COVID-19 has impacted the lives of many people around the world. Countries have been implementing various mitigation and prevention strategies, and protocols to control transmission and reduce mortality rates. The transition out of lockdown is a complex and uncertain process governed by healthcare capacity challenges and risks of second wave resurgence. Therefore, The Eastern Mediterranean Public Health Network (EMPHNET) launched its Webinar initiative “ EMPHNET WEBi Series” as a virtual dialogue opportunity set to reach out and engage a broad range of audience in support of creating an online discussion space . This space brings to the forefront pertinent public health issues and problems challenging the Eastern Mediterranean region (EMR).
On Tuesday June 16 2020, and as part of this series, EMPHNET launched its first Webinar titled “Implementing strategies for Easing Off COVID-19 Restrictions.” During this webinar, a group of public health experts presented different aspects related to implementing strategies for easing off COVID-19 restrictions. They shared experiences regarding the process of weighing the advantages and disadvantages of easing the restrictions from Europe (specifically from UK) and Africa, as well as country specific experiences from Oman and Morocco.
Participating experts included Consultant in Global Health and Senior Medical Advisor for Public Health England Dr. Mark Salter; Lead of Emergency Operations Center, CDC Africa Dr. Wessam Mankoula; Director General of Disease Surveillance and Control, MoH Sultanate of Oman and Senior Consultant of Infectious Diseases Dr. Seif Al Abri; and Director of the Department of Epidemiology, MoH Morocco Dr. Mohammed Youbi. This session was also moderated by Public Health Expert and Associate Professor, Baghdad University Iraq Dr. Faris Lami.
Dr. Lami started the session’s proceedings by briefly introducing the COVID-19 situation in the Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMR). He mentioned the variation in preparedness and response seen in different countries and how some countries are reporting fewer cases. He further highlighted the importance of the webinar and the need for developing strategies to ease off restrictions due to the political, social, and economic consequences that they hold. He then ended his introduction by introducing the experts present in the session, while also handing the floor over to each one of them to present.
In his presentation, Dr. Salter explained how COVID-19 emerged and how it was declared a pandemic, focusing on the European case. He shed light on how contact tracing is done in the UK. He also shared the guidelines and material developed and used for this purpose, and finally, he touched on the importance of communicating to the population what is being done and why.
In the presentation that followed, Dr. Mankoula started by highlighting the importance of lockdown measures in controlling COVID-19. He also stated how these measures helped countries in preparing health services and testing, while giving examples of assistance provided by Africa CDC. He also mentioned the drawbacks of lockdown.
The third presenter, Dr. Al- Abri, shared Oman’s experience and mentioned that most cases recorded in Oman were non-Omanis. He confirmed that the outbreak was initially travel related. He then talked about how at the start of the outbreak, Oman developed a COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan which was built on the National Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan. The final presenter Dr. Youbi, explained the rationale behind lifting the restrictions as Morocco managed to reduce the spread of COVID-19 as long-term containment measures became unrealistic. Dr. Youbi further explained how the containment lifting strategy will allow Morocco to avoid thousands of cases and deaths.
269 persons from the region and beyond attended this webinar. A Q&A session facilitated by Dr. Lami followed the four presentations, during which speakers answered the participant’s questions. In his closing remarks, Dr. Lami highlighted the importance of indicators for easing off the restrictions and of monitoring a healthy situation in the long run. The Webinar was deemed a successful prelude for many more to come.