The National Taskforce for Combating the Coronavirus (COVID-19) held a press conference to provide an update on the Kingdom’s COVID-19 response, at the Crown Prince Centre for Training and Medical Research, Bahrain Defence Force Hospital.
The Taskforce highlighted the important role played by citizens and residents in supporting national efforts aimed at combating the COVID-19, including following all precautionary measures. They added that the commitment of all to the mitigation measures over the last few days has had a positive effect on flattening the curve of infection.
The Taskforce reviewed the measures taken against violators of their quarantine and at home self- isolation obligations whilst also correcting some misinformation that had been propagated over last few days. The Taskforce also presented an updated protocol for active COVID-19 cases and contacts of active cases, as well as statistics on deaths from January 2021 to May 2021.
Speaking of recent national mitigation efforts by Team Bahrain, The Undersecretary at the Ministry of Health and Member of the National Medical Taskforce for Combating the Coronavirus (COVID-19), HE Dr. Waleed Khalifa Al Manea, highlighted the decision made last week to raise the capacity of the number of daily vaccination doses to 31 thousand across 31 health centers across the Kingdoms. He said this had significantly reduced the waiting time for vaccinations to between one to five days. HE Dr. Al Manea noted that all the data and information for each vaccination as well as their eligibility is available on the “BeAware” application, as well as on the Ministry of Health’s website healthalert.gov.bh.
HE Dr. Al Manea indicated that although the Kingdom now had the capacity to vaccinate 31,000 individuals per day, because some individuals did not adhere to appointment timings, the daily actual rate had reached 26,000. In this regard, HE Dr. Al Manea emphasised the importance for all to adhere to the appointment timings to ensure vaccination capacity is best utilized, adding that 90% of the individuals registered to take the vaccination were vaccinated and 96% had received their first vaccinations on schedule.
HE Dr. Al Manea also noted that failure to adhere to the dates and time specified for vaccination, which is sent via text message, causes overcrowding and delays the vaccination process.
HE Dr. Al Manea added that the capacity had been raised at treatment centers for mmoderately severe and critical cases to ensure efficient treatment is given rapidly. This included the opening of the Seheti building, the fourth floor of the Salmaniya Medical Complex, as well as the preparation of several treatment centers such as the Comprehensive Disability Center in Aali, the Shaikh Mohammed bin Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa Specialized Heart Center, and the sixth floor of the Salmaniya Medical Complex. Capacities in existing treatment centers were also increased, adding that vaccinations are important to safeguard the health of all, and ensuring one does not experience moderate or severe symptoms which may lead to death.
Regarding national efforts at the 444 call center, HE Dr. Al Manea revealed that the total number of incoming and outgoing calls from the center amounted to approximately 4,800,000 calls from February 2020 to May 2021. Within May 2021 itself, nearly 700,000 calls were received, of which 32% of inquiries related to vaccination being received, 10% to report difficulties using the “BeAware” application, with the rest general enquiries
HE Dr. Al Manea revealed that the statistics showed that out of 163,000 calls received on the “virus symptoms” option, there were 102,500 calls, or 63% of the total calls, that did not fit the symptom option, and these inappropriate choices undoubtedly affected the response time to callers suffering from symptoms of the virus.
HE Dr. Al Manea stressed that citizens and residents have a role in contributing to relieving pressure on 444, to give priority to emergency and critical calls, by choosing the correct option that corresponds to their situation. He explained that in the case of needing a regular inquiry, the “BeAware” application and the website, healthalert.gov.bh, can and should be used. On this note, HE Dr. Al Manea added that a new option for general inquiries has been activated, allowing the possibility of writing all inquiries and getting a written response as soon as possible.
HE Dr. Al Manea noted the importance of supporting national efforts and cooperating with inspection campaigns made across various sectors. He added that since 27 May 2021, 1003 visits have been made to restaurants and cafes, with 153 being fined, and 12 enterprises from various other sectors being closed for non-compliance with precautionary measures. HE Dr. Al Manea noted the importance for all enterprises and facilities within different sectors to abide by all health measures required, as the loss of life in the event of negligence is more harmful.
Speaking on community awareness, the Director of Operations of the Public Security Presidency, Col. Hamad AL Khayat, emphasized the importance of following all health and medical measures as a national and social responsibility in support of national efforts to combat the COVID-19.
Col. Al-Khayyat explained that in the implementation of the directives of the Minister of Interior, General Shaikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa, to take all necessary measures to ensure public safety, and with the follow-up of the Chief of Public Security, Lieutenant-General, Tariq bin Hassan Al Hassan, the police directorates and the relevant security departments continue to work to ensure precautionary measures are being followed.
Col. Al-Khayyat then reviewed some of the statistics, as he explained that 9,570 interventions were made to maintain social distancing standards, and legal measures were taken against 82,994 violators regarding the mandatory use of a face mask in public places and shops. In addition, 11,084 awareness interventions were made with the aim of clarifying violations and their seriousness and emphasizing the need to adhere to preventive measures.
Col. Al-Khayyat noted that the Ministry continues to coordinate with the Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowments in organizing mosque attendance for Friday prayers, to ensure the implementation of the decisions issued by the Taskforce. Col. Al Khayyat added that the Ministry of Interior in cooperation with the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism and the Ministry of Health, has provided sufficient support for inspection campaigns that are taking place, adding that legal action will be taken against violators of the precautionary measures, whether individuals, Industrial or commercial establishments.
Col. Al-Khayyat highlighted the role of the General Directorate of Civil Defense in sterilizing all places of worship, as it carried out 314,533 different disinfection and sterilization operations for buildings, government facilities, streets, roads, and other facilities up to June 1. Training courses were also held on the correct ways to implement precautionary disinfection and sterilization operations in government buildings, facilities and workplaces. The number of participants in these courses from institutions, private companies and various government agencies reached 1,178, while the number of volunteers reached 6,134.
Col. Al-Khayyat noted that 2,209 disinfection and sterilization operations were supervised in which volunteers participated, and 1,230 volunteers were trained to sterilize mosques, and 107 disinfection and sterilization operations were carried out in cooperation with various cleaning companies.
Col. Al-Khayyat also highlighted the Ministry’s commitment to oversee and prevent gatherings, and crowds in various markets and waterfronts. Adding that the National Disaster Response Committee headed by the Head of Public Security continues to coordinate efforts by members who represent all ministries and relevant authorities on this issue.
On the National Ambulance Service, Col. Al-Khayyat said that the number of medical staff has increased, and new mechanisms have been developed to classify cases through incoming calls to the national ambulance service. Accordingly, the response times had been reduced to 18 minutes from the time of receiving the call. Col. Al-Khayyat explained that, since the onset of the pandemic, the National Ambulance Center had responded to 15,132 calls related to COVID-19.
Col. Al-Khayyat clarified that the daily rate of cases transferred and responded to by the National Ambulance Services, whether from existing COVID-19 or ordinary emergencies, amounted to 400 cases per day. Transferring existing COVID-19 cases requires the sterilization of the ambulance with its equipment and crew after transferring each case, which meant that the ambulance was out of service for a period, which puts greater pressure on the service and on hospitals. He revealed that since the onset of the pandemic, the Ministry’s Transport Department had undertaken 36,662 transport missions.
On expanding electronic services to all, Col. Al-Khayyat noted that the provision of services to citizens and residents is currently being terminated, and if attendance is required, advance appointments are to be booked to achieve social distancing and prevent crowding. Entry to the service centers was also restricted to those who had received a COVID-19 vaccination and who had completed 14 days after the second dose, in addition to those who had recovered from the virus, who were above the age of 18.
Col. Al-Khayyat confirmed that the Ministry of Interior had taken legal measures against violators of quarantine and precautionary isolation by referring them to the Public Prosecution for not complying with the requirements stipulated in the relevant laws. Since the precautionary measures were activated to date, 3,591 people have been referred to the Public Prosecution for violating Resolution No. (12) of 2020 regarding Determining communicable diseases, Resolution No. (13) of 2020 regarding prevention, isolation and treatment of communicable diseases, and Article No. (121) of Public Health Law No. (34) of 2018. He explained that the penalty for violating home quarantine could be three months in prison or a fine of between 1,000 and 10,000 dinars according to Article 121 of Public Health Law 34 of 2018.
Col. Al-Khayyat concluded by underlining that the Anti-Cybercrime Department monitored a number of rumors and took legal measures against their promoters, calling on citizens and residents to avoid rumors and not to circulate misinformation that would negatively affect society. He stressed the need to obtain information from official sources.
He concluded by stressing that adherence to precautionary measures was a national and societal duty before it was a commitment imposed by laws and directives. It necessitates everyone’s commitment to what is required by our collective national responsibility to preserve the health and safety of our fellow citizens and residents
Then, the Infectious Disease Consultant & Microbiologist at the BDF Hospital and member of the National Medical Taskforce for Combating the Coronavirus (COVID-19), Lt. Col. Dr. Manaf Al Qahtani, stressed that the achieving of the goal to reduce case numbers of the measures announced last week, depends largely on the extent to which everyone adheres to the procedures and the initiative to take their vaccinations.
Dr. Al Qahtani clarified and addressed some of the speculation in various media about the reasons for the increase in the number of cases in intensive care, which exceeded 300 cases by June 2. He answered that on 1 June 2021 the number of cases in intensive care reached 326 cases, of which 270 cases did not receive vaccination, that is, 83% of the total cases.
Dr. Al Qahtani stressed that the treatment protocol adopted by the Kingdom of Bahrain in treating the existing cases was in accordance with the highest international medical standards and received international praise, and that the large numbers of recovered people published in the daily report of the Ministry of Health confirm that the course of treatment is effective.
On a question whether the Kingdom of Bahrain has been a quarantine transit for citizens and residents from various countries before their final destinations, Dr. Al Qahtani highlighted that 6 countries have been included in the red list, namely India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Vietnam. The entry of travelers coming from these countries has been suspended, in addition to strict procedures for travelers coming from these countries to the Kingdom of Bahrain who are citizens or who have valid residency in the Kingdom.
Dr. Al Qahtani added that for vaccinated or non-vaccinated travelers coming from countries not on the red list, they must apply a precautionary quarantine for a period of ten days in their homes or places designated for quarantine, and present a (PCR) certificate approved according to the requirements before boarding the plane, as well as conducting a PCR upon arrival and after ten days of stay. In this regard, Dr. Al Qahtani noted that the daily statistics of existing cases indicate that the number of existing cases from abroad on June 1 does not exceed 0.88% of the total existing cases.
With regards to the social media accounts of various influencers who post pictures of gatherings, without consideration of the precautionary measures, Dr. Al Qahtani underscored that all decisions taken by the Taskforce is binding on everyone, and legal action will be taken against whoever violates the measures.
Concerning the discussion about the necessity of reconsidering the approved vaccinations, as the number of existing cases increased in conjunction with the increase in the number of vaccinations, Dr. Al Qahtani stressed that the vaccinations approved by the Kingdom of Bahrain have all proven their effectiveness in limiting the spread of the COVID-19, noting that vaccination increases immunity and reduces the chances of spread. Dr. Al Qahtani added that vaccinations also reduces the complications presented by the virus, adding that committing to precautionary measures after taking the vaccine is important.
In response to the question about the symptoms that require going to the hospital, Dr. Al Qahtani indicated that the symptoms and cases that require going to hospital are acute symptoms such as shortness of breath and chest pain, while the cases that require hospitalization immediately after contracting the virus are those with chronic diseases mainly with people over 50 years of age.
On the question, “How will the Taskforce ensure adherence to the decisions of home isolation? Dr. Al Qahtani said that the existing COVID cases and those in contact with them are followed up by activating the “BeAware” application on their mobile phones, and the isolation cases are activated automatically for existing cases. Asking for photos first-hand from existing cases and those in contact with them and strict legal procedures have been put in place for those who are negligent in applying home health isolation procedures and endangering the lives of others.
On the effectiveness of vaccinations for children and the extent of its impact on reducing the spread of the virus, Al-Qahtani stressed the importance of vaccinating the age group between 12-17 years to accelerate societal immunity. He noted that vaccinating children protects them and protects their families and society. Their incubation of the virus without showing symptoms extends for up to 4 days, which enhances the spread of the virus. He called on parents to take the initiative to register their children for vaccination, the faster the vaccination rate for children and adults, the faster the return to normal life.
For her part, the Consultant of Infectious and Internal Diseases at Salmaniya Medical Complex and member of the National Medical Taskforce for Combating the Coronavirus (COVID-19), Dr. Jameela Al Salman, highlighted that the delay in reporting symptoms caused the deterioration of the health of some existing cases. She therefore called on everyone, especially the elderly, to report symptoms quickly so that they can be assessed at a treatment center quickly to determine their health condition.
Dr. Al Salman then reviewed some statistics on the total number of deaths during the period from January 2021 to May 2021. The total number of deaths from existing cases amounted to 665 cases, 90% of whom were not vaccinated. The proportion of those who were unvaccinated who died rose to 94%.
Dr. Al Salman stressed that not adhering to the health guidance procedures and not taking the initiative to take the vaccination and the booster dose poses a danger to the individual, his family, and the entire community. She added vaccination contributes to immunizing the community, reducing the spread of the virus and relieving severe symptoms in case of infection.
Dr. Al Salman clarified that the steps to activate the at home self- isolation status for existing cases is made by firstly receiving a positive test result via SMS message, without the need to go to the treatment center. Then, the “BeAware” application must be downloaded, as soon as the result of infection with the virus appears through the (PCR) examination. Then open the application and press start isolation, as the isolation state will be activated automatically for existing cases only.
Dr. Al Salman stressed the importance of making sure to present a photo when requested to ensure compliance with the isolation. Then those with acute symptoms, chronic diseases, and adults over 50 will be arranged to go for examination at a treatment center to assess their health status, with aforementioned cases being informed of the date by the concerned Ministry of Health.
To activate the state of the at home self-quarantine for contacts of active cases, Dr. Al Salman said that the “BeAware” application must be downloaded as soon as contact with the existing case is discovered, by the contact tracing team at the Ministry of Health. The contacts of active cases are then contacted via text message confirming their contact, and to activate the precautionary home self -quarantine status on the application by clicking on Start Quarantine in the application.
Dr. Al-Salman reiterated the importance of uploading a photo when requested to ensure compliance with the self-isolation, noting that contacts aged 50 years and over who show symptoms will be registered for a PCR test upon confirmation of contact. If the test result is negative, another test will be taken on the last day of quarantine (tenth day). For those under the age of 50 years, a PCR test must be conducted on the last day of quarantine (tenth day), and if any symptoms related to the virus appear, they must report this. Also 3 days before the end of the quarantine period, an appointment must be booked to examine the exit from the self-isolation using the “BeAware” application.
In all cases, if you are in contact with anyone who does or if you feel symptoms of the COVID-19, isolate yourself immediately and do not wait for a positive result or contact from the concerned authorities.
Dr. Al Salman emphasised that the Kingdom of Bahrain announced its approval for the emergency use of a new drug within the treatment protocol for existing COVID-19 cases. “Sotrovimab”, which is produced by GlaxoSmithKline, after ratification and approval of the US Food and Drug Administration for its emergency use, was approved as the drug provides better treatment for existing cases – protecting them from the risk of serious health repercussions.
Dr. Al Salman further emphasised that the drug “Sotrovimab” depends on “monoclonal antibodies” to treat existing cases for adults aged 12 years and over, who have mild to moderate symptoms, and are at risk of hospitalization or death. The drug reduces deaths from complications of the virus by 85% when given to existing cases as an early treatment.
Dr. Al Salman concluded by emphasising the importance of continuing to follow all precautionary measures, including social distancing and wearing a face mask when out in public. In addition to staying away from family or private gatherings and reducing them only to one family in the same household. Whilst also taking the necessary preventive measures when in contact with the elderly and patients with chronic diseases, even if residing in the same household, to avoid the possibility of transmitting the virus to them.