Muscat: As part of monitoring and analyzing social changes in the Sultanate, the Social Observatory Research Program of The Research Council (TRC) has carried out a seminar titled “The Omani Family in Light of the COVID-19 Crisis” to understand how Omani families are facing the COVID-19 pandemic from social and psychological standpoints.

The seminar was conducted virtually by Dr Said al Dhafri, Director of the Social Observatory, and managed by Safiya al Hashmi, Research Specialist at the Social Observatory, with the participation of a group of academics, specialists and professionals from various institutions.

The discussion revolved around the most prominent psychological, social, family, educational, economic and health challenges faced by the Omani family during the COVID-19 crisis.

Sayyida Dr Taghreed al Said, Assistant Professor at the Department of Psychology, College of Education, Sultan Qaboos University (SQU), mentioned that one of the biggest challenges members of the Omani families face during this pandemic is being confined to their homes at all times. This includes the struggle of balancing personal and professional lives in the same space, managing distance learning, and coping with the challenges of working and studying at home, especially those in the 12th grade.

In regards to the psychological challenges, Dr Muna al Shukaili, Pediatric and Adolescent Consultant Psychiatrist at Al Masarra Hospital, indicated that feelings of anxiety, stress and fear might rise among individuals due to the pandemic, especially fear of being infected or losing a member of a family to the virus. She added that social isolation or physical distance may cause psychological pressure on people due to the lack of human communication.

On his turn, Dr Nasser Abdelrasheed, Associate Professor of Psychological Counseling at Dhofar University, claimed that the effects of the pandemic psychologically depends greatly on the personality of the individual and the quality of life of his family, as some individuals may have increased negative influence, showing signs of tension and anxiety in an exaggerated manner, while others are able to control themselves due to having good mental health.

As for social challenges, Dr Nasser al Jahwari, a cultural attaché at the Embassy of the Sultanate of Oman in the United Arab Emirates, stated that social distancing is the biggest challenge for Omani families, especially the lack of family gatherings and the inability to attend weddings, funerals, religious gatherings and so on.

With family challenges, Adnan al Farsi, Director of the Technical Secretariat of the National Committee for Family Affairs, added that some individuals will find difficulty with adhering to the instructions of the Supreme Committee in regards to the rules of social distancing; however, despite the difficulty, he stated that it is important for Omanis to follow the rules in order to overcome COVID-19.

For economic challenges, Dr Mohammed al Mamari, Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs at Ibra College of Technology, mentioned that the challenges in this sector includes stopping small and medium projects whose owners depend heavily on their income, raising prices, especially masks and sterilizers, laying off some employees from their work, and many more.

For educational challenges, Prof Abdullah Ambusaidi, Professor of Curriculum and Teaching Methods of Science and Dean of Deanship of Postgraduate Studies at SQU, claimed that pandemic has affected the educational sector in a national level. Due to the suspension of schools, it has led the country to move towards e-learning, in which both the teachers and parents play the role of a teacher at home.

Dr Maha al Ani, Director of the Student Counseling Center at SQU, pointed out that this crisis helped to highlight many behavioral problems of students, as family members sit for extended periods of time at home, allowing them to notice problems that they did not identify before, such as issues in the evaluation level of the students, the student’s vision level, and many more.

In regards to the health challenges, Dr Muna al Saadoon, Member of the State Council and Dean of College of Medicine and Health Sciences, SQU, maintained that all health institutions must take preventive measures for this pandemic, such as wearing masks, using sterilizers, measuring temperature as well as practice physical distance while dealing with patients. She added that other health challenges include the fear of individuals of being exposed to the virus by going to the hospital when facing other medical concerns as well as the rescheduling of appointments and non-urgent operations for patients.

Furthermore, Dr Ali al Adwani, Educational Researcher at the Ministry of Education and a visiting professor at the University of Nizwa, stated that another health challenge is the illusion of being infected with the virus, which resulted in frequent visits to health centers and hospitals to detect the outcome of the disease, causing more burden to health institutions. He also added that due to being confined to their homes and thus being consumed with TV and electronics more, children are more likely to develop loss of vision and obesity, causing an increase in diabetes and some endocrine diseases.

The seminar also touched upon some coping strategies in its various fields in the face of the COVID-19 crisis.

Dr Hamoud al Nawfali, Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology and Social Work, College of Arts and Social Sciences, SQU, maintained that it is imperative that the family take some strategies to reduce the effects of this pandemic crisis such as setting up an integrated daily program (like sports, family time, hobbies, etc.) and avoiding negative news and rumours.

Dr Sayyida Taghreed al Said valued the community initiatives to tackle effects of this pandemic. She mentioned Sayyida Basma al Said, a Mental Health Consultant and Owner of Whispers of Serenity Clinic, and her ‘Not Alone’ campaign, which aimed to spread mental health awareness around the Sultanate since 2014. In response to reducing the impact of the pandemic psychologically, the campaign launched a continuous support lines throughout the week to provide assistance and psychological support in Arabic and English during the pandemic. She also suggested the importance of other existing initiatives that sought to educate about the repercussions of the pandemic and strategies to reduce its impact at the family level.

Prof Abdullah Ambusaidi recommended avoiding educational pressures on students due to the challenges of distance-learning and having constant dialogue with them in order to reduce the negative impact of the pandemic on students. He also suggested using this time to get creative in the educational sector and provide innovative educational strategies that could help parents, teachers and professors in educational institutions in the future.

As for reducing the economic impact of the pandemic, Dr Nasser al Jahwari suggested alternatives such as electronic shopping, comparing prices when purchasing supplies, saving money as much as possible, finding alternatives to lost jobs or low income jobs, and developing various experiences by enrolling in online courses.

Adnan al Farsi added to this that the family must restructure the budget and spending items, focus on the fundamentals and get away from the luxuries as much as possible during this time period.

The seminar concluded with the participants appreciating the initiatives of TRC in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and praising the Social Observatory Research Program and their vital role in monitoring the social status of the Omani families in light of the COVID-19 crisis. –ONA

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