The outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19), has impacted travel and shaken the global economy. For the first time in over a decade, the demand for air travel is expected to decrease internationally. This along with hundreds of thousands of flight cancellations has left many major carriers in a crunch as to how to weather the situation.
Governments have responded in similar draconian fashion scrambling to curtail the outbreak with knee-jerk responses like banning travel from/to certain areas and quarantining swathes of their citizens.
In the midst of all this, one country has stood out as an exception to the prevailing chaos.
Since the spread of the virus became an international concern, the UAE has shown an impressive level of professionalism and innovation in addressing the threat.
The UAE has shown itself well equipped to take on COVID-19. In an interview with Dr Rakesh Suri, chief executive of Cleveland Clinic, Abu Dhabi’s most prestigious hospital and one of the most state of the art medical facilities in the world, he assured residents that the Emirates’ medical infrastructure was ready to deal with the virus.
Indeed, UAE has for a long time been preparing for such emergencies given its international status. It has established contact with the world’s leading health providers and labs to ensure sufficient testing methods and will promptly receive vaccines once they are developed.
In response to the World Health Organization’s warning to prepare for a pandemic of COVID-19, Dr Suri tweeted “We are prepared, we are ready, we are with you and we will get past this.” In fact, the UAE has begun to construct a new medical facility to house quarantine patients, in the event that the virus spreads unexpectedly.
Abdulrahman Al Owais, the Minister of Health and Prevention said in an official statement that the facility would be located away from residential areas to limit the risk of contagion. These refined quarantine procedures are the latest in a series of “firm procedures” implemented by authorities to ensure public safety explained Al Owais.
Officials are well-prepared for worst-case scenarios. From the early days of the outbreak, medical staff in UAE were all briefed on how to take care of coronavirus patients and handle large quantities of cases.
Stocks of equipment and medicines have also been readied. According to Health Ministry officials, stockpiles of medicines are sufficient to deal with any outbreak of the virus. Officials have also set up a response team with 500 staff already working around the clock to strategize and deal with any emergency situation.
Health Minister Al Owais correctly pointed out that the UAE was among the first countries that stocked up sufficient quantities of materials required for state-of-the-art checkups to detect the novel coronavirus.
Confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UAE remain relatively low at 570 cases as on Monday morning, IST, with one fatality. Doctors report that most of these patients recovered completely after two weeks of moderate symptoms.
This is an important statistic to consider: the rate of infection in the UAE is considerably lower than in other nations despite it being the largest hub of international travel in the world. Based on the most recent numbers, some 7 million people have entered the UAE over the past month through Dubai alone. Despite this massive influx of people from around the world, barely a dozen cases have been reported. It appears as though the UAE is doing something right.
All things considered, the UAE has succeeded in keeping business as usual despite concerns over coronavirus. An official from the Emirati National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority said the country has no plans to cancel public events or close schools, businesses, or institutions due to the virus.
But beyond maintaining safety and order in its own territory, the UAE has been playing an essential role in the global effort to mitigate the effects of the outbreak worldwide.
For several weeks now, an Abu Dhabi based tech firm has been sharing an artificial intelligence-powered platform developed to help combat the spread of the virus. The firm, Group 42 (G42), began by collaborating with local authorities and providing officials with access to portable advanced diagnostic kits that have assisted in detecting those infected with COVID-19 and preventing them from crossing the UAE’s border.
The firm then began working with the Chinese government, giving them access to their solution powered by the company’s supercomputer, a machine ranked one of the most powerful in the world. The UAE is also working with undersupplied countries providing hundreds of thousands of units of vital goods such as surgical masks, medical gloves, goggles and protective clothing to nations running short on these essential items.
The country has also been conducting humanitarian missions assisting in the evacuation of foreign nationals from outbreak zones in China. This week, in coordination with Chinese authorities, the UAE air force airlifted some 215 foreigners from 11 different countries from Wuhan to Abu Dhabi at the request of those foreigners’ governments. Governments have publicly thanked the UAE for its airlift, treatment and repatriation efforts.
These humanitarian operations demonstrate two important points. First, the Emirates possesses a surplus of resources in their fight against the outbreak, which is why they are able to offer this aid, to begin with. Second, the UAE has the technological and logistical competency to handle the challenges posed by the coronavirus – both within and beyond its borders – to the point that it has become an integral part of the global effort.
Since the start of the current crisis, the UAE has shown its ability to take on the outbreak’s challenges, maintaining a sense of normalcy at home all while assisting the effort internationally. Its well-balanced approach that accommodates the country’s status as an international and financial hub may be a lesson for the region and world.
Cindy Xi is a research analyst providing political and economic risk assessments for regional developments in Asia. Cindy is a regular contributor to Malaysia Reserve, Asean Post, and Manila Times.