Dubai: The past six weeks in Oman’s pandemic scenario witnessed annoying, deplorable and frightening changes, Dr Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Saidi, Minister of Health, member of the Supreme Committee tasked with tackling developments resulting from Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, said according to Oman News Agency (ONA).
The current situation is a far cry from our experience during the first months of the pandemic outbreak when we all managed to limit the number of infection cases due to the cooperation of all people and their adherence to precautionary measures set by the Supreme Committee, the Minister explained.
“It is really sad that our experience suffered a radical setback over the past 6 months as a result of the nonchalance of some people, leading to an astonishing surge in new cases of infection, hitting higher than 9,000!” said the minister, noting that more than 43 deaths occurred just within a span of one week, from last Thursday till today.
The minister made the statement during the 12th press conference held by the Supreme COVID-19 Control Committee since the outbreak of the pandemic.
The Minister of Health underscored that responsibility should be “collective between the government as institutions and as individuals”. He pointed out that failure to stick to health guidelines can cause the transfer of the infection to people having chronic diseases or elderly people, causing severe suffering or even death in some cases.
The minister recalled the decision of Minister of Manpower on escalating penalties on private sector establishments that do not abide by the precautions. “Penalties deterred many, but we are still studying ways of accentuating and escalating them against offenders and non-abiding individuals,” said Dr Ahmed.
He added, “It is high time we acted firmly with offenders. Their names should be announced.” The minister said that deliberate offense causing the infection is considered an equivalent of murder. “In order to sense the risk, we should all feel as potential carriers of the virus,” said the minister.
The Minister of Health said that the health establishments in the Sultanate are still intact and coping. He spoke about a plan to increase the capacity of intensive care units.
He pointed out that there is great indifference and that gatherings were detected in family homes. Some people were found playing football on the beach. Others converged in masses at shopping outlets.
The minister explained that lockdown procedures depend on epidemiological data, noting that this pandemic impaired health establishments, compromising their ability to cope with other diseases and treatments.
The minister urged all those who feel the symptoms of the disease to immediately isolate themselves at their residences. In case the symptoms become more serious, the patient should visit the nearest health centre, said the minister, who advised all those to have mingled with infected persons to act wise and isolate themselves for two weeks.
Al Saidi pointed out that intensive care units are experiencing immense pressure. He added that there is cooperation and willingness at government and private health establishments to deal with the situation, but a plan is under way to set up a field hospital in Muscat Governorate for non-critical cases, with a capacity ranging between 250-300 beds.
Dr Ahmed al Futaisi, Minister of Transport, said that inspection was conducted daily by Royal Oman Police and that these operations will be intensified and increased during the current period. He pointed out that the penalty of RO20 awarded for failure to wear facemasks is no longer a determent and that this penalty will be made more severe.
Al Futaisi said that Oman Air has been impacted negatively, like similar international airlines, and added that it had already been reported that the losses in this sector are big. In this context, he referred to the formation of an emergency committee to cut down these losses. “We have already shrunk the operational budget for 2020 by 43 percent, which led to the alleviation of losses,” said the minister.
Al Futaisi pointed out that the government will not allow the aviation (system) sector to collapse and will not falter in supporting it. He said that international organisations estimate that the recovery of aviation activity to normal business status in the Middle East will take between 3 to 4 years.
Speaking about other business activities, the minister said that the discussions covered the printing of newspapers and the issue was entrusted to a technical team to include this in the 5th list of commercial activities to be considered by the Supreme Committee for resumption during its upcoming meeting.
He added that activities of the sports sector will not be opened, except for camel training, but the Supreme Committee is currently studying scopes for opening gyms in hotels and other places.
Meanwhile, Dr. Abdul Aziz al Hinai, CEO of ODB, said that, “In the implementation of Royal directives of His Majesty Sultan Haitham Bin Tarik endorsing a programme of interest-free emergency loans to help business establishments that took the brunt of the pandemic, the Supreme Committee has entrusted the programme to ODB, which will coordinate with other departments concerned, notably the Public Authority for Small and Medium Enterprises (Riyada) and Al Raffd Fund.
The programme will target the following business segments:
-Those who dedicate their full time to the management of their own businesses like owners of taxis and driving instruction businesses, women’s enterprises, notably beauty parlours and nursery schools,
-Small and Medium Enterprises whose owners hold Riyada Card—including borrowers from Al Raffd Fund, micro business firms and the most stricken segment of borrowers and ODB customers.
The period of repayment will range from four years to 6 months to be treated as a grace period, said Al Hinai, who called upon the target segments to submit their applications via branches of the ODB with effect from Sunday, July 5.
Al Hinai pointed out that the government’s directives are clear on the issue of loans. He added that loans granted by ODB have been rescheduled for a period of 6 months and will be revised by the end of the duration, if necessary.
He pointed out that priority is given to SMEs that have large numbers of employees whose salaries have been slashed, as well as owners of beauty parlours. “We welcome all applications, depending on priorities and capacities,” he said.