Abu Dhabi Book Fair 2021: Emirati doctor Omar Al Hammadi says facts and context are key to understanding Covid-19
The medical professional tackled a number of pandemic conspiracy theories in his session
Ever since the UAE lodged its first official Covid-19 case in January 2020, Dr Omar Al Hammadi has become an authoritative and comforting presence on our screens.
An official spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Prevention, he remains one of the faces of official televised briefings declaring the latest infection and recovery rates and providing sensible everyday advice on living during the pandemic.
Some of those ideas and reflections are now found in his new Arabic book Al Ijtiyaah (The Invasion), available at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.
Speaking on Tuesday at the event, being held at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre until Saturday, Al Hammadi said the work is not so much a memoir but a series of explainers and tips derived from questions posed in briefings and from the public.
Topics range from the scientific origins of Covid-19 to the nature of viruses and the purpose of vaccines.
He acknowledged similar material is out already, but he chose to publish after a year since the emergence of the coronavirus to provide a more nuanced understanding.
“A few of my colleagues released books and papers on the pandemic already. Speaking for myself, I wasn’t ready," he said.
“The information at the time wasn’t clear and the virus wasn’t mature. We were still raising our awareness when it comes to treatments.
"This is also not really a medical book and is accessible to everyone. While there is some scientific information in there, I tried to write in a way people can digest," he said. “I also look at the virus from a philosophical and historical perspective.”
Combatting conspiracy theories
In many ways, Al Ijtiyaah is an extension of what Al Hammadi does on the small screen.
He said he understands and sympathises with the fear, uncertainty and trauma Covid-19 unleashed on to the world, but only through clear information and reflection will we be able to fully grasp the situation.
The rise in conspiracy theories surrounding the virus, which Al Hammadi described as a global malaise, needs confronting with hard facts.
"We are used to understanding that viruses normally emerge naturally, so why is it now some of us think that it is man-made," he said.
"Those who believe in these things must provide the proof. The onus is not on us but on them to provide that evidence."
Al Hammadi also tackled the notion that shadowy pharmaceutical companies created the virus in order to sell ready-made vaccines.
“Science has made major developments, especially when it comes to vaccines and vital medicines over the last 10 to 15 years," he said.
"Also you are talking about a global virus, so this has made many of the world's vaccine companies work rapidly to help the people.
“Prior to the virus, there has been many hurdles to vaccine creation. Now that has been surpassed to meet international needs and to continually advance the development of science.”
Learning from history
With a successful vaccine drive and a range of public safety measures, Al Hammadi urged for calm as the UAE plots a path to recovery.
Context and an appreciation of history also provides a more nuanced understanding of Covid-19 today.
"Maybe this is the worst thing many of us have witnessed in our lives but there have been more devastating incidents like the Spanish flu of 1918 which killed over 55 million people," he said.
"Science developed a great deal since then when it comes to vaccines. Instead of having viruses quickly spread, we now found ways, at least, to slow its spread down to a crawl.
“That is a big accomplishment when compared to what happened in the past."
The Abu Dhabi International Book Fair continues at Adnec with safety precautions and a hybrid programme of in-person and digital events.
More international and regional authors will appear, either physically or online, including Jordanian author and 2021 International Prize for Arabic Fiction winner Jalal Barjas and French-Egyptian novelist Gilbert Sinoue.
More information on the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair is available at adbookfair.com
Updated: May 27, 2021 03:01 PM