COVID-19: A View From Abroad

Nathalia Hardy | Guest Writer

Hardy and pup
Nathalia Hardy and dog Finnegan hold an illustration sent by Joseph Witchall and Viva Bahriya, 10th grade students in Doha, Qatar. Like most locations, Qatar is practicing social distancing, with students learning from the safety of home. Photo courtesy of Nathalia Hardy.

Almost two years ago, I moved from Leesburg to Doha, Qatar to take a position as a Librarian at a private International Baccalaureate School. Last year, I moved onto The Pearl, a man-made island in Doha with extensive parks and beautiful ocean views. The Pearl is home to a large expatiate community with many different nationalities, as well as Qatari. Qatar, a peninsula state on the Persian Gulf, has a population of 2.8 million people, 88% of them are foreign nationals. Only 40,000 of those are from the United States.

Early this year, I had watched the situation in Wuhan unfold and began to prepare for restrictions here. I watched the US news as COVID spread there. The images of food shortages and empty shelves, as well as crowds on the beaches, were scary. Here in Qatar, the situation is different, although there are some similarities.

As the virus spread, Qatar’s first case was confirmed in late February. The virus gained a foothold through citizens and residents returning to Qatar from other countries. Through extensive testing and quarantines the spread has been limited. As of March 18, the Ministry of Public Health has reported 4,663 positive COVID cases and 7 deaths; over 58,000 people have been tested.

As positive COVID cases were identified, measures were put in place across the country, including the transition to online learning. On Tuesday, March 10, we began online learning. Two days later, the teachers were also requested to prepare to teach from home after spring break. The Senior school where I teach is a one-to-one school. It also serves primarily Qatari students. Families are very supportive of education, although, like parents in the US, they were not necessarily prepared to take over the job of teaching their own children. Like others elsewhere, we have worked together to create solutions to benefit the students.

For the past three years, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have led a blockade against Qatar. While initially there were food shortages, the government put measures into place to ensure future food security. The blockade did much to strengthen Qatar and its food security. Qatar has a two-year supply of non-perishables, a farm that assures dairy products and a supply of chicken. I have not experienced food shortages or empty shelves.

As time has passed, the Ministry of Public Health has instituted a variety of measures to prevent the spread of the virus. While restaurants here are closed, most are offering delivery. Grocery stores and pharmacies, as well as hospitals, are open. Delivery services and some shops offer delivery as well. Churches and Mosques are closed, as are local parks, beaches and campgrounds. Gatherings are prohibited and reinforced through the use of drones and robots.  The robots have an automated message to remind those walking around the marina and beachfronts about the social distancing requirements. The airport still operates for transit through to other places, and there are limited flights out. This is one difference. Not only is the Emir willing to institute measures for public protection, but the public is largely willing to accept them.

As around the world, business here has suffered. People have been laid off or asked to take their annual leave. After maid and cleaning services were discontinued, some unscrupulous business owners stopped paying their salaries and providing food, even though they are under contract to do so. The process through the government and the courts will address these issues. In the meanwhile, the community here is stepping up to provide food. The Pearl Community group is now making food deliveries to support almost 350 individuals affected by business closures. Local restaurants and charities are also providing food. I believe this is happening around the world. Neighbors helping neighbors. Communities coming together.

Personally, I spend a lot of time walking my dog, Finnegan. The weather here is still beautiful, so it is nice to be outside. I purchased an indoor bicycle before the stores closed, to prepare for the summer heat. I help delivering food to those in need. I am also studying Arabic online. Once school ends, I will be creating the school yearbook for distribution in the Fall, inshallah. I also hope to pick up my writing this summer. And of course, there is Netflix and Hulu. I miss my family and friends. I have very fond memories of my time at County, especially this year’s seniors, some of whom were my last class there. As we look forward, I know that there will be ongoing changes for our community until a vaccine has been developed. Yet, I remain hopeful that the new normal will come soon.