Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 August 2020

Coronavirus: Bahrain’s ‘war room’ strategy far more effective than Britain’s minimal response

Former public health director John Ashton praised the kingdom’s public engagement around Covid-19

Muslims wear protective face masks following the coronavirus outbreak, as they pray on a street during Friday prayers in local souq, in Manama, Bahrain, February 28, 2020. REUTERS
Muslims wear protective face masks following the coronavirus outbreak, as they pray on a street during Friday prayers in local souq, in Manama, Bahrain, February 28, 2020. REUTERS

A leading health expert has praised Bahrain’s decision to establish “a war room” to help combat the coronavirus, one of a suite of “proactive” measures including strong public engagement that has so far forestalled community spread of the outbreak.

Britain’s former director of public health, professor John Ashton, has been advising the Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad on his country’s response to Covid-19 and has flown out to the Gulf state twice since the onset of the outbreak.

Prince Salman contacted Mr Ashton after he saw him giving media interviews where he called for openness and transparency when handling the new virus.

“I’ve been very critical about the fact they [Britain] haven’t been doing that whereas Bahrain have been doing it there from the outset, publishing the data regularly, holding regular press conferences and generally seeking to engage the community. They are involving everybody in the war against the virus,” he told The National.

There have been 189 cases of coronavirus found in Bahrain, and no deaths have been reported do far.

The state-run Bahrain News Agency reported on Saturday that a further 16 people had recovered from the virus, bringing the total number of recoveries to 60.

Mr Ashton's comments come after a meeting on Thursday in which senior government ministers sat with parliamentary heads to inform them of the latest developments to stop the spread of the virus in Bahrain. Interior minister, Shaikh Rashid bin Abdullah, said the meeting was at the direction of the king to inform politicians and then inform the public of all the latest news.

Mr Ashton pointed out that almost all of the cases in Bahrain had visited Iran.

“Of the first 160 people that came in, 50 per cent of them turned out to be corona positive,” he said.

Mr Ashton described Bahrain as having set up “a war room” where health professionals triaged pilgrims and other groups suspected to have contracted coronavirus, under control of the Crown Prince.

“They’ve been very systematic, very proactive, very thorough and to date, they’ve got nearly 200 cases, but haven’t got any community spread. They haven’t lost anybody either,” he said.

“They have a very interesting treatment protocol, which is quite a complex mixture of treatments that they are using under the direction of the military doctor who’s running the war room,” he added.

Some Bahrainis are still stranded in Iran but the government is trying to return them on flights – the first one was on Tuesday.

The Bahraini government has insisted it will not leave any national stranded and will work to bring them home.

Professor John Ashton, an adviser to Bahrain's crown prince speaking on Britain's Channel 4 News, warned Iran may have 'grossly under-reported' the number of cases recorded
Professor John Ashton, an adviser to Bahrain's crown prince speaking on Britain's Channel 4 News, warned Iran may have 'grossly under-reported' the number of cases recorded

On Thursday, Prince Salman called on everyone to join the "nationwide campaign” against the virus and described every citizen as a soldier in the fight.

He particularly praised medical teams working to stem the flow of new cases, earning them international praise.

Mr Ashton said that the kingdom had also been more open with the public regarding the outbreak than he has seen in the UK.

Bahrain has been holding regular televised press briefings and the state-run Bahrain News Agency published regular updates on cases, treatments and those who have recovered.

“I’m impressed that after I identified some of the weak links in the chain of control for them, they immediately responded to deal with them,” he said, adding that it made him “embarrassed” about the British approach to tackling the virus.

He said the initial vulnerability for the kingdom was being able to tighten down on international arrivals and departures.

But he said the main challenge Bahrain has faced is all of the religious tourists that have travelled to Iran to visit holy sites.

The religious balance between Sunni and Shia in Bahrain means that many in the country travel frequently to religious sites in Iran.

“It’s the centenary of Bahrain this year and with those cultural differences between the two sides of Islam, they see this [the coronavirus outbreak] as an opportunity to get everyone together against a common threat,” he said.

The professor said Bahrainis were “transcending’ sectarian and political differences with measures to combat the outbreak.

Mr Ashton’s words echoed Shaikh Rashid’s comments on Thursday in which he warned that the current crisis shouldn’t be politicized and he rejected sectarianism.

But Mr Ashton also warned that like most countries, Bahrain still had challenges to come.

“They’ve got a big challenge ahead because they have a couple of thousands of these religious pilgrims need to come home. But they’ve been very committed to working in harmony with the public and sharing everything they know.”

Updated: March 16, 2020 12:07 AM

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