The novel coronavirus COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) was declared a global pandemic on March 11, 2020, and since then, more than 35 million infected cases and over 1.05 million deaths have been registered worldwide. As of today, the USA, India, and Brazil have the highest number of infected cases, while European countries like the UK, Italy and Germany are experiencing a second wave of the pandemic. The situation in the Middle East and North Africa region is no better. The region, like the whole of the world, had a face-off with the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, as Iran came into the spotlight due to a dramatic hike in the coronavirus cases.
However, it is not the first time the MENA region has experienced a viral epidemic. In the past, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) had affected the region in 2012, causing colossal distress in Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region with a death toll of more than 600. The COVID-19 outbreak is the second case of coronavirus that has affected the Middle East Region badly.
The UAE was the first in the region to report a positive case of COVID-19, and the situation went downhill from there. So far, the UAE has registered a total of 100,794 confirmed cases, with 435 deaths (John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center). A few days back, the Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) announced over 1000 new cases and 6 new deaths due to the virus, confirming the disheartening situation.
Despite the dire circummstances, the UAE government has put a brave face on and are relentlessly working to tackle the situation. In a bid to curb the spread of the virus, the UAE government has taken various precautionary and containment measures. From days-long sterilization campaigns to impositions of curfews, from travel restrictions to closing of educational institutions, prohibiting public gatherings even for religious functions, the UAE government undertook several measures to contain COVID-19 and even did not shy away from closing the national borders (except for transport of goods and medical equipment). Strict policing has been implemented to avoid any breach of imposed curfews and restrictions. Furthermore, as a part of the intensified campaign to cease and desist the spread of the coronavirus, the UAE government has conducted over 10 million tests so far. Additionally, several government funds and relief packages were announced to keep its citizens at ease and help them cope with the monetary problems due to COVID-19.
Along with the conventional methods and quarantines, the UAE government is also making good use of digital technology to stop the spread of the virus. The UAE government is impressively active on social media handles in updating people of the COVID-19 situation and relaying any new information about the changes in rules and regulations. To help people cope with the feeling of disconnection, the government took an extra step and released a wide array of social graphics such as animated media, short informative videos, and interviews with the experts. The government is proactively supporting and promoting the concept of virtual meetings. Some instances of this form of engagement include setting up virtual hospitals and health care centers, appointing robots to undertake sanitization of the country, promoting on-demand healthcare apps for managing lifestyle diseases. These instances show that like the most other measures in the UAE, the government has made substantial investments in the healthcare domain by applying technology in medical arena in its response to fight the pandemic.
It goes beyond saying that restrictions and curfews have helped control the spread of the virus. However, the sudden clampdown is not all rosy; it also has downsides. First and foremost is the slowdown of economic activity. The region was hit by deep dark recessions, with several people losing their jobs, and workers left stranded with no way out. The region observed a disruption in oil demand/supply. A decrease in export, as well as a cut in the oil prices, took a toll on the economy. According to the recent report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the statistics show a decline in real GDP of the MENA region by 4.7% in 2020.
Another sector that took a heavy blow is retail. COVID-19 has adversely affected the retail industry, with reports revealing a change in consumer behaviour. In the current situation, consumers are mostly relying on locally consumable products offering maximum value for money. The tourism sector, which plays a key role in the economic development of the region, was also engulfed in the rage of the pandemic. On one hand, the UAE had to postpone their much-awaited Expo 2020, while on the other, the annual haj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia also observed a limited number of pilgrims this year, which was usually recorded footfall of around 2 million pilgrims from around the world.
Healthcare, another most flourishing sector in the region, too faced challenges. In the recently published “Medical Tourism Index 2020-21,” the MENA region is observed as one of the highly attractive destinations to obtain medical treatment. Dubai, Israel, Abu Dhabi, Oman, Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan are the world’s most attractive countries for medical tourism. In particular, the UAE, over the past few years, has significantly improved its healthcare infrastructure, hosting thousands of patients from the neighboring Gulf countries and from the Asian and European countries such as the UK, France, and Italy. However, due to pandemic, medical tourism registered a lower footfall.
Even after wreaking havoc on the whole world at so many different levels, COVID-19 is not showing any signs of abating. The global cases are rising, and it seems the world has started to accept it as the new normal. The impact of Covid-19 is not just region-specific; it has brought severe economic and social challenges in almost all sectors worldwide. No country or region has been left untouched. A decline in trade volume and GDP and a rise in unemployment has been registered worldwide. Although the future looks bleak, however, with the support of digitization and government effort, the economy is expected to recover in the coming years. Amid all the uncertainty and consequence due to coronavirus, a more gradual recovery than forecasted is expected in the coming years.
Source: DelveInsight – www.delveinsight.com