'We were ready for Covid war'

A ‘war room’ to tackle the consequences of the global pandemic on the kingdom was set up as early as January last year, even before the country had registered its first positive case, an international audience heard yesterday.

Bahrain’s success model in tackling the coronavirus was founded on the far-sightedness of the country’s leadership, with the establishment of the National Taskforce for Combating Covid-19, said Prime Minister’s Office Research and Projects Under-Secretary Hamad Al Mahmeed.

The exclusive use of field hospitals for the virus-infected also reflected Bahrain’s ‘cohesive response’ to the crisis. He added that Bahrain procured as many as three machines for carrying out polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests in January last year and the country now boasts 10 with further purchases underway.

Mr Al Mahmeed

“The success which Bahrain is recording in its fight against the virus has been designed by the visionary leadership under the guidance of the Crown Prince Prime Minister His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa,” said Mr Al Mahmeed.

“Under his directives, a war room was established way back in January (last year) even when we had no cases.

“The taskforce was set up and so were field hospitals – all of these contributed to an early response, which was not reactive.

“We were asked to be ready for the first case even a month before we registered the first one with the airport prepared to carry out PCR tests.

“We purchased three PCR machines, even when the manufacturer at that point of time suggested only one for the small population that we are ... and now we have 10 (PCR machines) and we are buying more.

“This step supported us in conducting more than three million PCR tests and more than 70pc of the population has been tested at least once. It was a cohesive response.”

He was speaking at a webinar on global outlooks in the fight against Covid-19 with insights from the UK, Bahrain and Israel, organised by the Bahrain Embassy in UK. The forum is celebrating World Health Day today and discussed experiences and lessons learned in dealing with the pandemic in the three countries.

“Yet another aspect of the success lies on the fact that we created a system parallel to the existing health system, wherein we had exclusive field hospitals for Covid-19, which ensured a steady flow of attention to other patients as well.”

On the panel was Health Ministry’s Primary Healthcare chief executive Dr Jaleela Al Sayed alongside UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Covid-19 Vaccine Deployment Nadhim Zahawi and Israel Ramban Healthcare Campus Infection Control and Corona Department head Dr Khetam Hussein.

 

Dr Al Sayed

 

“The large number of tests conducted in the country revealed more cases, which helped in early intervention and treatment,” said Dr Al Sayed, who noted that Bahrain had recorded a death rate as low as 0.36pc.

“The low fatality rate is due to the supported services and early intervention – we have had even those asymptomatic tracked and followed up systematically,” she said.

Among the other measures highlighted included a paid work-from-home option, social distancing measures and banning large public gatherings.

Dr Al Sayed also noted the country’s proactive approach in the vaccine rollout, highlighting the approval of five vaccines for emergency use with four of them being freely offered to the public since December.

“We have 27 health centres and hospitals open for the public to have their vaccinations, besides the Bahrain International Exhibition and Convention Centre (BIECC) which has been used as a multi-purpose centre.

“Initially the premises were used only for testing, then for the phase three trials of the Sinopharm vaccine and now for the vaccine rollout – this is part of the innovative measures adopted in Bahrain and so is the latest addition of Sitra Mall, which otherwise was an under-utilised mall.

“All of these are based on advance planning which was also extended into the fields of training, supply chain, procuring ultra-freezers and large numbers of disposable syringes.

“We have also taken a transparent approach in terms of disseminating information, which helped in tackling misinformation about vaccines, which is among the Top 10 threats globally.

“More than half a million people have been vaccinated with the first dose of a vaccine in Bahrain,” added Dr Al Sayed, who is also a member of the taskforce.

Meanwhile, Mr Zahawi told the audience that the future challenges would be tackling the variants of the virus and also pointed out on the need for regional and international collaboration to bring down the ‘pandemic to endemic’.

In epidemiology, an infection is said to be endemic in a population when that infection is constantly maintained at a baseline level in a geographic area without external inputs.

Dr Hussein and Dr Al Sayed also agreed on the views, with the former stating that her country was open for collaborations in the fields of research, diagnosis and treatment.

The session was moderated by Supreme Council for Health policies and Programmes chief and taskforce member Dr Mohammed Al Shaaban.

 

Source: https://www.gdnonline.com/Details/941287/We-were-ready-for-Covid-war

 

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