care Corporation (PHCC) managing director Dr Mariam Abdul Malik said in reply to a question. All other health centres under PHCC will be included to provide the vaccination in the coming days, the official explained. “The vaccination campaign is progressing very rapidly and smoothly at all the centres. With the age limit reduced to 65 to be eligible for the first phase of vaccination, more people have been included to the first phase. Within the first one week, over 10% of the target group has been vaccinated and we hope that all the others in the country will be vaccinated in the coming months,” continued Dr Abdul Malik. The other seven designated PHCC Health Centers for Covid-19 vaccination are: Al Wajbah, Leabaib, Al Ruwais, Umm Salal, Rawdat Al Khail, Al Thumama and Muaither. The first phase of the vaccination runs until January 31. PHCC has also launched a dedicated hotline 4027707 to enable those aged 65 and above to book, cancel or schedule pre-booked Covid-19 vaccination appointments. The dedicated line is currently available from 7am to 11pm. “To ensure that we are further prioritising those mostly at risk of severe complications from Covid-19 we have now activated a dedicated hotline number. This dedicated number will improve accessibility for our clients and encourage uptake of the vaccine by providing further flexibility on appointment booking,” Dr Abdul Malik, added. The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) recently announced that it has lowered the age limit for Covid-19 vaccine eligibility to those aged 65 and above from 70 years. Vaccinations at health centres will continue to be given to people with pre-arranged appointments that fall under the priority groups of people aged 65 years of age and above; people with severe chronic conditions and healthcare workers with repeated exposure to Covid-19. Members of the community who are eligible for the vaccine will continue to be contacted through phone/SMS by the PHCC team to invite them to attend an appointment at one of the ten designated health centres. The vaccine will be offered more widely throughout the year. The MoPH is working with the pharmaceutical companies to ensure the next shipment of vaccines arrives in Qatar as early as possible and everyone who needs to be vaccinated will be able to do so throughout the year.

Dr Mariam Abdul Malik, Managing  Director  PHCC and Musellem Mubarak Al Manit, Assistant Managing Director, PHCC release the Naru2019aakom app. PICTURES: Shaji Kayamkulam
PHCC launches new mobile app for easy access to its services

The Primary Health Care Corporation (PHCC) has launched a new mobile application ‘Nar’aakom’, offering a bunch of services and facilities. “The app in English and Arabic provides comprehensive healthcare management on-the-go, from accessing upcoming appointments to applying for a health card online," PHCC managing director Dr Mariam Abdul Malik said. "The app allows Qatar residents to benefit from many of PHCC's digital services from their smartphones,” she explained at a press conference on Monday. With the launch of Nar’aakom, PHCC has made it easy for Qatar residents to access digitised services for its 27 health centres, by making healthcare services easily accessible. “It is an extension of the digital transformation of healthcare services that PHCC rolled out early last year. With the mobile app, we empower people with the ability to access health services anywhere, anytime at their convenience in a secure platform; thus encouraging patients to take ownership of their health,” continued Dr Abdul Malik. PHCC has also started a dedicated hotline, 4027707 to help people aged 65 and above to book, cancel or schedule pre-booked Covid-19 vaccination appointments. The dedicated line is currently available from 7am to 11pm. During Covid-19, PHCC accelerated its digital transformation to facilitate no or minimal-contact care delivery through virtual consultations over the phone and video; a 24x7 Community Call Centre and an electronically-dispensed medication facility with home-delivery service. The new mobile app, Nar’aakom, provides complete management of services from keeping track of the health card expiry date and online renewal, to accessing the assigned health center and finding your personal assigned family physician. The Nar’aakom app can be downloaded from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store in Qatar. “Nar’aakom gives complete control to manage your and your family’s health service requirements. From requesting a new appointment at one of PHCC health centres, to applying for a change of your assigned health centre, or changing the assigned family physician. It also allows you to add dependents to your account, so as to manage requests for any of these services on their behalf,” said Musallam Mubarak al-Nabit, assistant managing director at PHCC. Alexandra Tarazi, executive director of Health Information Systems, PHCC, said that the new app is a way forward to enhance and digitise the services of PHCC in a big way. “The new app for the time being offer some of the basic services. It will in the coming days be expanded with most of the services offered by PHCC including access to digital copy of the medical reports” said, Tarazi Within a year, PHCC has managed to lead the digitalisation of healthcare services in Qatar. In October 2020, PHCC had launched their new website which provides an easy access to all primary care information online. Patients can also access e-services on the PHCC website that allows conducting ‘day-to-day’ administrative business on-line. Dr Abdul Malik also announced that PHCC has also received two ISO certifications for its digital services; IT 20000 for its IT services and the second one is ISO 27001 for IT security.

Peter Antony working on a boat. PICTURE: Jayan Orma
Boat-building thrives in Qatar, showcasing heritage

Basking in Qatar's glorious heritage and culture of maritime activities, boat building is thriving in the country, with special emphasis on unique and innovative interior designs, according to a veteran craftsman. “We build boats according to the tastes of our clients and most of them want the interior in the Majilis style, depicting Qatari culture," said, Peter Antony, an Indian boat builder in the country for the past 17 years. "It might take one to one and half years to complete the whole work to get a boat renovated and ready for use. About five people are engaged in the work of a boat,” he explained. The deck of a boat is being built Uncut teak trunks are used in entirety in boat construction, says Peter Antony Craftsmen engaged in the construction of a boat. PICTURES Jayan Orma The professional who has decades of experience in boat building is currently looking after the progress of three boats in construction at Al Shamal, Al Khor and Al Wakra. Old boats are brought from other countries and Antony and his team build the upper part of the boat and repair the lower if needed. “A typical large size boat we make is about 88ft long and 22ft wide, with three bedrooms, one living room as well as four bathrooms. However, it all depends on the choice of the clients and we design the interior accordingly. Most people want the interior to resemble that of the Qatari style buildings and follow the rich traditions and heritage,” explained Antony. The deck of the boats might be lower in height and they will have to increase the height about 2ft while rebuilding the boat. Mainly teak is used for the construction of the boats. “In some cases we use the entire teak trunk as a single piece without cutting. This is generally brought from Myanmar as well as some African countries. We also get wood from Malaysia. About QR700,000 might be needed for completing the renovation of a boat,” he pointed out. The veteran builder said that nearly 500 people are engaged in different parts of the country in boat building. “The current style of boat building and design is in practice for about 20 years. However, of late, iron is also used for the construction of the boats instead of wood. But, such boats will not last long as iron rusts in due course. A boat made of wood is likely to last for about 10 to 12 years without any major problems,” he pointed out. Antony who has built 16 boats in addition to supervising the maintenance of dozens of others, have about 20 people working with him. Most of them are from different parts of India. “Qataris like to go out on marine trips with their families. Sometimes they also use for gatherings of friends as well as for fishing. Many of them use it for fishing competition,” he added.

Dr Soha al-Bayat
MoPH official urges those vaccinated to continue precautions

Those who have got the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine should continue taking precautions until sufficient antibodies are developed, noted a top official of the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) Wednesday. “Sufficient antibodies will develop only after taking the second dose of the vaccine,” Dr Soha al-Bayat, head of Vaccination at MoPH, explained at an Instagram question and answer session. "A person who has taken the first shot of vaccine can still be infected with Covid-19 before the second dose is taken as sufficient time is needed to develop antibodies," she stressed. The clinical trial data for the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine show that when both shots of the vaccine are taken, three weeks apart, it is about 95% effective. “About 95% people who received both doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine have developed antibodies. Each person’s body responds different to vaccines and illnesses. Even if you don’t develop enough antibodies and get the infection, the effect will be mild,” she said. Dr al-Bayat also pointed out that clinical trials for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine did not include either pregnant or lactating women and children below the age of 16, and available data is so far insufficient to determine any risks to them by the vaccine. “No pregnant women were included in the trial but no significant contra indications are shown at this stage. Technically speaking it should be safe but there is no scientific evidence,” she said, while ruling out any serious side effects caused by the vaccine. “So far about 2mn people have received the vaccine in the US, more than a million in the UK and many others around the world including Qatar. Some have shown very modest side effects such as mild fever, headache, fatigue and soreness at the injection site and these are common with other vaccines,” pointed out Dr al-Bayat. “When we receive the next batches of the Covid-19 vaccine, we will gradually include every category of the population. The vaccine is given free and to everyone regardless of their nationality,” said Dr al-Bayat. Dr al-Bayat said that the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine being given in the country can be effective for a minimum of four to five months according to initial clinical trials. “The Covid-19 vaccine is new; it’s very difficult to say for how long it will be effective. But clinical trials show that it can be effective for a minimum of four to five months and hopefully it will be more. Follow up tests are being done with people who are vaccinated,” she added. Qatar started Covid-19 vaccination drive on December 23. In the first phase of the campaign that lasts until January 31, people aged 70 and above as well as adults with chronic diseases are among the categories to be vaccinated.

Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar (right) along with Indian ambassador, Dr Deepak Mit
Indian minister optimistic of enhancing bilateral relations with Qatar

There are several areas for co-operation between Qatar and India, especially in the post-Covid-19 world to take the already robust bilateral relations to a higher level of excellence, India’s External Affairs Minister, Dr S Jaishankar expressed the optimism in an online interaction with Indian community members on Sunday. “The opportunities that will arise in India due to the economic recovery, provide a platform for more co-operation," he told in response to a suggestion by Gulf Times Deputy Managing Editor K T Chacko for enhancing Qatar-India relations. "There will be a lot opportunities in India for the world economies, including Qatar to spread out the investments and business interests. The climate is suitable in India and there are several new possibilities in many areas including food security. “There are opportunities for potential partnerships and this is where India can be beneficial to Qatar. I will communicate these possibilities to Qatari authorities and how India can contribute to Qatar’s growth,” continued Dr Jaishankar who is on a two-day visit to Qatar. Indian ambassador Dr Deepak Mittal welcomed the gathering and highlighted the importance of the visit of the minister. At the virtual meeting, community leaders shared their ideas and suggestions for improving the relationships between both countries and also apprised the minister of some of the requirements of the community such space for community centre, sports centre among other matters. "I had two rounds of conversation with my Qatari counterpart. He has been very positive in his response and was very encouraging about my visit. I will do my best to make sure that the post Covid- 19 world has a much stronger India-Qatar partnership,” highlighted Dr Jaishankar. He also assured that the comments and suggestions made by the community members will be taken up with the authorities both in Qatar and India and promised to assist the community in all its needs. “Investment suggestions raised in this meeting will be discussed with my colleagues in India. Covid-19 has made us think differently in several areas. People are now looking at solutions more practically than a year ago. We will also try to harness the investment potential of NRIs in Qatar as well as the potential to expand the export possibilities from India to Qatar,” explained the minister. Indian apex body presidents: AP Manikantan (Indian Cultural Centre), P N Baburajan (Indian Community Benevolent Forum), Hassan Chogule (Indian Sports Council) and Azeem Abbas (Indian Business and Professionals Council) spoke at the event and highlighted the activities undertaken by these bodies as well as the needs of the community. Doha Bank Group CEO Dr R Seetharaman focused on the need to increase bilateral trade and the relevance of public-private partnership model in this connection. Dr Mohan Thomas, a leading physician and prominent community leader, highlighted that education and sports opportunities can help develop India's opportunities with Qatar. He observed that education possibilities from institutions such the Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institutes of Management could benefit a lot of people in Qatar and create vast opportunities while India with its 1.3bn population could be a strong partner with Qatar in sports events. Sasidharan from community forum Punarjani, suggested tapping the skills of the over 100 Indian scientists in Qatar while Farook Butt suggested to promote Jammu and Kashmir as a favourite tourism spot in Qatar and the Middle East. Juttas Paul highlighted the need for a community centre for the large number of community members in the country.

HE Sheikh Faisal bin Qassim al-Thani receiving the vaccine.
Covid-19 vaccination campaign continues at rapid pace in Qatar

Hundreds of elderly people have received the Covid-19 vaccine in Qatar, as the first phase of the free vaccination campaign continues at a rapid pace. A number of community dignitaries who are prioritised for the Covid-19 vaccine were among the first group of people to receive the vaccine on the first days of the campaign, rolled out on Wednesday. Prominent Qatari entrepreneur HE Sheikh Faisal bin Qassim al-Thani, who was among the first group of people to take the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine, has urged the community to take the Covid-19 vaccine, according to a report on the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) website. HE Ali bin Saeed al-Khayarin receives the vaccination Sherida bin Saad al Kaabi gets vaccinated Other prominent citizens who has taken the vaccine include former minister, HE Ali bin Saeed al-Khayarin, and former diplomat, Sherida bin Saad al-Kaabi. “Stopping a pandemic requires using all the tools we have available – this includes a vaccine. The comprehensive clinical trial process undertaken on the Pfizer and BioNTech's vaccine has demonstrated that it is safe and 95% effective,” said Sheikh Faisal. “I have full confidence in this vaccine which is why I am taking it as early as possible.” Sheikh Faisal said the arrival of the vaccine and its roll-out was important step to returning to normal daily life as well as protecting our loved ones. “Vaccines are our best hope of ending this pandemic,” he said. “It is important that we take strong steps so that we can protect ourselves and our families against Covid-19 and this includes taking the vaccine when it is available to us.” Director of the Public Health Department at the MoPH, Sheikh Dr Mohamed bin Hamad al-Thani commended Sheikh Faisal for being among the first to be vaccinated against Covid-19. “The arrival and widespread uptake of the Covid-19 vaccines here in Qatar will enable us to start the process of returning to our normal lives,” said Sheikh Mohamed. “I commend Sheikh Faisal for demonstrating his commitment and taking the vaccine and I encourage all members of the community to do the same.” Sheikh Mohamed said as the vaccine is rolled out to the community, everyone must also continue to take preventative measures against Covid-19. “I also urge all members of the community to continue to practise physical distancing and wearing a mask,” he added. Qatar is one of the first countries in the world to provide a safe, effective and approved Covid-19 vaccine totally free for its population. Several hundred people were vaccinated against Covid-19 on the first day of the largest national vaccination programme in the history of Qatar. “I would like to thank the wise leadership of our country and all healthcare officials for their efforts to provide Covid-19 vaccines to all citizens and residents in Qatar,” al-Khayarin said following his vaccination. “Trusting in God almighty and in the efforts being made by the health sector officials to protect our beloved country from this pandemic, I was keen to get vaccinated and fulfil my role in protecting my health and that of the community. Qatar has spared no effort to provide the best Covid-19 vaccines to its population and I’m confident this campaign will be a success and will serve the best interest of our community.” Al-Kaabi expressed his appreciation and gratitude to the wise leadership of the country for providing the vaccine to all citizens and residents and to the Ministry of Public Health for its efforts to fight the spread of Covid-19. “I encourage all citizens and residents to get vaccinated as this can help protect the person who receives the vaccine, those around him, and the wider community from the virus. I would like to thank all healthcare workers for their efforts and dedication and wish everyone safety and health during this challenging time,” added, al-Kaabi.

Dr Abdullatif al- Khal, chairman of the National Pandemic Preparedness Committee with a person who received the vaccination. PICTURE: Ram Chand
Current vaccine can protect against new strain of Covid-19

The Covid-19 vaccine being administered in Qatar is good enough to protect against the new strain of the virus currently found in several countries, a senior official at the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) has said. “The new Covid-19 strain is not different from the original virus except for the fact that it is more airborne and therefore, spreads faster," said, Dr Soha al-Bayat, head of vaccination at MoPH. "In all other aspects, the new strain is very much the same as the original Covid-19. Since Pfizer and BioNTech have conducted extensive research and clinical trials, and based on the scientific information, this vaccine is safe and should protect against the new Covid strain,” she explained. Dr al-Bayat was interacting with the public in a live question and answer session through MoPH Instagram account as Qatar started vaccinating the population from Wednesday. She answered a number of questions regarding the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine as well as other aspects of vaccination in Qatar. Asserting that the vaccine is safe, the official said that over a million people have already got vaccinated with this particular vaccine without any major side effects. “It has been proven to be safe and the side effects are normal, nothing critical or dangerous. Several people in Qatar have taken it on day one and nobody has reported any major issues. It is just like any other vaccine for other diseases and is being extensively given in several countries.” she explained. She also said that Qatar has so far signed agreement for vaccine only with Pfizer and Moderna. “These are very reliable drug companies and we have been getting several other medicines from these firms for a long time. After the completion of phase one, we will widen it to other sections of the society. We hope to cover the young adults in phase two or three,” she continued. Dr al-Bayat, however, noted that all those who have taken the vaccine should follow all the Covid-19 protocols for some time. “Everyone has to follow all the Covid protocols and guidelines issues by MoPH. After 21 days of the vaccination, they should get the second dose and only after that, they will get full immunity. When some 70 to 75% people are vaccinated, there can be herd immunity and people can be fully protected against the disease,” she maintained. While it is not mandatory to get vaccinated, the official encouraged everyone to get vaccinated. “You have to protect yourself to protect your loved ones and others around you. The safety of the population is increased when you get the vaccination and the only way out to go back to the pre-Covid era,” she highlighted. Dr al-Bayat also said that all arrangements have been done at the seven health centres where the vaccine is provided. “We have made all the arrangements for the smooth and safe vaccination at the health centres. After vaccination, people will have to wait at the health centres for about 20 to 30 minutes and will be monitored for any side effects. On the first day of vaccination everything went on smoothly,” she added.

Dr Abdulla al-Kubaisi, being administered the Covid-19 vaccine at Al Wajba Health Centre on Wednesday. PICTURE: Ram Chand
Qatar rolls out Covid-19 vaccination

Qatar on Wednesday joined the rank of a handful of countries to roll out the vaccination campaign against Covid-19 by administering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at seven primary health centres. Dr Abdulla al-Kubaisi, a 79-year-old Qatari citizen and a former president of Qatar University, was the first person in the country to receive the vaccine at Al Wajba Health Centre in the morning. HE the Minister of Public Health, Dr Hanan Mohamad al-Kuwari said, "As directed by His Highness the Amir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, we have worked hard, along with our partners across government, since the early stages of vaccine development at the start of the pandemic to ensure Qatar was among the first countries in the world to provide a safe, effective and approved Covid-19 vaccine totally free for its population. The vaccination of Dr Abdulla al-Kubaisi marks the start of what will be the largest national vaccination programme in the history of our country." Some of the senior officials from the Ministry of Public Health including Dr Abdullatif al-Khal (Hamad Medical Corporation’s deputy chief medical officer and chairman of the National Pandemic Preparedness Committee) and Dr Hamad al-Rumaihi (director of communicable disease control at the Public Health Department at MoPH and co-chair of the National Epidemic Preparation Committee) were present at Al Wajaba Health Centre to witness the start of the vaccination campaign. "I am proud and honoured to be the first person to be vaccinated in Qatar," said, Dr al- Kubaisi, following his vaccination. "This has been a very difficult year for me and my family, living with the constant threat of the virus and fear for my health. I would like to thank the leadership of our country for their actions to confront the Covid-19 pandemic and for their efforts in bringing the vaccine to Qatar so quickly." Mohamed Frazat, an 88-year-old Syrian resident, was the second person in Qatar to receive the Covid-19 vaccine. Several elderly people received the vaccine in the morning across the seven health centres as the first batch of vaccine is given to priority group of people, taking age and chronic diseases into consideration. In the first phase of vaccination lasting until January 31, preference is given to people over 70, adults in chronic care and home care facilities, healthcare personnel most at risk of infection and people over 16 with severe chronic diseases. The Covid-19 vaccine will not be given to children below 16 as clinical trials were not done among this group. Vaccination is also done at six other health centres at Leabaib, Al Ruwais, Umm Slal, Rawdat Al Khail, Al Thumama, and Muaither. Primary Health Care Corporation official, Dr Samya al-Abdulla had announced that the priority group people to be vaccinated will be contacted directly and the first dose of vaccination will be followed by a booster dose after three weeks. Patients who have been selected will be contacted by phone/SMS and invited to attend an appointment at one of the seven designated health centres.

People over 70 years of age, those with multiple chronic conditions, and key healthcare staff working in close contact with Covid-19 patients are the priority groups. PICTURES: Shaji Kayamkulam
Qatar begins Covid-19 vaccination drive

Qatar has rolled out the vaccination campaign for Covid-19 with the vaccine being administered at seven primary health centres from Wednesday.  Several elderly people received the vaccine in the morning as the first batch of vaccine is given to priority group of people, taking age and chronic diseases into consideration. At Wajba Health Centre, a number elderly Qataris were among the first group of people to receive the vaccination. Similarly, at other health centres also several elderly people received the vaccine. Vaccination is done at six other health centres - Leabaib Health Center, Al Ruwais Health Centre, Umm Slal Health Centre, Rawdat Al Khail Health Centre, Al Thumama Health Centre and Muaither Health Centre . Primary Health Care Corporation official, Dr Samya al-Abdulla had announced yesterday that the priority group people to be vaccinated will be contacted directly.  The first dose of vaccination will be followed by a booster dose to be administered after three weeks. The Ministry of Public Health had announced that the vaccine is given to those aged 70 and above and people with chronic diseases in the first phase of the vaccination drive.  As more doses of vaccines arrive, other segments of the population will the vaccination. However, this vaccine will not be given to children below 16 as clinical trials were not done among this group. 

HE the Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz al-Thani
Qatar to receive first batch of Covid vaccine Monday: PM

The first batch of Covid-19 vaccine will arrive in Qatar Monday, HE the Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz al-Thani said in a tweet Saturday. "Under the directives of His Highness the Amir, the first shipment of Covid-19 vaccine will arrive day after tomorrow, and I have directed the health sector to provide it to everyone according to health protocols. This is an important step on the road to containing the pandemic and gradually returning life to normal, and expressing our pride in the success of our plan to confront the disease, we renew our thanks to our medical teams and all those involved,” tweeted HE Sheikh Khalid. بتوجيهات من سمو الأمير المفدى تصل بعد غد أول شحنة من لقاح كوفيد19، وقد وجهت القطاع الصحي بتوفيره للجميع وفق معاييرنا الصحية. هذه خطوة مهمة على طريق احتواء الوباء وعودة الحياة لطبيعتها تدريجيا، وإذ نعبر عن فخرنا بنجاح خطتنا لمواجهة المرض نجدد شكرنا لفرقنا الطبية وكل المشاركين فيها — خالد بن خليفة آل ثاني (@KBKAlThani) December 19, 2020 Meanwhile, Dr Abdullatif al-Khal, chair of the National Health Strategic Group on Covid-19 and head of Infectious Diseases at Hamad Medical Corporation, had said in October that Qatar had signed agreements with Pfizer and BioNTech for their BNT162 mRNA-based candidate vaccine against Sars-CoV-2 as well as with Moderna, a Massachusetts-based biotech company. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have completed their clinical trials and have reported strong efficiency in producing antibodies against Covid-19. Both the vaccine makers have reported that their vaccines are 95% effective and safe for use among the wider population. According to Dr al- Khal, The Ministry of Public Health has decided to provide the Covid-19 vaccine free of charge to all Qatar residents. Men inspect a special refrigerator for storing the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at an undisclosed storage facility in Cyprus "The first quantities of the vaccine could be limited in quantity, so priority would be given to the most vulnerable categories of people such as the elderly and those suffering from chronic diseases," Dr al-Khal had stated. He also had noted "over time, more and more quantities of the vaccine would be available to provide for all as Qatar is set to buy it from different entities to be able to make available locally sufficient quantities as soon as possible.” The testing process for both the vaccines follows very high safety and quality standards typically applied for vaccine development and has involved large number of participants. A report from Washington, quoting US Army General Gustave Perna, said Moderna Inc and partners have begun distributing its Covid-19 vaccine with trucks expected to start rolling out to more than 3,700 US locations Sunday. The second Covid-19 vaccine approved for use by US regulators will reach healthcare providers by as early as Monday, Perna said, adding that delivery of the first 20mn doses of vaccines made by Moderna and Pfizer Inc could be pushed back until the first week of January.

The Qatar National Day parade at Doha Corniche. PICTURES: Jayan Orma
Qatar National Day marked with patriotic fervour; parade showcases military might

His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, His Highness the Father Amir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and other dignitaries attended the national day parade as Qatar celebrated the glorious occasion with  an awesome display of national unity and military might. Held under strict Covid-19 protocols, the event was attended by His Highness the Father Amir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. The Amir's Personal Representative His Highness Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al-Thani, His Highness Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa al-Thani, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Khalifa al-Thani, HE Sheikh Jassim bin Khalifa al-Thani, HE the Prime Minister and Interior Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz al-Thani and a number of other dignitaries and ministers were present. The parade was also attended by HE the Shura Council Speaker Ahmed bin Abdullah bin Zaid al-Mahmoud, and a number of members of the Shura Council, in addition to several guests, including the commander of US Air Forces Central Command Lieutenant, General Gregory Guillot. One special addition to the event this year was the honouring of the healthcare workers who were at the forefront of fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. The Covid-19 warriors were honoured as a large contingent of healthcare professionals and volunteers - the White Army - marched ahead of the military parade to the accompaniment of a special song by the Qatari Armed Forces and were applauded by His Highness the Amir and all other dignitaries. Followed by the national anthem, the firing of 18-shot gun salute and the honouring of the White Army, various military units - armed, naval and air forces - one after another marched ahead to the rhythm of the accompanying music.   The area of the event at Doha Corniche was blanketed in maroon with a large flower bed in the shape and colours of the national flag and the whole place was decorated with flowers in maroon and white. The flower bed was an added attraction on the occasion. The parade also showcased the country's military strength, displaying an impressive array of sophisticated military arsenal of the air, armed and naval forces. According to the official Qatar News Agency (QNA), the parade of the Armed Forces infantry consisted of 1,000 soldiers; followed by the parade of the ground forces; the parade of the air force; the parade of the naval forces; armoured personnel carriers; special forces; military police; support forces; the Amiri Guard and the armoured vehicles.   Along with the parade, a group of paragliders mesmerised the spectators with various formations in the Corniche Bay sky. Their exhibitions also included huge flags with images of the His Highness the Amir as well as His Highness the Father Amir. A dazzling airshow by the airforces, showcasing a number of formations added more elegance to the occasion. The teams of the Ministry of Interior and Civil Defence started their show with a line of security vehicles. It was followed by the military police, rescue police department (Al Fazaa); followed by the parade of internal security force (Lekhwiya), and a show of the armed forces' armoured vehicles, tanks, air defence systems, military police vehicles, anti-terrorism vehicles, military communications systems and electronic warfare in addition to a naval show featuring Amiri naval forces' vessels besides warships and speed boats that are equipped with the latest defence systems. The parade concluded with the entry of horsemen and camel cavalry and an air show featuring several aircraft types including Rafale multi-purpose jet fighter; Mirage multi-mission defensive and offensive fighters; Apache attack helicopters; F-15 warplanes; and Typhoon in addition to other military combat aircraft, helicopters, airlift, cargo aircraft and show aircraft. Once the parade was over, His Highness the Amir took the customary walk along the Corniche and greeted the spectators present at the venue. Only 2,569 seats were available for the invited attendees, who comprised the families of the health sector employees and the participating entities. Later in the evening, the celebrations concluded with a dazzling fireworks display and drones show. All the festivities were telecast live on television channels and the media platforms of Doha 360, the official media of the National Day Organising Committee. 

Hassan al-Thawadi speaks at the WISH 2020 summit.
Qatar 2022 will be global celebration: al-Thawadi

*FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 to offer global celebration in post-Covid era FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 will be an event that would leave a legacy of improving the lives of several people around the world, Hassan al-Thawadi, secretary general of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC) has said, expressing optimism that Qatar would be able to play host to a global celebration in a post-Covid world by hosting a fantastic world cup. Delivering a keynote address at the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) 2020 on Wednesday, al-Thawadi said: “We certainly hope that by November 2022 we are able to play host to a global celebration in a post-Covid world. We sincerely hope that we’re able to welcome as many visitors as possible to our country – and to our region – many of whom will be visiting for the first time and experiencing their first taste of the Middle East and Arab world." He added: “We’re acutely aware of the socioeconomic effects of the pandemic around the world and are striving to offer an affordable and safe World Cup.” “Our collective future hinges on a co-ordinated and coherent approach to public health, both physical and mental. This was a necessity before the spread of Covid, and that necessity is now an imperative,” he said. Al-Thawadi spoke about the steps the organisation has taken to protect the health and safety of its staff, including multilingual awareness sessions provided by in-house health experts. “The proactive strategy we employed enabled us to manage the spread of Covid-19 on our projects for up to six weeks until the first case was reported. Under the guidance and approval of the local health authorities, we introduced our own 1,000-bed capacity isolation facility to ensure the monitoring and maintenance of strict quarantine protocol to minimise the spread of infection among the rest of the workforce.” He noted that sport must be considered a critical vehicle for contributing to the shared mission of maintaining physical and mental health across the globe. “As societies strive to emerge from lockdowns, sport is playing an important role in our journey toward a return to normalcy,” he said. Al-Thawadi, who also serves as chairman of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, a joint venture between FIFA and the SC responsible for organising and staging the event, said sport can be used in a variety of ways to preserve mental and physical health. “We all remember the power that sport has to contribute to our shared cause, and to ensure we harness that power in the future for the sake of public health, community, and a brighter future for the generations to come.” WISH, Qatar Foundation’s global health initiative, is dedicated to capturing and disseminating the best evidence-based ideas and practices with a mission to create a healthier world through global collaboration.