Wednesday, November 29, 2023 | 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.
Dr Sadeghi and Dr Tang at the webinar
Qatar’s Covid-19 mortality rate among world’s lowest

Qatar’s Covid-19 mortality rate is one of the lowest in the world, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) expert said on Monday at a webinar. “Qatar stands at number three in the number of Covid-19 positive cases in the GCC region. However, with over 10,000 such cases, the death rate is very low, super low as only 10 people have died so far. It is only about 0.1%, one of the lowest in the world,” said Dr Nan Tang, a scientist at Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI), part of Hamad Bin Khalifa University. He was speaking at a webinar series launched by Qatar Centre for Artificial Intelligence (QCAI) to highlight the role of AI and Big Data analysis in the fight against Covid-19. “The low mortality rate in this case, points to the excellent care provided by the healthcare system in the country. Moreover, over 1,000 of the total positive cases have also recovered, which is another outcome of the efficient treatment provided in the country,” noted Dr Tang. Dr Tang was joined by Dr Mohamed Amin Sadeghi, another QCRI scientist who discussed several aspects related to the Covid-19 outbreak. Dr Sanjay Chawla, research director, QCAI, moderated the session while Dr Ahmed K Elmagarmid, founding executive director, QCRI welcomed the participants. QCAI will run five more such webinars in the coming days. According to Dr Tang, globally the Covid -19 peak could vary depending on various elements. “On an optimistic estimation, it could peak in another two weeks and will go flat thereafter. However, on a pessimistic estimation, it can peak all the way until August this year and then will start flattening. However, we must take a middle level of both the estimations and nothing can be said with certainty on the issue,” explained Dr Tang. The AI expert also noted that following the pattern of several previous epidemics that the world has witnessed so far, there could be resurgences of the epidemic until a vaccine is found for the virus. “Several such pandemics in the past had seen three waves and the ensuing cycles were more devastating than the first one. There were three waves for the 1918 pandemic as well as for the H1N1. In both cases, the second and third waves were more devastating than the first wave. If such a situation repeats in the case of Covid-19, there might be more waves after the first wave has subsided,” he noted. Dr Sadeghi pointed out that Covid-19 has been spreading exponentially all across the world but such growth cannot go on for a long time. “We have to stop the reproduction of the virus and social distancing is the best way to avoid the spread of the virus. In Italy, at the beginning, the spread was about 4.8% and after 45 days with social distancing and lockdown it came down to 1.5% and after 90 days it fell further to 0.5%. However, the virus reproduction rate could go lower in summer months while it could go higher in the winter season,” he highlighted. “Ultimately, the world needs an effective vaccine. But another way we can stop the virus is through herd immunity, which is similar to vaccine but natural unlike the vaccine,” Dr Sadeghi added. However, some experts have questioned the adoption of the herd immunity policy in the case of Covid-19 because of the still unknown characteristics of the novel coronavirus that causes the disease.

Dr Patrick Tangrnrn
Governments must ensure public health measures before lifting curbs: expert

Governments world over must ensure several public health measures to reduce Covid-19 transmission, even after current restrictions are lifted, a leading physician at Sidra Medicine who had played a multifaceted role during the 2003 Sars outbreak, told Gulf Times. “Public health measures to reduce transmission must remain, even after the country has experienced the first peak of disease, or else there is a risk of a resurgence,” cautioned Dr Patrick Tang, Division Chief of Pathology Sciences at Sidra Medicine, as several countries around the world are planning to lift the restrictions that were in place for some time or may have lifted some of them. During the 2003 Sars outbreak, Dr Tang, then based in the University of Toronto, had performed many tasks including the first laboratory tests for an unknown virus, managing infected patients and to integrating large clinical datasets to better understand the virus. “Public health measures in a given region can only be lifted when the outbreak is under control, and there is sufficient capacity in the healthcare system to detect new infections, isolate them and quarantine their contacts as well as capacity to deal with all the individuals with serious infections. As social distancing and other measures are relaxed, it may be possible to see an increased rate of infection, but hopefully this rate is within the capacity of the public healthcare system,” explained Dr Tang. “Even after the infections have initially peaked in a country, we are finding that there may not be enough herd immunity to prevent subsequent waves of outbreaks. That means most people in those countries are still susceptible to Covid-19,” said Dr Tang. The expert noted that though the fatality rate from this pandemic may not be that high, its impact on the healthcare systems, economy and the society has been huge. “This virus has shown us that, no matter how medically and technologically advanced a country may be, a lack of preparedness and the lack of a coordinated public health response can lead to devastating outcomes,” he said. According to Dr Tang, coronaviruses are unlike the influenza virus that mutates in different ways from one year to the next. “If we are able to vaccinate enough people in the world against Covid-19, then it is likely that this particular virus will disappear. But that just means we will be safe until the next novel coronavirus or pandemic influenza virus comes along in the future,” he said. The physician also pointed out that the virus continues to spread in a predictable fashion all around the world. “The pattern with which it spreads, is not necessarily a function of the virus, but a reflection of the state of the public health system in each country, and the ability of that system to quickly and effectively respond to an emerging threat,” he highlighted. As for Covid-19 medications and vaccines, Dr Tang noted that the world has to wait for some more time. “Covid-19 will end only with the global distribution of an effective vaccine. There are no effective treatments for it yet. All the treatments available are marginally effective at best, and the scientific evidence backing the use of these drugs is very weak. Most of the current therapies being tested are repurposing existing drugs to treat Covid-19. There are also new experimental drugs being developed but these will require many months to become available,” he added.

Dr Sanjay Chawla
QCRI to host AI lecture series on coronavirus

The Qatar Centre for Artificial Intelligence (QCAI), part of Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) under Hamad Bin Khalifa University, has launched a series of artificial intelligence (AI) lectures related to the novel coronavirus (Covid-19). The lectures - six of them in total - by QCAI start tomorrow. They will explore the need to understand a pandemic like Covid-19 and how to contain it. “Covid-19 is the first pandemic of the Information Age. There are two parallel pandemics. The first is the physical pandemic of infections, recoveries, deaths, hospitals, ventilators. The second is the information tsunami: flattening the curve, predictions, R0 (indicates how contagious an infectious disease is), drug repurposing and social distancing,” Dr Sanjay Chawla, research director at QCAI, told Gulf Times. “The role of AI and data science is to create an accurate information filter to ‘make sense of’ and design better policies for managing the physical pandemic. There will be six lectures which elaborate on how AI and data science is being used,” he said. The first lecture to be held tomorrow will be on ‘Data Visualisation and Exploration of Covid-19 Data’. QCRI experts will study several aspects of Covid-19 by reviewing the different types of visualisation techniques and challenges associated with them. QCRI scientists Dr Nan Tang and Dr Mohamed Amin Sadeghi will discuss various aspects of the topic.  “We need to analyse relevant data and develop an authentic and informative mental model. This can be carried out through ‘visualisation’ and ‘exploration’. There are many ways in which visualisations could lead to misleading conclusions; therefore, good visualisation is challenging,” Dr Chawla noted.  The second half of the lecture will cover exploratory data analysis where experts will interpret visualisations, develop hypotheses, analyse them and compare the advantages and disadvantages of different visualisations. The lecture aims to review best practices in analysing the statistics of Covid-19. Dr Tang is a senior scientist at QCRI and was formerly a research fellow at the Laboratory for Foundations of Computer Science at the University of Edinburgh. His research interests focus on data preparation, data visualisation and collaborative data science. Dr Sadeghi studies machine learning applications at QCRI. Earlier, he was an assistant professor at the University of Tehran. He graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He has previously worked at Google, Amazon and Adobe. His research interests include machine learning, computer vision and their applications.

QNRF executive director Dr Abdul Sattar al-Taie
QNRF aims to boost food security, fight epidemics

*QNRF to launch second cycle food security to address production challenges In a major bid to ensure food security and combat epidemics, Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF), a member of Qatar Foundation, in collaboration with the Ministry of Municipality and Environment (MME) will soon announce the second cycle of “Food Security Call” in four priority areas for the country. “The new cycle aims to boost local food production in the priority areas, such as local supply chain; technology to accelerate the development of highly productive and healthy animals, including combating epidemic diseases; technology to accelerate local production of high-quality vegetables; and sustainable aquaculture,” Dr Abdul Sattar al-Taie, executive director, QNRF, told Gulf Times. QNRF had launched the first cycle of this joint call in collaboration with the MME in 2019 to address the grand challenge of food security in Qatar. “We discussed the topics of research at length with Dr Faleh al-Thani, Assistant Undersecretary of Agriculture and Fisheries Affairs, and other experts at the MME and agreed that the second cycle of our joint call should be more focused on specific themes that address the pillars of local food production of Qatar National Food Security Strategy (QNFS),” explained Dr al-Taie. “QNRF runs a diverse and rich portfolio of funding programmes which falls under three main suites: competitive funding research programmes, capacity building programmes, and research connection programmes, all of which are run strictly on competitive basis to ensure quality and equal opportunity,” Dr al-Taie noted. “In order to address the grand challenge of food security, QNRF launched a special call under TGRP (Thematic and Grand Challenges Research Programme) in collaboration with MME in 2019. This call invited researchers in Qatar and abroad to address one of the main focus areas of QNFS namely; local food production with special emphasis on strengthening resilience among people and agrifood systems, supply chain, policy and legislation, and community initiative,” the official said. He said that in the first cycle of the food security call, QNRF received 48 proposals. “A total of 46 of them were proceeded through our stringent two-tier evaluation process. Out of these, nine proposals were awarded after a competitive review process. Five of the awards went to researchers at Qatar University, three to Hamad Bin Khalifa University and one to Texas A&M University in Qatar. These winning proposals focused on a multitude of themes including aquaculture, vegetable production, protected agriculture (greenhouse and hydroponics), and the use of advanced technology to enhance local food production,” he revealed. According to Dr al-Taie, each proposal tackles important aspects of food sustainability in Qatar from several angles. “In fact, topics such as aquaculture, local food production and the use of advanced technology are perfectly in line with the food security strategy adopted by Qatar in 2018. The idea is to reduce reliance on import and increase dependence on locally produced quality food, making use of state-of-the-art facilities available in Qatar. This ensures sustainability in the long run and eliminates risks related to availability, price fluctuation, supply chain, and geopolitics,” he said. The official stated that these projects are run mainly by scientists and researchers affiliated to institutions inside Qatar. “However, some of these projects are also done in collaboration with a number of renowned international organisations and universities. These collaborations are facilitated by the design of the programme as QNRF wanted to give international exposure to local scientists dealing with food security and ensure maximum knowledge transfer and capacity building inside Qatar,” QNRF director highlighted. “These projects will be running ideally for three years on average. However, we envisage that there will be some tangible results emerging within the first and second year as our researchers are benefiting from excellent infrastructure related to food production,’ added Dr al-Taie.

The Thani Bin Abdullah Bin Thani Al-Thani Humanitarian Fundu2019s Zakat contribution has helped support 164,696 vulnerable families.
Qatari humanitarian organisation pledges $43mn to UNHCR Refugee Zakat Fund

Qatar based Thani Bin Abdullah Bin Thani Al-Thani Humanitarian Fund will contribute $43mn to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Refugee Zakat Fund in 2020 to support 2.2mn people in eight countries, an official said Sunday. “We entered into an agreement with the UNHCR for the distribution of Zakat funds, earlier this year, to support refugees and internally displaced persons,” explained Dr Aize al-Qahtani, a representative of Thani Bin Abdullah Bin Thani Al-Thani Humanitarian Fund. Al-Qahtani was speaking at the launch of the UNHCR Islamic Philanthropy Report at a webinar. “Bangladesh, Yemen, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Malaysia and Mauritania are eight countries where assistance and support will be provided for the needy. Through this additional contribution, 608,980 refugee and internally displaced Yemenis; 143,000 Syrian refugee families in Lebanon; 84,000 Rohingya refugee and host community members in Bangladesh; and 330,000 refugees in Chad will be provided with vital aid. Contributions provided through our fund are not limited to Zakat, but also include Sadaqah donations,” he said. UNHCR also launched the findings of its 2020 Islamic Philanthropy Report, highlighting the impact of the Refugee Zakat Fund on vulnerable refugees and internally displaced persons across the globe. According to the report in 2019, the Refugee Zakat Fund received $43mn, including the largest ever single contribution made by Thani Bin Abdullah Bin Thani Al-Thani Humanitarian Fund of over $35mn. The Thani Bin Abdullah Bin Thani Al-Thani Humanitarian Fund was established in 2019 by Sheikh Thani bin Abdullah al-Thani, for the provision of aid to most vulnerable populations around the world. “Displaced communities are, without doubt, among the most vulnerable populations that require close and strategic attention from philanthropists wanting to make a serious impact on the state of the globe,” said Sheikh Thani bin Abdullah bin Thani al-Thani, founder of the Thani Bin Abdullah Bin Thani Al-Thani Humanitarian Fund in a statement. “The Muslim world has a historic opportunity to further demonstrate the significant role of Islamic social finance, and particularly Zakat, in humanitarian assistance, through extending a helping hand to the world’s displaced populations, while realising key Sustainable Development Goals,” he added. “Today, and in view of the current global health situation, more refugees will require our humanitarian assistance, and Zakat and Islamic philanthropy can have a significant impact in responding to these needs. I want to take this opportunity to thank the Thani Bin Abdullah Bin Thani Al-Thani Humanitarian Fund, and all individuals, foundations, financial institutions and faith-based organizations who have enabled us to reach over one million persons in need and have entrusted UNHCR with their Zakat” said Khaled Khalifa, senior adviser and representative of the Gulf Co-operation Council countries. The Thani Bin Abdullah Bin Thani Al-Thani Humanitarian Fund’s Zakat contribution has helped support 164,696 vulnerable families. The donation has provided much-needed cash assistance to fulfill immediate needs, as well as, the provision of food. This Zakat contribution provided basic necessary assistance to more than 875,000 people, including 41,501 refugee and internally displaced families in Yemen, in addition to 106,313 Rohingya families and 16,882 host community families in Bangladesh.

Dr Salih Ali al-Marrirnrn
Qatar affirms support for vaccine trials for Covid-19

A senior official of the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) has affirmed Qatar’s willingness to participate in the international efforts for the vaccine development against the novel coronavirus (Covid-19). “Qatar will be happy to participate in any international clinical trials for the vaccine development for Covid-19. What is needed is global collaboration and we need to unite on an international level to fight Covid-19 as well as such other diseases that might emerge in the future,” said Dr Salih Ali al-Marri, Assistant Minister of Health Affairs, MoPH, on Wednesday Dr al-Marri was participating in a global panel discussion “Flattening the Curve: Global Responses to COVID-19”, hosted by Qatar Foundation (QF) and the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH), the global health initiative of QF, as part of QF’s Education City Speaker Series. The panel included several healthcare experts from around the world. As for the covid-19 situation in Qatar, Dr al-Marri pointed out that the country has a very good percentage of recovery. “As of now, we have 3,298 active cases while 406 cases have been fully recovered. Moreover, the mortality rate is very low and there were none in the past 48 hours,” he explained. According to the official, the country is in a good position to manage the situation. “Over 80% of the cases in the country are mild infections and very less percentage of cases are critical. I think we are really in a good position as we are managing the whole situation effectively. The recent rise in the number of cases reported every day is because of the large number of tests being carried out.” “We also have different pathways for different types of cases and this helps us to test, quarantine, isolate and admit them. We have got very promising outcomes so far from our pandemic fight. Under the very strong governance structure, we are working with our local stakeholders and a very strong leadership of WHO and other international organisations to flatten the curve,” he noted. Dr al-Marri also pointed out to the challenges that the community will face during the holy month of Ramadan. “There is a challenge with Ramadan approaching, and the psychological impact of people having to stay at home and do things they would not usually do. But we have created platforms to support people, and I hope that by encouraging people to approach Ramadan with a different mindset, they can see it as an opportunity to experience it in a different way,” he said. He also maintained that the community is co-operating with the government in adhering to the new norms against Covid-19. “Working together is the key for success and more importantly, our community is ready to adhere to all the measures put in place to fight the pandemic. Our heroes and superheroes are our healthcare workers and the community members who are following all the measures such as social distancing, hand washing among others to fight covid-19,” added Dr al-Marri.

Dr Abdul Sattar al-Taie
QNRF firmly backs efforts to mitigate impact of Covid-19

Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) is making efforts through various programmes to support the nation in its fight against various challenges including the novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19), noted a top official. “In dealing with challenges such as the pandemic Covid-19, QNRF is committed to contribute to the nation’s efforts by providing solutions," Dr Abdul Sattar al-Taie, executive director, QNRF, told Gulf Times in an exclusive interview. The objective is to combat the adverse impact of Covid-19 on Qatar through a multidisciplinary approach that tackles the impact on the economy apart from the social, cultural life and the psychological wellbeing of citizens and residents,” he explained. QNRF, a member of Qatar Foundation, is the national funding agency for research activities in Qatar and promotes research among scientists and researchers in the country as well as collaborations with major institutes from around the world. “QNRF also aims to better understand and improve the nation’s capacity to prepare, respond to, and recover from emergencies such as Covid-19 through providing solutions based on research to enhance system’s readiness; foster community preparedness and engagement; understand population vulnerability; and explore strategies to improve disaster response and recovery,” Dr al-Taie observed. The pandemic is one of the biggest challenges in the modern times. “Indeed, the speed, widespread and impact of Covid-19 took the whole world by surprise and showed how fragile and ill-prepared it was to cope with the situation. It is also true that the outbreak of Covid-19 is unprecedented in modern times and its spread is off the charts and that all models would have not predicted such severity and far-ranging consequences we could have imagined before,” he noted. According to the QNRF official, the world will not be the same, once the pandemic is overcome. “In the aftermath of Covid-19 I can foresee big shifts in world’s politics, economics, energy market, human behaviour, health systems, supply chain, poverty, education, and so forth. To overcome these challenges, the countries need to revisit their preparedness and resilience to mitigate disasters and crises of this calibre. They also need to revisit their regulations to address the weaknesses that were exposed due to the spread of Covid-19,” he continued. “Finally, it is my firm belief that the world must commit more resources to scientific research which remain everyone’s hope to provide much needed solutions like vaccine and drugs for Covid-19. Similalrly, it is imperative that researchers and scientists all over the world must find new ways to work together in a united front to combat such pandemics and crises rather than trying to work separately,” Dr al-Taie added.

Dr Faisal Farooq
QCRI develops self-assessment tool for virus in 11 languages

The Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI), part of Hamad Bin Khalifa University, has developed a self-assessment tool in 11 languages to check for the novel Coronavirus disease (Covid-19) and help the users know more about their health status. “We developed this tool in 11 languages, specifically to serve Qatar and the region. Our aim is to educate the people and suggest when and how they should seek medical help. Hopefully, this reduces the load on health systems as well as prevents transmission,” Dr Faisal Farooq, head, Centre for Digital Health, QCRI told Gulf Times. Available on web and smartphone platforms, people can access the tool here. Other than English and Arabic, the tool is available in Asian languages such as Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Nepali, Sinhala, Tamil, Malayalam, Filipino and Bangla. This can help most residents of Qatar to conduct self-assessment in their own mother tongue. According to the official, the tool is a small piece of work from QCRI with a set of questions based on the guidelines of World Health Organisation and the US Communicable Disease Centre. “In addition, it is also inspired by the Covid-19 triaging protocol at Hamad Medical Corporation. There are similar apps that are being used in many other countries in the world such as the US, the UK, Canada among others. We wanted to build something for the country and the region and in the most commonly used regional languages,” explained the official. QCRI has highlighted three major ideas behind developing this tool. It is aimed at providing a level of understanding (and thus comfort) to people who may have symptoms and want to know what their risks are of having the disease by a simple set of questions. It also aims to alleviate the flooding of health systems such as doctors, clinics, hospitals if people have minor symptoms or are at low risk. “It also acts as a tool for educating people on how this disease spreads as well as on preventive measures. For example, if someone answers ‘Yes’ to pre-existing conditions, they are informed to take extra caution. Similarly, we have embedded a language agnostic educational video from Stanford Med,” added Dr Farooq.

Sheikh Dr Mohamed bin Hamad al-Thani, director of Public Health, MoPH.rnrn
Qatar to introduce rapid test for Covid-19 soon

Stepping up its fight and surveillance against the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) and expanding the scope of early detection of infected cases, Qatar will soon introduce the rapid testing procedure "to test a large number of people in less time", a senior official of the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) said on Wednesday. “At present, we are doing PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test which has 99 to 100% accuracy. Rapid test procedure is also being recommended to test more number of people. We are making arrangements to get the best available rapid test kits, mostly from South Korea,” said Sheikh Dr Mohamed bin Hamad al-Thani, director of Public Health, MoPH. “With rapid test facility, we can have more tests but the accuracy of the tests is lower compared to PCR and in some cases it is very low. However, we will soon introduce the most reliable rapid test approved by the (US) Food and Drug Administration,” explained Sheikh Mohamed. The top official was speaking at a webinar organised by Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) on the topic ‘Infectious Diseases with Relevance to and Potential Impact on the Pandemic Covid-19.’ Dr Mohamed H Jarrar, senior manager, Biomedical and Health Research and Associate, QNRF moderated the session that was attended by leading scientists and researchers from various institutes in Qatar. “We are working on to build more capacity for testing. Now we have started the use of new advanced laboratory techniques to detect the virus that can do around 2,000 tests per day. We have requested co-operation from Sidra Medicine, Weill Cornell Medicine - Qatar (WCM-Q) and Qatar University for further co-operation for clinical testing. Some students from WCM-Q have agreed to join,” he continued. According to the official, Qatar is in the right direction with the measures to flatten the curve in the spread of Covid-19. “We have a proven track record in dealing with infectious diseases in the past and have had great control over them. Qatar Airways and the Hamad International Airport have taken all the stringent measures to avoid the spread of the disease. Best measures to contain the spread of the disease are in place all over the country,” he noted. Sheikh Mohamed also noted that most of the Qataris found infected have travel history and they were all tested and isolated. “The numbers are increasing because of increased surveillance and best early diagnosis methods. We have conducted over 22,000 tests as of Tuesday. The positive cases are only about 800 and our fight against the spread of the virus will be continued through more testing. Testing is the most important thing and we will continue the surveillance, conduct more tests and isolate the suspected cases. When we find any positive case, we trace the contacts and test them,” he highlighted. Sheikh Mohamed also said that most of the affected cases are in good health and only a very few are under intensive care. “Some are sick but not severe. Mild cases, we have accommodated in a complex which has a 1,500 bed capacity. We have also taken more measures to ensure the safety of healthcare workers with more focus on occupational safety. We are trying to make a balance between keeping people safe and keep things moving. This situation may continue for some more time,” he added.

Indian expatriate Madhu Nooranad at the post-recovery observation facility in Qatar
Expat who recovered from Covid-19 thanks govt for excellent care

An Indian expatriate who has recovered from the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) has profusely thanked the government of Qatar for the efficiency of its healthcare system that enabled his speedy recovery. “I am extremely thankful to the government of Qatar for the great support and care for me during these testing times, right from the diagnosis to the whole cycle of the healing process,” an ecstatic Madhu Nooranad told Gulf Times. “I was given the best medical care and the doctors and nurses were always at hand to help me recover fast. They treated me with so much care and provided me with all my needs. Thank you Qatar,” he said. Nooranad, who works as an electronics technician in a private firm, has recovered fully from Covid-19 and is under post-recovery observation for another fortnight at a specially designed facility set up by the government. In his mid-40s, Nooranad, had accompanied some of his friends returning to Qatar to be taken to quarantine and was tested by the health authorities. “I had never thought I had this disease. I was suffering from sore throat and thought it was due to climate change. I had to take some of my friends who had returned to Qatar to quarantine. I got tested along with them. My test results turned to be positive and I was immediately taken to the hospital,” he noted. “If they had not tested me, I would have continued carrying the disease and spread it to more people. This shows the importance of testing for the disease and the efficiency of Qatar government in tackling the disease,” said Nooranad. The Indian expatriate says that he got the best treatment and care that one can imagine and feels that it is due to the efficiency of the healthcare system in Qatar that he was able to recover from the disease so fast. “Everyone at the hospital is being treated equally. Every doctor, every nurse took personal care and provided us with every medication and mental support. Though, it was slightly difficult for me to adjust to the situation in the beginning, I soon felt home due to the excellent care given by the medical staff. They also provided us with very healthy food and other requirements every time,” he explained. “Though my family members were very anxious about my safety in the beginning, later they understood that I was in safe hands. We had free high speed internet facility and I was in constant touch with my family during these days over video call and they were very happy to know about my fast recovery. I feel, I was fortunate enough to spend my treatment time in a very pleasant way," he said. According to Nooranad, it is the responsibility of every individual to protect oneself and the community from this global pandemic. “Everyone must strictly follow the instructions given by the Ministry of Public Health and the government of Qatar. Prevention is always the best way to counter this disease and it is our moral responsibility to prevent its spread for the country and the whole world,” he urged. “Moreover, there is no need to panic about the disease. The healthcare system in the country gives the best care and the treatment is given in a very pleasant and homely atmosphere. Our every needs and requests are followed up and taken care of. Please take care of yourself so that the disease is not spread widely and the country gets rid of the disease as early as possible,” he added. “We get free proper clothing and food, very nutritious and delicious food and that too Indian food. Moreover, we get clothes, bathing towels, toothpaste, tooth brush and everything else. I call my family over video and speak and interact with them at least once a day. All my needs are taken care of, Thank you Qatar,” he concluded.

Dr Adnan Abu-Dayya, executive director and CEO of Qmic
Qmic explores possibilities of developing digital tools to fight Covid-19

Qatar Mobility Innovation Centre (Qmic), Qatar’s First Technology Innovations Institution, is exploring development of new tools by utilising its existing digital platforms and services to assist the government and the community to fight the novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in the country. “Access to accurate and relevant location-based data is the key in developing this type of technology," Dr Adnan Abu-Dayya, executive director and CEO of Qmic, told Gulf Times. "We are assessing and investigating how to use our IoT (Internet of Things) technology knowledge and digital platforms and applications to support the community and the country at large. In particular, we are looking into re-purposing our extensive Wain Mobile platform with new content and capabilities to support the national effort in tackling the impact of this Virus. We will announce the details when our plans become more concrete and finalised,” he explained. “We have an internal effort to assess and investigate how we can use our existing tools and platforms to support the community. This might be in the form of providing localised information or alerts or guidance. Nothing concrete has been developed as of now. We are exploring all possibilities and our scientists are working on it. But then accessing relevant data is the key factor in this,” Dr Abu-Dayya continued. The official noted that AI (Artificial Intelligence) and IoT can be used to support in tracking the disease, identifying people at risk, based on actual infections by others as well as diagnosing it effectively and quickly. “However, you need to have access to extensive personal data to be able to do that. China is best suited for this and has done it successfully,” he added.

The participants at the webinar
New equipment for Covid-19 testing to be introduced

The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) is planning to introduce a new equipment that can conduct more tests to diagnose the novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in less time and give faster results. “The automated system can conduct about 2,000 tests a day, with results available in a few hours," said Sheikh Dr Mohamed al-Thani, Director of Public Health, at a webinar hosted by World Innovation Summit for Health, an initiative of Qatar Foundation. “We have completed more than 8,500 tests so far and we are the second or third highest country in the world in the number of tests that have been conducted on people for Covid-19. "We have the proper criteria for testing people in a smart and efficient manner. With the present method of testing, the first test takes three to four hours and we cannot release the results before eight hours,” he noted. He hoped that the with the new equipment, the results of the tests could be completed faster and most results released on the same day. Dr Laith Abu-Raddad, professor of Healthcare Policy and Research, Weill Cornell Medicine - Qatar; Dr Mutaz Alkhatib, assistant professor, Methodology and Ethics, Research Centre for Islamic Legislation and Ethics (CILE), Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) ; and Dr Mohamed Ghaly, professor of Islam and Biomedical Ethics, CILE, HBKU were the other participants at the webinar titled Coronavirus: The Interplay of Medical and Islamic Ethics . Dr Abu-Raddad said that the models and guidelines for Covid-19 are given based on previous experiences and realities. “Using the previous experiences, scientists made predictions about diseases such as H1N1 that came later. Eventually these predictions were close to reality. May not be perfect but it was very close to reality especially in the case of H1N1. These models are not hypothesis or wrong ones. Then there were interventions and scientists have worked on to refine and perfect them,” he explained He said that if people follow the social distancing practice, Covid -19 can be controlled in a big way. “If everyone reduces their contact rate by a minimum of 60%, the pandemic of Covid-19 in all likelihood will die on its own,” he added. Dr Alkhatib discussed the ethical aspects of dealing with the disease while Dr Ghaly moderated the discussion.

Sheikh Dr Mohamed bin Hamad al-Thani, Director of Public Health
Many recovery cases of Covid-19 to be announced soon

More people affected with novel coronavirus (Covid-19) in Qatar are recovering and their details will be announced in the coming days, a top official of the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) told Gulf Times in an exclusive interview. “All the four recovered cases have been discharged from the hospital and many more are on the recovery path,” Sheikh Dr Mohamed bin Hamad al-Thani, Director of Public Health, said. All the recovered cases have been advised to stay home for a few more days just to make sure that everything goes well. “We can handle the situation very effectively and have the best protocol in place for curing the disease with a combination of treatment options. In this regard, we are ready to help the people as much as possible,” he said. “Now the number of people in quarantine is going down as many of the cases have been found negative. Similarly, the number in quarantine will dramatically go down in the coming days as nobody can travel to Qatar for the next two weeks,” the official said. According to him, the number of positive cases will not see any huge increase in the coming days. He said that the cases being reported now have been in large numbers because the testing of the people, who are in quarantine from the epicentre of the disease, is being finalised. “I think we had high number of cases reported these days and such huge number of cases will not happen again. This happened because many of the quarantined people were tested on the same day and we made the announcement of 238 cases on a particular day. Even if any cases are detected in the coming days, it would be only in very less numbers, maybe in tens, not more than that,” explained Sheikh Mohamed. The official said that the next two weeks is the most crucial period and through the measures announced on Sunday, the ministry is hopeful to contain the spread of the disease in a big way. Sheikh Mohamed said that as per the initial assessment, the virus found among the patients in Qatar, is not very aggressive as in Wuhan, China. “We have no deaths and no intensive cases so far and we assume that the virus here is somewhat benign and not very aggressive. We are trying to sequencing the virus and as of now, we find that the virus affected in the country is not very aggressive. Moreover, no old people in Qatar have been affected by the virus and most cases are among people who are very healthy. This disease is not a killer and it becomes so only in certain categories of people,” he described. The Public Health director said that Qatar’s healthcare system was able to identify the cases through a very effective surveillance using its Severe and Acute Respiratory Infection Programme. “We first found three cases and located them at the Industrial Area of the city. We went to the market where these people have been working as well as their houses and were able to locate all the contacts of these cases. Since they were labourers and living in close contact among them, we quarantined hundreds of people, checked them and found many positive for the disease,” he pointed out. “We tested people in other places and there were no such widespread cases. At this particular location in Industrial Area, we had the maximum number of cases. Most of the cases are from this area and other ones are a few sporadic cases from people coming from other places to Qatar,” he noted. “We could identify all the contact persons of the tested cases. Labourers are the most difficult people to trace and we were successful in tracing all of them. All the cases tested positive are very healthy and not in danger,” added Sheikh Mohamed.

Sheikh Dr Mohamed bin Hamad al-Thani, director of Public Health
Qatar treats everyone equally; no need for panic: Health ministry

*More healthcare facilities ready if needed Sheikh Dr Mohamed bin Hamad al-Thani, director of Public Health, at the Ministry of Public Health, has assured that all residents of the country, Qataris and non-Qataris, are being given equal healthcare services and nobody will be left behind. He also stressed the country is well prepared for the situation and there was no room for any panic and more healthcare facilities are being readied if any such situation emerges. “I want to assure you that this country is for every one of you and nobody will be left behind in any aspect. There is no need for panic and everything is in order. Government is with the people and supports them in every aspect. It is very clear from the announcements made on Sunday,” Sheikh Mohamed told Gulf Times. “We care about all the people in the country and healthcare services are provided equally irrespective of Qataris or non-Qataris. The first four cases treated and cured are those of non-Qataris. They are from Jordan, Philippines, Sudan and Iran. This shows that we care for all the people and the care is given equally,” he continued. Sheikh Mohamed said that Qatar is well prepared to meet the situation and has been making every effort for several years to provide the best healthcare system. “Other than the Communicable Disease Centre, we are making use of the Muaither health centre for Covid-19 cases. Hazm Mebaireek General Hospital at Industrial Area is also being used. We have plans to make use of Rawdat Al Khail and Al Gharaffa health centres if there are more cases,” he explained. According to Sheikh Mohamed, the ministry has adopted a proper balance in the number of healthcare facilities in the country. “We have been studying the healthcare needs of the country. We have Hamad Medical Corporation and a number of hospitals under it at different areas such as Al Khor, Al Wakra and Ras Laffan and Mesaieed. “Mesaieed facility is not officially opened yet but now we have upgraded it and making use of the facility for this purpose. If any large scale testing for Covid-19 is needed, we have made arrangements for the same at Asian Town cricket stadium," disclosed the official. Sheikh Mohamed expressed happiness that the messages sent out by the ministry have been well received by the community members. “Qataris and non-Qataris have been very co-operative in our efforts. All the companies and their directors have promised us to take care of the instructions and provide all the necessary materials and support to the workers. This will ensure that Qatar will be more hygienic and clean at all places and among all sections of the society,” he pointed out. The official stressed that the coming two weeks are very important to control the disease and stop any spike that happened in countries such as China, Italy or Iran. “We want to protect everyone from the disease. By following the protocols and the guidelines, everyone can minimise the probability of spreading the disease. We have intensified our efforts to lower the spread of the disease. If any case is detected at any of the places, I advise the concerned companies to decontaminate the places, as people might be afraid to work at such places,” he emphasised. Sheikh Mohamed also told that the ministry is in constant touch with the World Health Organisation (WHO). “We communicate with WHO officials once or twice a week. We get all their advice and with advanced technology, we also get all their directives instantly. I believe that with advancements in technology we are able to work as one team and contain it soon,” he concluded.

His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani
Amir orders incentives worth QR 75bn for private sector; Incoming flights suspended but Qatari nationals can enter

*All incoming flights suspended except for cargo and transit *All public transport, including metro and Karwa buses stopped *Staff above 55 and those with chronic diseases can work from home *Banks to postpone repayment of loan installments *Govt funds to increase investments in stock exchange by QR10bn *Qatar Central Bank to provide additional liquidity to banks *Food, medical goods exempted from customs duties for 6 months *Select sectors exempted from paying electricity, water charges for 6 months Intensifying its fight against the novel coronavirus (Covid-19), Qatar on Sunday announced a slew of measures including stopping all incoming flights from March 18 for two weeks, suspending public transport services with immediate effect and a mega financial package of QR75bn to support the private sector. Presiding over the Supreme Committee for Crisis Management meeting that reviewed Qatar's preparedness to combat the spread of the new coronavirus (Covid 19), His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani ordered to initiate a set of decisions and measures to help people lead a normal life. “The Supreme Committee for Crisis Management, chaired by His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani has decided to adopt a number of decisions and packages. They include educational, financial and transport initiatives that will help all sectors of the society,” announced HE Lolwah Rashid AlKhater, Assistant Foreign Minister and Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at a press conference on Sunday. “As per the decisions, all inbound flights to Qatar will be stopped as of March 18 for two weeks, except transit flights, cargo flights and flights carrying Qatar nationals from other countries. We will review the situation at the end of two weeks and appropriate decisions will be taken depending on the prevailing situation then,” stated AlKhater. “Certain groups of people- employees over the age of 55, pregnant women, and people suffering from chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart and kidney disease, and stress- will be allowed to work from home,” she said. “All public transport, both Karwa and Doha Metro is stopped from 10pm Sunday (March 15) until further notice. All the public, private and university students will begin distance learning from Sunday. The 12th grade students of public schools will sit exams on time and at the exams headquarters, which will be announced later,” she said. HE AlKhater noted that the most important announcement is the financial package with a number of provisions to boost the private sector. “Qatar has decided to inject QR75bn into the private sector which no other countries have done so far. The government will also put in QR 10bn into the stock market. The Qatar Central Bank will provide additional liquidity to banks operating in the country and the banks will postpone loan installments and obligations of the private sector for a grace period of six months,” she explained. The Qatar Development Bank (QDB) is to postpone the installments for all borrowers for a period of six months. The official also announced that food and medical goods will be exempt from customs duties for a period of six months, provided that this is reflected in the selling price to the consumer. “A number of sectors will be exempt from electricity and water charges for a period of six months. They include, hospitality and tourism sector; retail sector; small and medium industries sector; commercial complexes, in exchange for providing services and exemptions to tenants, as well as logistics areas,” she pointed out. The official added that the logistical areas and small and medium industries will be exempted from rent for a period of six months. HE AlKhater urged everyone to avoid travel and cooperate with the directives given by the health ministry and other authorities to fight the spread of Covid-19 in the country. Qatari students studying abroad have been advised to adhere to the policies of the host countries and to approach Qatari embassies in case of urgent needs. Citizens and residents are both urged to avoid travel during the coming period. Assistant Undersecretary for Trade Affairs at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry Saleh al-Khulaifi and co-chair of the National Epidemic Preparation Dr Abdullatif al-Khal, who is also Head of the Infectious Diseases Division at Hamad Medical Corporation, and Director of Health Protection and Communicable Disease were also present at the press conference. HE AlKhater said among the steps taken by the government to fight the spread of the virus include cancellation of public gatherings -- both social and sports. Dr al-Khal said most of the new 64 Covid-19 cases were expatriate workers. He said all infected cases are in very good health. With regard to economic decisions, al-Khulaifi said that the implementation of the decisions will start from the date of their issuance.

The officials at the press conference. PICTURE: Shaji Kayamkulam.rnrn
Four Covid-19 cases in Qatar have recovered: MoPH

The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) on Saturday announced that four of the patients who tested positive for the novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) have recovered after being treated at the Communicable Disease Center (CDC). All the four -a Jordanian, a Filipino, an Iranian and a Sudanese national- have been completely cured and recovered from Covid-19 as per the WHO ( World Health Organisation) and CDC guidelines. The announcement was made at a press conference attended by Sheikh Dr Mohamed bin Hamad al-Thani, Director of the Public Health Department, MoPH and Dr Muna al-Maslamani, medical director, CDC, HMC. They also said that most of the Covid-19 cases are in good health and are being monitored constantly. Sheikh Dr Mohamed said the recovery of four cases confirms the commitment of Qatar’s health sector in allocating necessary resources to treating patients. He also added that the ministry will announce recovery cases as they occur. “Qatar is well prepared for the situation and we have enough resources and necessary materials to treat the patients. The medical teams are doing all they can to treat the cases and to provide the necessary protective measures. Every sector in the country is cooperating with us to prevent the spread of the virus. We have closed the schools and universities and quarantined some areas so as to limit the spread of the virus.” Dr Maslamani explained the details of the four recovered cases, the chronology as well as the steps taken to conform to the international guidelines to declare them all recovered from the disease. “I am happy to announce four Covid-19 cases in the country have been totally cured. The first case was a Jordanian admitted with a sore throat and mild temperature around 38 degrees centigrade. We took the first test which was positive and the subsequent two tests were negative. Now he is totally cured, asymptomatic and doing fine," explained Dr Maslamani. The second case was of a Filipino who came back from Iran. “The patient had no symptoms but was found to have the virus on screening. The patient had two tests that were positive, on March 4 and March 7. The following two tests that took place on March 10 and March 13 were negative and she has been found to be cured,” continued Dr Maslamani. According to the official, the third case was an Iranian who came to Qatar on February 21. “He was symptomatic and complaining of sneezing and sore throat. We admitted him and his test on March 8 was positive. We tested him two times on March 10 and 12 and the results were negative and he is totally cured and doing fine now,” she explained. The fourth case was that of a Sudanese national who complained of cough and was admitted at CDC. The first test was positive as he had close contact with some people who came from Iran and the subsequent two tests on him were found negative. ********* 17 new cases of Covid-19 reported The Ministry of Public Health (MoOPH) announced on Saturday 17 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Qatar. In a statement on Saturday, the ministry said that the new cases relate to the previously discovered ones among expatriate workers who are quarantined. The new cases are receiving suitable care under complete isolation and they all are in a stable health condition, the statement added. The Ministry of Public Health continues to expand the scope of testing and conduct the necessary checks to trace all possible contacts with confirmed cases. (QNA)

Gulf Times
Ministries ramp up precautionary measures against Covid-19

Various ministries and organisations have intensified their efforts to stop the spread of the novel corononavirus (Covid-19) in Qatar with new directives and precautionary measures. The Ministry of Administrative Development Labour and Social Affairs (MADLSA) announced Friday through a tweet that it has formed a working group to educate workers for adopting preventive measures to protect them from being infected with Covid-19. “The ministry will also go through its concerned team, hold meetings with community representatives to follow up the employment conditions on an ongoing basis to provide support and assistance to them,” the tweet explained. The Ministry has also urged all companies and establishments to ensure the provision of healthy and safe employment and provide all necessary precautionary measures and preventive steps against transmission of the infection to the employees. Close on the heels of closing down the cinemas, theatres, children’s play areas, gyms and wedding venues, including those in hotels, several family parks have also been closed for the time being. The Ministry of Municipality and Environment, in one of its tweets said, “AlKhor Family Park and Dahl Al-Hamam Family Park are closed for public till further notice. Your health comes first.” The Primary Health Care Corporation has announced on its Twitter handle, “As a precautionary measure, it was decided to close Omar Bin Al-Khattab Health Centre on Friday and Saturday, March 13-14 to test the employees and deep clean the health centre, in order to ensure the safety of all visitors.” Moreover, all the registered patients at the health centre are advised to attend Airport or Umm Ghuwailina health centres during these days. Meanwhile certain banks and other organisations have urged people for cashless transactions to prevent the spread of the disease. Ooredoo through an SMS urged its customers, “ For your health and safety, we highly advise that you use your credit/debit cards to settle bills via our Self Service Machines, instead of paying by cash. You can also use our digital channels, such as the Ooredoo App and the Ooredoo website, or call 111 for other transactions.” Qatar Islamic Bank has also urged its customers to make use of the cards or online payment instead of cash transaction. “As part of the country's effort to reduce the risk of coronavirus infection, we advise you to use your card instead of cash whenever possible and insert the card yourself inside the Point of Sales machines and apply hand sanitiser after. We encourage you to bank safely from home using our 24/7 QIB Mobile App and Internet Banking for all your financial needs. Prevention is better than cure,” said the message from the bank.

The officials at the press conference yesterday. PICTURE: Jayaram
Ministry announces 238 new cases of coronavirus in Qatar

*MoPH able to contain spread of Covid-19 through early detection, quarantine *Over 6,000 people tested  *All under treatment in good health, no critical cases The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) announced Wednesday 238 new cases of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) from those in quarantine. The total number of cases in the country stood at 262 as of Wednesday. The ministry officials clarified at a press conference that all the new cases were detected from people in quarantine as they had contact with the first three cases, detected from expatriates on Sunday. Over 300 people, who were in contact with the first three expatriate Covid-19 cases, had been in quarantine since then. The Ministry said that the number of cases is likely to increase among those who had contact with the previously announced expatriate patients. “In a record time, we were able to track and quarantine all the contacts. From Sunday to Wednesday, we were able to track the contacts, quarantine them and conduct hundreds of tests. The active involvement and efforts of the healthcare system in the country, has helped in detecting 238 cases and they have been isolated and admitted in hospital,” stated, Dr Abdullatif al-Khal, co-chair of the National Pandemic Committee and the head of Infectious Diseases Division, Hamad Medical Corporation. _______________________  Quarantined Iran returnees to be 'released' Thursday Citizens and residents who were quarantined after their return from Iran will be released from isolation today, a top Ministry of Public Health official has announced. “If the final tests conducted on them proved that they are not infected with the coronavirus, they will be released. It is good news as it confirms that isolation and control procedures put in place in Qatar are working perfectly,” Sheikh Dr Mohammed bin Hamad al-Thani, Director of Public Health Department, said Wednesday. _______________________ According to Sheikh Dr Mohammed bin Hamad al-Thani, director of Public Health Department, MoPH, about 6,000 people have been tested for the disease so far in Qatar. “We have conducted about 6,000 tests so far and this is one of the highest number of tests globally and second only to South Korea. Moreover, we have quarantined 800 people. This is an example of how our healthcare system has responded to the emergency situation,” explained Sheikh Mohamed. Dr Hamad Eid al-Rumaihi, director, Department of Health Protection and Prevention of Transitional Diseases, MoPH said that all the new cases were asymptomatic. “They were detected by active and heightened surveillance by our teams as they started tracing the contacts with the three early positive cases. Most of the new cases are in very good health and there are no critical cases. It was good on our teams to detect the cases very early and we took them to hospital and isolated them to prevent further spread of the disease,” he noted. He said that the whole idea is to break the chain of transmission of the disease and more investigations will be continued. “We haven’t stopped here. The ministry is continuing its efforts through active surveillance. All the previous cases detected for COVID -19 are in good and stable condition. We have been able to identify all these cases due to our vigilance and it is good that we were able to identify these cases very early. We have conducted hundreds of and hundreds of tests,” maintained Dr al-Khal. The official also said that all the new cases are in very good health and they are all in isolation undergoing necessary treatment. “Admitting them to the hospital is an extra precaution. We should see it as a positive thing as we are able to detect the cases and could prevent the spread of the disease in the community to a great extent. This is the result of the continued efforts of the ministry leading to early detection and isolation,” he described. Sheikh Mohamed urged the community members to follow all the tips given by the ministry and practise very high levels of hygiene to stop the spread of the disease. “We have launched a big campaign to make the people understand about hygiene as well as the steps to be followed to prevent the spread of the disease.We appeal to everyone to report immediately if they are facing any symptoms. This can reduce the cases in the community. We assure you that we are capable of providing the best care in preventing the spread of the disease,” highlighted, Sheikh Mohamed. Dr al-Khal also urged the public to avoid social gatherings, major events, avoid physical contacts and follow all the hygiene practices strictly. “People with chronic diseases as well as people in the vulnerable categories should avoid any physical contacts with others. It is all the more important to avoid unnecessary travel and socialisation. People who have recently come from countries where there is a high spread of the disease, should visit the hospital immediately if they develop any symptoms,” he added.