Since the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in China in December 2019 and its subsequent spread throughout the world, countries have responded differently to the pandemic. While the models of some countries, such as China, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Sweden, in countering the epidemic have been commended, no light was shed on distinctive Arab models in managing the crisis of countering corona, mainly the UAE model which is the focus of this paper.
The UAE model: determinants and comparative advantages
It can be said that the UAE has followed a unique model in its management of the corona crisis. It did not seek to imitate the Chinese model, or any other model for that matter. Rather, it followed its own path in managing the crisis, being aware that its political, economic, social and cultural system is different from that of other countries. It also knows that each country has its own comparative advantages which it deploys in determining the capabilities to manage the crisis and the manner thereof.
The UAE model was based on a set of determinants that governed the strategy to counter the corona epidemic, mainly:
1- Following the instructions and directives of the World Health Organization (WHO) and their full and swift implementation from the first day of detecting the coronavirus in China until it was declared a pandemic by the WHO.
2- Observing the criteria of transparency in dealing with the crisis and the full and timely disclosure of data pertaining to the epidemic in the UAE.
3- Involving the society in the efforts to contain the disease, whether through raising its awareness of its role in this crisis and its responsibility for following preventive measures, particularly “social distancing”, or through enhancing community initiatives, by individuals or corporations, such as the establishment of the “Fund of the United Arab Emirates: Homeland of Humanity" which receives in-cash and in-kind contributions and logistical support from individuals and institutions, and the launch by the Authority of Social Contributions (Ma’an) in Abu Dhabi of the “Together We Are Good” programme.
4- Attempting to benefit from the feasible experience of other countries, particularly the experience of South Korea, in expanding laboratory testing to detect the virus. In this respect, the UAE is the first country globally in terms of the number of tests compared to the population, which stands at 13 thousand tests per one million people.
5- Continuous and dynamic assessment of the crisis facts and taking steps that are proportional to the situation, without panic or loss of balance.
6- In addition to countering the health repercussions of the corona epidemic, developing plans and taking measures and decisions to counter other repercussions of the epidemic, such as the economic, educational and social repercussions.
7- Acting proactively in managing the crisis by preparing plans and capabilities to deal with the next steps and getting ready for all possible scenarios.
In containing the corona epidemic, the UAE model has ensured the deployment of the country’s comparative advantages, mainly:
a- The dynamism and effectiveness of government administration which enabled the UAE to manage the crisis efficiently and take the necessary decisions promptly and without delay while ensuring speedy implementation. In this respect, the daily follow-up of the actions taken by the UAE supreme leaders, their frequent appearance in various media outlets and their assurances that the UAE is assuming its responsibility of protecting everyone on UAE soil, including citizens, residents and visitors, also had a great effect.
b- The UAE’s enormous financial capabilities which enable it to take optimum decisions in managing the crisis and take precautionary and preventive measures regardless of the financial cost.
c- The quality of the UAE health system which responded to the crisis calmly and without encountering any shortages in medical supplies and equipment or in staff.
d- Prior readiness of the UAE to emergencies and crises, including enhancing the UAE’s strategic stocks of food and medicine. This was demonstrated by the availability of various commodities on the markets since the beginning of the crisis.
e- Developed infrastructure and telecommunications and Internet network in the UAE which facilitated the shift by schools and universities to distance learning, as well as institutions in both the public and private sectors which proceeded to remote working, and the advanced digital government which facilitated full resort by people to digital services without the need to go to the headquarters of government ministries and bodies.
f- Deployment of smart and innovative solutions to counter and manage the crisis, such as the use of drones to disinfect cities, and developing the mobile pharmacy service (Dawa’ee) whereby medicine is delivered to homes to prevent patients with chronic diseases and the elderly from going to hospitals while easing the pressure on medical centres, among other innovations.
Elements of the UAE strategy
The UAE strategy in managing the corona crisis is based on the following elements:
1. Taking strict measures and preventive procedures to contain the disease and prevent its spread; through developing measures to monitor cases at entry points to the UAE, enhancing the proactive detection of cases through the proliferation of laboratory tests, providing specialized and suitable quarantine locations and suitable treatment protocols, active tracing of contacts, taking standard measures to prevent the spread of the disease such as the suspension of educational institutions, suspension of flights to and from the UAE, cessation of all public activities, ban of gatherings, closure of public places such as malls and parks, etc.
2. Ensuring the continuation of people’s normal lives; despite the implementation of measures of “social distancing” and the launch of the “Stay at Home” initiative which urges people to stay at their homes and avoid going out unless it is necessary, the UAE has taken the psychological health of people into account. That is why it adopted a gradual approach in limiting the mobility of people. Furthermore, it did not impose a full and comprehensive curfew. For considerations of the national disinfection programme, a partial curfew was imposed from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. for two weeks only. Besides, so far, it has imposed complete lockdown on one area only, namely Al-Ras in Dubai.
3. Easing the economic effects of the crisis on the business sector: apart from the incentives announced by the UAE Central Bank worth a total of 100 billion dirhams to assist banks operating in the UAE in dealing with the negative economic effects of the corona crisis, both the federal government and local governments have taken several measures to enhance economic stability. For instance, the Government of Abu Dhabi launched 16 initiatives to ease the burden of companies and enhance their capability to counter the unfavourable market conditions. It also announced the formation of a committee to review the status of company loans. The Government of Dubai has also announced a package of economic incentives worth 1.5 billion dirhams with the aim of supporting companies and the business sector, in addition to the launch of several initiatives to ease the financial burden of businesses.
4. Transforming the challenge into an opportunity through the development of the UAE health capabilities: in addition to the tendency by the UAE to develop its health capabilities during the crisis, including through the establishment of “drive-thru testing centres” to detect the coronavirus within just 15 minutes, it has also built in Abu Dhabi the largest modern laboratory outside China with advanced capabilities to carry out tens of thousands of tests using the real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) technique. This laboratory is not only unique for its large-scale and advanced capabilities to diagnose the COVID-19 virus, but also for its capability to detect new pathogens in the future with high-throughput sequencing.
5. Continuation of the UAE humanitarian role: during the crisis, the UAE has not given up the humanitarian role inherent in its foreign policy. It has initiated several humanitarian initiatives to enhance global efforts to counter the corona epidemic. It provided medical supplies to China, Iran and Afghanistan, which was commended by the WHO. In addition, it was the only Arab country which declared, through His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, support of Syria during this crisis and determination not to leave the Syrian people alone. Furthermore, the UAE has evacuated 215 nationals of Arab and foreign countries who were stranded in Chinese Wuhan city. It has provided them with accommodation and care in the Humanitarian City in Abu Dhabi pending their repatriation after they are proven to be free from the disease.
The strategy adopted by the UAE has largely contributed to limiting the spread of the coronavirus disease. Despite a population of almost 10 million, a highly-diversified society and an open and globalized state system, the number of infectionsin the UAE is almost 816 with 8 deaths only (as of 2 April). This means that the mortality rate in the UAE is less than 1 percent, which is much lower than the global average of 3.4 percent. In contrast, Qatar, whose population is almost a quarter of that of the UAE, has more infections. According to the Qatari Ministry of Health, the number of infections stands at 835 (as of 2 April).
Challenges in managing the corona crisis
In spite of the success of the UAE in managing the corona crisis so far, there are three challenges that it has to deal with currently or in the future. The first challenge pertains to health, namely what is called “flattening the infections curve”, that is limiting the spread of the disease so that the infections curve would reach a plateau, and then turn downwards, until the virus is suppressed with the discovery of an effective treatment or vaccine.
Another equally important challenge is dealing with the various repercussions of the corona crisis, particularly the economic ones. The capability of societies to show resilience in the face of this crisis does not depend on health conditions alone as great importance should also be attached to the economic conditions. While the UAE has paid attention to this issue and launched initiatives to stimulate the economy and support the activities of banks and the business sector and ease the burden and fees on companies and individuals, there is a need for more plans and programmes to ease the repercussions of the crisis on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and on staff and workers in the private sector whose incomes will be affected by closures or the decline in market activity, so that the UAE image will be enhanced as an ideal place for work, trade and investment.
The third challenge lies in the assessment of crisis management to come out with conclusions for the future that would preserve the security and stability of the UAE and enhance its developmental and economic model. Considering that the influenza-related viruses are of a changing nature, the world is not immune from another novel virus that may be more lethal. Therefore, the UAE is keen to be cautious about such a scenario by developing its governance in the administrative, health, educational and economic sectors.
 The UAE leads globally in terms of the percentage of corona tests, Albayan newspaper, 18 March 2020, available at: https://www.albayan.ae/across-the-uae/news-and-reports/2020-03-18-1.3806543
 In this context, reference can be made specifically to the role of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and also the role of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. Their role had an effect in reassuring people with regard to the repercussions of the crisis.
 The UAE builds the largest laboratory in the world outside China for diagnosing corona, Albayan newspaper, 31 March 2020, available at: https://www.albayan.ae/across-the-uae/news-and-reports/2020-03-31-1.3817529
 Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan confirms in a phone call with Assad support of Syria in countering corona, Skynewsarabia website, 27 March 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2xJzwxa
 The UAE evacuates Arab nationals from China and provides them with care in Abu Dhabi, Alarab newspaper, 5 March 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2wV5mHm
EPC | 20 Oct 2020
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Shereen Mohammed | 18 Oct 2020