A health worker, wearing personal protective equipment, collects a swab sample from a man at a drive-thru testing service for COVID-19 coronavirus in the Qatari capital Doha last year. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Qatar has announced a four-phased plan to gradually lift the COVID-19 restrictions starting from May 28, with each phase lasting three weeks, local media reported.

“The date of implementation and the duration of each phase will depend on the epidemic indicators, based on residents’ compliance with the current measures, restrictions and guidance by the government,” said Dr Abdullatif Al Khal, Chairman of the National Health Strategic Group on COVID-19 and Head of Infectious Diseases at Hamad Medical Corporation while addressing a press conference on Qatar TV.

“While I understand that many people may be eager for the lifting of restrictions as soon as possible, I ask you to please be patient. Claiming victory against this virus is too early - with the new, highly transmissible variants in the community, there is still the potential for the virus to gain momentum and for the number to increase,” Dr Al Khal cautioned.

“For the past 15 months, we have lived under the threat of COVID-19 - this virus has negatively impacted the life of every one of us in some way, either directly or indirectly. It is important to acknowledge how much we have achieved and how much we have sacrificed to get this virus under control.”

“Unlike last year, we will be able to make more freedoms available to those who are vaccinated,” Dr Al Khal said.

The National COVID-19 Vaccination Programme is progressing at a fast pace and more than 1.7 million doses have been administered since the beginning, the senior official explained.

“Qatar is among the top 10 countries in the world in terms of vaccine coverage for the size of its population. It is very heartening that we are seeing clear evidence that the vaccines are protecting people from developing symptoms of COVID-19 and becoming ill.

“A study undertaken in Qatar and published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that for fully vaccinated people - 14 days after receiving the second dose - vaccination is 97.4 per cent effective in preventing severe, critical or fatal disease due to both the UK and South African variants.

“These statistics are very promising and give good cause to be optimistic about a return towards normal life once we have vaccinated around 80-90 per cent of the eligible population in Qatar.

“In recent weeks, the combined impact of COVID-19 restrictions and increasing vaccination rates, and the overwhelming support of the community, has resulted in a consistent reduction in the number of new daily infections in the country.

“I urge people to take the vaccine whenever possible as it has been proven safe even for pregnant women and those with hypersensitivity.

“However we still need to be cautious as we are not out of the second wave yet and we are still dealing with two highly contagious and highly virulent strains of the virus that are actively circulating in the community,” Dr Al Khal added