*Steady fall in number of new daily Covid-19 cases
*Returning travellers form a larger part of new cases *More freedoms to be allowed to those fully vaccinated
*Covid-19 Indian strain not recorded in Qatar so far *People urged to be very careful during Eid holidays
Qatar plans to gradually lift the Covid-19 restrictions in four phases from May 28, with each phase lasting three weeks, a top health official announced on Sunday.
"With a potential spike post-Eid a distinct possibility, this will allow sufficient time to analyse the data and determine the impact," stated Dr Abdullatif al-Khal.
The chair of the National Strategic Group on Covid-19 and head of the Infectious Diseases Division at Hamad Medical Corporation was addressing a press conference on Qatar TV.
"The date of implementation and the duration of each phase will depend on the epidemic indicators, based on a great extent on the degree of compliance of the community members with the current measures, restrictions and guidance by the government," he said.
"So, while I understand that many people may be eager to begin the lifting of restrictions as soon as possible, I ask you to please be patient.
"It is vital that we do not claim victory against this virus too early - with the new, highly-transmissible variants in the community, there is still the potential for the virus to gain momentum and for the number to increase," Dr al-Khal cautioned.
"For the past 15 months we have lived under the threat of Covid-19 - this virus has negatively impacted the lives of each and every one of us in some way, either directly or indirectly. It is important to acknowledge how much we have achieved and how much we have sacrificed to get this virus under control."
"Unlike last year, we will be able to make more freedoms available to those who are vaccinated," Dr al-Khal said. The National Covid-19 Vaccination Programme is progressing at a fast pace and more than 1.7mn doses have been administered since the beginning, the senior official explained.
"Qatar is among the top 10 countries in the world in terms of vaccine coverage for the size of its population. It is very encouraging that we are seeing clear evidence that the vaccines are protecting people from developing symptoms of Covid and becoming ill.
"A study undertaken in Qatar and published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that for fully vaccinated people - 14 days after receiving the second dose - vaccination is 97.4% effective in preventing severe, critical or fatal disease due to both the UK and South African variants.
"These statistics are very promising and give good cause to be optimistic about a return towards normal life once we have vaccinated around 80-90% of the eligible population in Qatar.
"In recent weeks, the combined impact of Covid-19 restrictions and increasing vaccination rates, and the overwhelming support of the community, has resulted in a consistent reduction in the number of new daily infections in the country.
"I urge people to take the vaccine whenever possible as it has been proven safe even for pregnant women and those with hypersensitivity.
"However we still need to be cautious as we are not out of the second wave yet and we are still dealing with two highly contagious and highly virulent strains of the virus that are actively circulating in the community," Dr al-Khal added.