Coronavirus: secret weddings and parties to blame for Oman’s spike in cases

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Oman’s Ministry of Health has blamed secret social gatherings for a sharp increase in coronavirus cases as the number of infected people crossed 50,000.

After initially stemming the spread of the virus with lockdowns, Oman has reopened almost all businesses with the exception of barber shops, hairdressing salons, tailoring shops and gyms. This decision led some to question whether the reopening was behind the growing number of cases, an accusation the Ministry of Health says is wrong.

"It is not the reopening of the business establishments that has pushed up the coronavirus infections cases but friends illegally meeting in homes, celebrating weddings or birthday parties,” Health Minister Ahmed Al Saeedi said on state television.

“People need to be responsible if we need to get the infected numbers down. It is just common sense to follow guidelines to protect ourselves.”

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Oman this week increased the fine for not wearing a mask from 25 rials (Dh230) to 100 rials (Dh985). It has also closed all beaches indefinitely from last Monday as cases doubled in just three weeks.

Another 1,518 confirmed Covid-19 cases were reported on Thursday, taking the total to 51,725. The Health Ministry said 43 people had died in the past six days, raising the death toll to 236, while 33,021 people have recovered so far.

Omanis say people till gather on beaches at night, when it is difficult for law enforcement to detect them.

"They party all night on the weekends, doing barbecues and other things. It is dark on the beach and police do not see them there," said Khalid Al Balushi, 34, a resident of Seeb in Muscat, adding that he had seen people removing barriers to the beach and driving through.

Other Omanis say some infected people are not following quarantine rules.

"I know a relative with his wife and both are confirmed cases of Covid-19 and they are still going out to crowded places like supermarkets instead of staying at home. I am not surprised that infected cases are not going down because we still have negligent people like them with bad attitudes," said Salim Al Khaifi, 28, who lives in Alkhuwair in Muscat.

In recent weeks, Oman Police have assisted in testing initiatives for the general public. Patrol units set up in collaboration with healthcare workers have been testing communities for free across the country.

Oman is preparing to welcome back tourists by setting up testing programmes at airports to ensure that travellers entering and leaving the country are free of Covid-19.

"The airports are fully equipped to handle the pandemic to make sure travellers fly safely," Transport Minister Ahmed Al Futaisi said. He did not say when the airports would reopen.

The health ministry said another 5,456 people were tested for the virus since Wednesday, taking the total number of tests in Oman to 226 637. Out of the 466 Covid-19 patients being treated in hospital, 129 are in intensive care.

Updated: July 9, 2020 07:44 PM

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