Omanis fear for mental health as lockdown extension threatens Eid celebrations

Mental health experts back the new measures meant to help curb the spread of Covid-19

Aerial view of Quriyat town in Muscat. Saleh Al Shaibany for The National

Omanis have reacted angrily to the extension of the country’s lockdown measures, which were first enacted during Ramadan to slow the spread of coronavirus and will remain in place as Eid celebrations begin.

A new, longer night-time lockdown between 7pm and 4am will be in place from May 8 to 15.

Depending on the sighting of the Moon, Eid Al Fitr will fall on either May 13 or 14.

Twitter user Hashim Al Hashimi called the new measures "outrageous" and complained that the restrictions were meant to finish at the end of the holy month.

“I cannot imagine staying indoors on the evening of the first day of Eid. I have never done it before and I am not sure I would be able to do it,” he said.

Others wondered what the point of the lockdown extension was.

"What good would it do – extending for two more hours – except to increase our stress?" Facebook user Hamed Al Jamali wrote.

All shops, with the exception of supermarkets, petrol stations and pharmacies, will remain closed under the new restrictions and all government employees have been ordered to work remotely.

Oman’s Covid-19 committee cancelled Eid prayers and ordered the closure of traditional markets during the last week of Ramadan.

Some Omanis who had been looking forward to the celebrations at the end of Ramadan voiced concerns that the new restrictions will affect their mental health.

"After a month-long evening lockdown, I was looking forward to a big celebration to help my depression. This is not good for our health and I don't understand how they can justify it," Shaikha Al Habtali, 36, told The National.

Mental health experts in the country support the lockdown extension but say they have concerns about its effect on people.

Ibtisam Al Busaidi, a therapist and senior counsellor at Muscat’s College of Business and Science, said: “I can understand why the supreme committee extended the lockdown period and hours because the infection cases in the country are not getting any better.

“However, as a psychologist, I know this new restriction will contribute to a lot of anxiety for many Omanis and worsen the depression bouts of those who are already suffering from it, especially pupils, who are going through the turmoil of online education."

Psychological Support Service, a mental health group, created a website – psychcovid19oman.com – to help people suffering from stress during the pandemic.

"Our website is getting a lot of hits from stressed people – especially youths – needing counselling during this period of Covid-19," Fatma Al Harebi, a therapist volunteering at the service, told The National.

"We expect a lot of interests in the coming days after the announcement of the revised lockdown."

Oman is experiencing a surge of new infections and deaths from the virus.

Ninety new patients were admitted to hospital in Oman on Monday, bringing the total number of people battling the virus in the country’s hospitals to 816, including 285 people on intensive care wards.

Statistics from Oman's Ministry of Health show that the number of people being admitted to hospitals with Covid-19 increased by 59 per cent in April, with 821 patients treated compared with 515 in March.

The total number of deaths also increased from 108 in March to 343 in April.

The ministry on Monday reported 1,093 new Covid-19 cases and 10 deaths.

At least 196,900 people have tested positive for the virus since the outbreak began and 2,053 people have died.

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