Abu Dhabi: The need for masking and social distancing is likely to continue in the UAE because the precautions have proven to be effective against the spread of the coronavirus, a top health official said in the capital today.
It is now the responsibility of the community to ‘normalise’ lives as much as possible amid these preventive measures, said Dr Jamal Al Kaabi, undersecretary at the Abu Dhabi health regulator, the Department of Health (DoH).
“No matter what you hear is happening around the world, the UAE is basing its strategies on science. Is the removal of the masking mandate supported by science? When in late 2020 we saw a decline in COVID-19 cases, we did not stop building field hospitals, or ramping up ICU capacity. We also did not remove the masking mandate or social distancing regulations. We retained the basics then till we could be 100 per cent sure that there were no cases,” Dr Al Kaabi told Gulf News.
“My feeling is therefore that [the masking regulation] will continue. It is now up to the community to normalise [lives] amid these precautions,” he added.
Dr Al Kaabi was speaking on the sidelines of a seminar at the Abu Dhabi University that looked at the UAE’s experience with COVID-19. Top health experts discussed the multi-pronged strategy used in the country to successfully drive down the COVID-19 caseload. The seminar was organised under the patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak, Chairwoman of the General Women’s Union, President of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, and Supreme Chairwoman of the Family Development Foundation.
“It feels now like we have come very close to a normal [pre-COVID-19] life. We are seeing a decreasing number of cases, and the lowest rates of mortality. This kind of successful COVID-19 management strategy has been possible because of one main reason – the support of our wise leadership that supports efforts and takes a visionary approach to everything,” Dr Al Kaabi said. The UAE’s strategy was, therefore, proactive from the start. “We did not wait the virus to come to us. We went to it [to combat it],” the official said.
Multi-pronged strategy - Testing and screening
For one, the UAE launched a mass screening programme in the early months of the pandemic, and this is still ongoing. The country also ensured the avialbility of widespread COVID-19 testing in the country, with the nation ranked third globally in the number of COVID-19 PCR tests conducted for every 1,000 persons.
“We started with 1,000 PCR tests a day, and it took five days to get the results. Now, the country is conducting upwards of 300,000 tests a day, and the results are available within 24 hours,” Dr Al Kaabi said.
This was supported by basic COVID-19 preventive measures, like mandatory mask use and social distancing in public.
Simultaneously, the country’s strategic stockpile was instrumental in ensuring that residents did not suffer from food and medicine shortages, said Dr Nawal Al Kaabi, chief medical officer at the Sheikh Khalifa Medical City who also led the UAE’s Sinopharm trials.
The UAE also went on to organise the largest clinical trial for the Sinopharm inactivated vaccine, and is also continuing to study the vaccine’s immunity-building effect on children. It also contributed to the Sputnik V vaccine clinical trial.
The UAE was also one of the first countries to implement a nationwide vaccination drive, offering a range of COVID-19 vaccine free of charge to residents. It is today among the countries with the highest vaccination rates in the world, with more than 80 per cent of the population being fully vaccinated as of this month. In addition, residents are also already receiving booster shots if they have completed their vaccination six months ago.
Latest treatment methods
In addition to vaccine trials, health officials have continued to review and introduce the latest treatments against COVID-19, including plasmapheresis, stem cell therapies and now, a monoclonal antibody treatment – Sotrovimab – that has dramatically reduced hospitalisation and mortality among COVID-19 patients. This kind of flexibility in the healthcare system has been instrumental in helping the UAE maintain low COVID-19 mortality rates.
-Regular information: Federal and local authorities in the country have released a steady stream of reliable information for residents through press briefings and social media channels.
“Till today, we urge residents to rely on these official channels for information, and to verify anything they hear from friends or family. Take the example of people who are afraid to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Where are they getting this information from when all the scientific data shows that vaccines minimise the symptoms of COVID-19 infection?” Dr Al Kaabi said.
In addition to this, the UAE implemented quarantine programmes and home quarantine regulations for those arriving from abroad. Dr Al Kaabi explained that this is still in place in Abu Dhabi.
“Moreover, we now also have monitoring capability that enable us to take proactive action before symptoms develop,” he added.
Focus on high-risk individuals
The UAE also implemented special programmes to get COVID-19 vaccinations to the elderly in the comfort of their homes. At the same time, delivery networks ramped up efforts to deliver treatment and medication to at-risk individuals at their homes, while telehealth systems took many leaps forward in treating patients remotely.
Expo 2020 anticipation
“The difficult times that the world and the UAE have witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic taught us many valuable lessons and pushed us to seize opportunities. Given where we have reached, everyone is now waiting for Expo 2020 to begin, and today feels like a celebration of our achievements thus far,” Dr Al Kaabi said.
Dr Ali Saeed Al Dhaheri, chairman of the University’s board of directors, thanked the UAE leadership for its proactive strategy to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
“[In the initial days of the pandemic], His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, urged the people of the UAE not to worry, and these words will always resonate with nations due to their powerful effect. His statement managed to reduce public panic and provide hope at times where desperation seemed to fill the air,” Al Dhaheri remembered.