The UAE’s predominantly urban population presented one risk. Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah would seem to be the perfect environment for a contagious virus to spread quickly. Added to this was the even greater threat presented by the country’s world-leading aviation and logistics industry.
With more than 85 million passengers each year passing through Dubai airports alone — many from virus hotspots in Asia and Europe — the risk of COVID-19 taking its grip in the UAE in the early days of the outbreak was significant.
It is testament therefore to the UAE leadership that it has responded so effectively and efficiently to the outbreak of COVID-19.
What works and what can we learn from the UAE experience? This type of knowledge transfer can save lives across Africa and will truly cement the UAE’s position as a world leading humanitarian player
The UAE’s early implementation of test, track and trace policies has become an example for other countries to follow. The country has one of the highest rates of testing per capita in the world and the results — fewer than 326 deaths in all and over 40,000 recoveries — speak for themselves.
Many residents and workers, with their jobs temporarily unviable due to the shutdown, decided to return home, but before they did so the Emirati authorities systematically tested them, ensuring that those boarding flights, even though leaving the UAE would not infect other passengers and citizens of their home countries.
UAE's pioneering role
The UAE has also played a leading role in responding to the crisis internationally. UAE owned facilities, such as the ExCel centre in London, have been made available to governments at no cost, so that emergency hospitals, quarantine centres and clinics could be established, helping to ensure that local health facilities would not become overwhelmed.
The country has also been a generous contributor to the World Health Organisation and World Food Program. The UAE has donated $10 million worth of testing kits to WHO — enough to test half a million people. Its partnership with the WFP has seen “air bridge” operations which have helped countries in need to combat the virus.
In my home country of Ghana, this included the delivery of parts for a field hospital, which helped protect aid workers. David Beasley of the WFP justly identified the UAE as a “leading first responder”.
The first wave of the crisis thankfully for now seems to be over in the UAE, and the virus’ early epicentres of China and Europe. Life is slowly returning to normal. It was announced last week that tourists will soon be able to return and enjoy Dubai’s many pleasures.
More worryingly, across much of the developing world the virus continues to wreak havoc. In Africa there seems to be a slow spread.
The WHO warned earlier this month that it took 98 days for the first 100,000 cases to be reported across the continent, but only 18 days for the second 100,000 cases. As of today, it is believed there are around 350,000 cases across Africa.
Closing down economies, a tactic which successfully suppressed the virus in many countries, is a complicated business in the developing world.
Working from home is not an option for many, online learning has limited reach and many people thrive on the informal sector. Savings are few and far between, and governments are often unable to provide the safety nets necessary for people who are unable to work.
Non-COVID related deaths could soon outweigh COVID-related deaths, with starvation a real risk if these economies close for a prolonged period.
Benefit for Africa
One possible benefit for the African continent is that coronavirus has not left a ravaging trail as with other continents. This is indeed a blessing as it means that the experience and expertise acquired by those who have successfully fought the virus can be transferred to Africa, as it seeks to limit the spread of COVID-19.
UAE can play a leading role in working with African countries in the coming months and I am heartened by its commitment to the continent to date. I am in little doubt that this will harness a symbiotic relationship in this era of new normal. There is also a real opportunity for it to share its knowledge in a wide variety of areas.
How do governments create self-sustaining economies? How do governments ensure that public services can continue to be delivered safely?
How should ministries work together across government to combat the virus? How can public communication programmes be effectively implemented? How can governments ensure that their procurement programmes are targeted efficiently?
In short, what works and what can we learn from the UAE experience? This type of knowledge transfer can save lives across Africa and will truly cement the UAE’s position as a world leading humanitarian player.
Valentina Mintah is a technology executive and member of the Executive Board of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC)