Herd immunity looms as vaccination drives gather steam across Gulf
Cairo: Months of mass vaccinations against COVID-19 have paid off in the Gulf countries. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain initiated inoculation campaigns in December. In recent months, the drive has picked pace, resulting in a downward infection trend and relaxation of anti-coronavirus restrictions in the five countries, home to large communities of migrant workers.
In a piece of good news to thousands of foreigners, Saudi Arabia last month allowed direct arrival of expatriates from several countries with which the kingdom had earlier suspended flights due to COVID-19 concerns.
Expatriates from those countries are no longer required to go into quarantine or transit in other countries, provided they have received two doses of any of the approved vaccines against COVID-19 in the kingdom.
Those countries are India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt, Turkey, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, the UAE, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Lebanon.
Those fully inoculated with the Chinese-manufactured vaccines, Sinopharm and Sinovac, could be accepted in the kingdom, provided they obtained booster shots of one of the other vaccines approved in Saudi Arabia.
Around 38 million doses have been administered in the kingdom of around 34.8 million people since vaccinations kicked off on December 17, the Health Ministry said Sunday. Saudi Arabia is set to attain herd immunity later this year or early in 2022.
A total of 545,243 COVID-19 cases and 8,579 related deaths have been registered in the kingdom until September 5.
In June, Saudi Arabia started vaccinating school students in the 12-18 age group ahead of the new school year that began on August 29. The new academic year marked reintroduction of in-person classes amid mandatory inoculation after suspension of more than a year.
As of August 1, Saudi Arabia limits access to government and private offices, malls, educational institutions, cultural, entertainment and sports events as well as public transport to vaccinated people.
In the past month, the COVID-19 situation in Kuwait has been stabilising with a significant drop in cases, deaths and hospitalisations.
In August, Kuwait recorded the lowest number of COVID-19 cases in the past eight months. A total of 11,322 cases and 91 deaths were registered during the month. In comparison, July was one of the worst months since the start of the pandemic as the Ministry of Health recorded 38,587 cases.
In August, fatalities decreased by 72 against July when the country witnessed double digit deaths daily. On September 3, the Ministry of Health recorded 95 new cases, the first time the daily rate dropped below the 100 mark since April 2020.
Minister of Health, Dr. Basel Al Sabah, tweeted last week that 70 per cent vaccination has been achieved in the country of around 4.8 million people. Dr. Khaled Al Saeed, a member of the ministry’s COVID-19 committee, expected Kuwait to achieve herd immunity by end of September.
After a seven-month ban, as of August 1, expatriates are free to travel to Kuwait as long as they received two doses of an approved vaccine. They are the Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
Last month, the government stated that passengers who received two doses of Sinopharm, Sinovac and Sputnik vaccines can only enter the country if they take a third dose of one of the vaccines recognised by Kuwait.
Kuwait has been opening up slowly, but with strings attached.
As of June 27 only vaccinated people who have taken at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine are allowed into restaurants, cafes, gyms, shops and malls. After 18 months of closure, on September 1, amusement parks and children’s recreational facilities opened their doors.
Public schools will return to in-person learning as of October 3, while private schools will resume on September 27. For unvaccinated teachers, administrative staff and children above the age of 12, they will need to show a proof of a negative PCR every Sunday to enter the school.
Cases in the sultanate are going down. Khoula Hospital, Oman’s premier government hospital, last week discharged the last COVID-19 patient.
Recent data shows patients admitted in health institutions in a day across Oman have come down to 107, and the number admitted in ICU also has declined to 52.
Until September 5, Oman’s confirmed COVID-19 cases totalled 302,668 while 4,075 related deaths were registered. Oman aims to achieve 100 per cent vaccination before the year end. Up to 70.5 per cent of the total population have been inoculated so far.
Educational institutions will have in-person classes when the new school year begins September 19.
Oman has removed travel restrictions since September 1. Normal commercial flight operations, suspended to certain countries since mid-June, have opened up. All government offices have started operating in full capacity. Entry to all offices, commercial establishments including malls, restaurants, cafes, private and government offices for staff and visitors is permitted only for fully vaccinated people.
International arrivals must show a proof of their vaccinations. Foreign residents and citizens, who have got only one jab, have to undergo mandatory institutional quarantine on arrival in Oman. Vaccination is also mandatory for expatriates to renew their visas.
Since May, the kingdom has started giving booster shots. Around 80 per cent of eligible individuals aged 40 and older have received the booster jabs, the National Medical Taskforce for Combating COVID-19 announced late August.
No official figures are yet available on overall doses of vaccination in this country of about 1.7 million people. In recent weeks, Bahrain has reported a marked decrease in infections, but health officials have warned against “false feelings of security”.
Bahrain so far has recorded a total of 272,916 coronavirus cases and 1,388 related fatalities. The new school year is slated to begin on September 7 when a system blending in-person attendance and remote learning will be implemented.
Bahrain is adopting an alert light signal mechanism showing the level of the COVID-19 spread on the basis of which economic sectors are opened or closed. The four-level mechanism comprises the colours of green, yellow, orange and red. Remote learning will be adopted for all students when the red level is announced.
Starting from September 3, the green level went into effect, whereby the vaccinated and unvaccinated people are given access to educational institutions, malls, restaurants, cafes, gyms, barbershops, and entertainment facilities. Still, only vaccinated people are allowed into cinemas and indoor events.
Bahrain last month removed India, Pakistan, Panama and the Dominican Republic from a Red list on travel coronavirus-related curbs. The pre-arrival PCR tests are no longer required for those entering Bahrain from non-Red List countries whose vaccination certificates are recognised.
However, all passengers arriving in Bahrain continue to undergo PCR tests on arrival and on the fifth and 10th days after their stay.
Amid a steady decline in COVID-19 cases, this country of 2.7 million people, introduced in July the third stage of a four-phase plan for gradual return to normal life.
No date has been set yet for enforcing the fourth phase. The decision to move from one phase to the next is based on extent of compliance with COVID-19 precautions.
Qatar initiated mass vaccinations against the virus on December 23. Around 4.5 million doses have since been administered in the country, which so far has recorded a total of 233,567 infection cases and 602 deaths. Inoculation has expanded to children in the age groups of 12 years up to 18.
Schools reopened in Qatar on August 29 with a blended system of in-person attendance and remote learning. Students, teachers and administrative staff must wear face masks and observe distancing of 1.5 metres. Thermal screening is conducted on arrival.
To facilitate entry procedures into Qatar, pre-registration on Ehteraz website (www.ehteraz.gov.qa) has become optional for citizens and foreign residents. Nonetheless, pre-registration is still mandatory for visitors.
Effective from August 2, Qatar updated its travel policy, setting rules for arrivals from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. Accordingly, the vaccinated arrivals and those recovering from COVID-19 in Qatar go into two-day hotel quarantine and are allowed to leave the hotel on the second day if the result of the PCR test is negative.
The rest of the people are subject to quarantine for 10 days.
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