Coronavirus: Oman faces daily challenge to make expatriates stay at home

Number of infected people has now reached 1,266, of whom 831 are expatriates

FILE PHOTO: An Omani man sits in front of a display of jambiyas (traditional daggers) in Muttrah Souq, the oldest market in Oman, in the capital Muscat June 7, 2010. REUTERS/Fahad Shadeed/File Photo
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Oman faces an uphill struggle to have expatriates, mainly from the Indian subcontinent, stay home as the number of Covid-19 cases rises daily.

Foreign workers make up more than 60 per cent of infected people.

On Sunday, the Omani Ministry of Health announced 86 more cases, of which 71 were expatriates.

The total number of infected people reached 1,266, of whom 831 were foreigners, mainly from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.

Seven people have died from the coronavirus, five of them expatriates, the ministry said.

“They live in dormitories of up to 20 people in a single room,” said Mohammed Al Refai, 43, a construction engineer.

"A typical dormitory accommodation may have 20 to 30 rooms and about 400 to 600 of them under one roof."

That has raised concerns in neighbourhoods, mainly in the capital Muscat, where most cases of infection were found.

“Not only do they live in cramped accommodations, the expatriates don’t respect social distancing at all, said Jaber Al Jabri, 28, who lives in Al Hail district of the capital.

"You can see them sitting together in groups, talking in the backstreets without wearing masks, especially in the evening.

"I fear the number will go up if no one checks on the expatriate communities."

On Saturday, Dr Ahmed Al Saidi, the Minister of Health, said that Oman could expect 500 cases a day, with 150 of those likely to require intensive care during the peak of the virus outbreak.

Dr Al Saidi said the peak might come at the end of the month.

He said it was difficult to control the spread of the virus within expatriate groups.

“Some expatriates, especially blue-collar workers, live in groups in single houses," Dr Al Saidi said. "This makes it a challenge.”

Oman has closed half of Muscat with police putting up roadblocks, preventing a population of 250,000 people travelling from the south of the capital to the north.

The closed district of Muttrah reported its first death, an Omani shopkeeper, 76, who was infected by Italian passengers from a cruise ship.

The lockdown is putting a strain on the health of Omanis and residents.

IT expert Khalid Al Faisal, 39, said he was having a bout of depression because of the isolation.

“I am not allowed to go to work," Mr Al Faisal said. "I am an engineer and I keep myself busy with pulling cables or fixing networks.

"Now, I cannot do it and my doctor last week prescribed me with depression pills".

Janice Mukawalla, 46, was threatened with a fine when she was stopped by police for jogging on the road.

“I have been jogging for years and two days ago, this policemen asked me to go home or I would have to pay a fine for being out," the Indian resident of Muscat said.

"I understand the situation of the pandemic but we should be allowed to exercise or we will get sick."