If declining number of Covid-19 cases in the past couple of weeks are an indication, the UAE seems to have turned the corner on the Omicron era of pandemic.
For the first time in eight weeks, which included a period of public holidays, the caseloads have dropped below 1,000. The Ministry of Health and Prevention on Friday announced 998 new positive cases of Covid-19 after conducting 244,993 PCR tests. The three-figure mark is the lowest since June 9, when 1,031 cases were announced.
Frontline doctors told Khaleej Times that the trend seen in the UAE has a similar trajectory witnessed worldwide. The WHO’s Covid-19 Weekly Epidemiological Update noted that, globally, the number of cases decreased by nine per cent between July 25 and 31, as compared to the previous week.
Dr Saheer Sainalabdeen, specialist pulmonologist at Medeor Hospital, Dubai, said: “Globally, the most recent surge in cases caused by Omicron sub variants has been declining at a rapid phase. Unlike the dip in the number of cases in the past, the current phase is more pronounced. We are seeing positive developments in the UAE. This trend can be attributed to the success of Covid-19 protocols focused on vaccination and screenings. The number of new cases is poised to slide further across the country.”
The UAE, nearing the 1-million cases milestone, last recorded a three-digit mark of infections (867) on June 8, hit 1,031 the next day and soared to 1,812 by July 3 before dropping. Specialists attributed the sharp uptick in cases to the summer travel season starting from June and consistent fall in the past few weeks to the effectiveness of vaccination campaigns.
“There was an increase in the number of cases from mid-June to July, both locally as well as globally, which can be due to the increase in people travelling across the world during summer holidays. People had restricted their travel during the past two years. This year, after the number of cases declined, people are travelling worldwide,” said Dr Raiza Hameed KH, specialist pulmonology, Aster Clinic, Bur Dubai. She further noted that there was a “steady dip” in the caseloads till June, despite the public holidays of Eid Al Fitr.
Drawing a comparison with Covid-19 numbers of June 2021 when caseloads crossed 2,000, Dr Wael Hafez, consultant, internal medicine, NMC Royal Hospital, Khalifa City, Abu Dhabi, said: “I think the cause of lesser Covid-19 numbers than last year may be related to several reasons, such as improved societal awareness and enhanced vaccination.”
On June 2, the UAE declared it had vaccinated 100 per cent of the targeted categories.
Omicron variant “less fatal”
Despite the number of new infections being on a downward spiral, there has been a sharp rise in the death toll — from just three mortalities in May to nearly four times in June (11) and further escalation in July (19). Two deaths, both announced on Friday, have been reported so far this month.
Asked if Omicron’s sub variants BA.4 and BA.5, the most contagious yet, were the reason for deaths, Dr Hafez said the mortality rate was “expected to be higher than at the start of the year”.
BA.4 and BA.5 were first identified in South Africa in January and February this year. The WHO said that the Omicron descendent lineages BA.5 and BA.4 continued to be dominant globally with a weekly prevalence that increased from 63.8 per cent to 69.6 per cent, and from 10.9 per cent to 11.8 per cent.
Dr Hafez, who has published multiple studies on Covid-19, underlined that the trend is “worrisome as the mortality could be higher” with the two new variants.
“The BA.5 behaviour is a bit severe and usually associated with lower chest infection like pneumonia and different from the initial Omicron, which was usually associated with only an upper respiratory infection,” Dr Hafez noted.
Meanwhile, Dr Hameed pointed out the current case fatality rate is low compared to the data in 2021.
“Covid-19 deaths are reported due to complications in people with prior comorbidities. The current Omicron variant is highly transmissible, but less fatal locally as well as globally. The increased Covid-19 vaccination status has helped reduce the case fatality and emergence of new virus variants.”
Testing is effective strategy
In its report, the WHO pointed out that the current global trends in reported cases and deaths should be interpreted with caution as several countries have been progressively changing Covid-19 testing strategies, resulting in lower overall numbers of tests performed and, consequently, lower numbers of cases detected. However, Dr Sainalabdeen highlighted that the UAE has been carrying on its screening service ensuring effective management of the pandemic.
“Currently, the UAE continues to conduct an average of 200,000 PCR tests, which is a remarkable feat in the third year of Covid-19. This strategy of testing to detect infected people and isolating them to prevent transmission has led to a reduced number of infections. The UAE has managed to decrease mortality of Covid-19 patients,” Dr Sainalabdeen said.
Don’t lower your guard yet
Dr Hameed underlined that frontline workers have been working tirelessly for the past three years to contain the pandemic and restore normalcy.
“All community members should comply with all the precautionary measures, wear a face mask and follow all the instructions from relevant health authorities. Wearing masks is one of the important factors to prevent the spread of the infection.”
According to local authorities, wearing masks in closed places is mandatory and violators will be fined Dh3,000.
Dr Hafez added that community members must be “extra cautious” and follow the official guidelines.
“We should follow the Covid-19 regulations as laid down by the government authorities. Also, a booster dose of vaccination is recommended to improve protection.”
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