July 2, 2020 / 1:14 PM / a month ago

Oman boosts hospital capacity as coronavirus cases surge

DUBAI (Reuters) - Oman’s health minister said on Thursday that the sultanate had witnessed a “scary” surge in COVID-19 cases that required boosting hospital capacity, especially for intensive care units.

The country reported another 1,361 new cases of the coronavirus on Thursday and three deaths in the last 24 hours, to take its total count to 42,555 cases with 188 deaths.

“In the last six weeks there has been a radical change which is very disturbing and scary,” minister Ahmed bin al-Saeedi told a news briefing. He blamed individuals who did not wear masks or practice social distancing and said some employees were going into offices when they had been in contact with infected people, instead of self isolating.

He said there had been more than 9,000 new infections and 43 deaths since last Thursday, the biggest weekly spike since Oman first reported cases in late February.

Saeedi said Oman, a country of 4.7 million people, was working to increase capacity at intensive care units and planned to set up a field hospital with 250 to 300 beds in the Muscat region for non-urgent cases.

Hospitals were coping for now but were under pressure, particularly intensive care units, he said.

Oman will also start a 10-week nationwide survey, including of citizens and non-citizens, on July 12 to analyse the spread of the coronavirus. Blood samples to detect antibodies will be part of the data collection, the ministry of health said on Twitter.

In March Oman began to introduce lockdowns in certain regions such as Muscat, Dhofar and Duqm and some tourist towns, but since April it has gradually allowed commercial centres to reopen and lifted the lockdown in the Muscat region, which includes the capital.

Saeedi said mosques will not be allowed to reopen or large gatherings to take place at the current rate of infection.

Air and land borders remain closed except for repatriation flights.

Saudi Arabia, the largest of the six Gulf Arab states, has recorded the highest rate of coronavirus infections in the Gulf with more than 194,200 cases and close to 1,700 deaths.

Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Susan Fenton

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