Here is a Look at How Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Oman Responded to the COVID-19 Pandemic
While there hasn’t been a perfect response to the Coronavirus pandemic, some countries seem to have fared better than others and reported a lower mortality rate. Countries in the Middle East could have feared the worst when Iran became one of the pandemic’s epicenters, but some of them managed to contain the spread of the virus.
The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly taken the world by storm, and countries have addressed the challenge in different manners. Some have elected to go into complete lockdown for weeks, closing down borders, schools, and all non-essential businesses, even penalizing people who dared to venture outside. Others like Sweden have taken a softer approach and haven’t changed much of their lifestyle.
In this post, we are taking a look at how four countries in the Middle East, namely Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Oman, have responded to the challenge. Being so close to Iran, the epicenter of the pandemic in the Middle East, meant drastic measures had to be taken to make sure the virus wouldn’t spread too fast or too widely, overwhelming the countries’ capabilities in terms of healthcare resources.
The response of the State of Kuwait was swift and robust. The first Gulf State to implement nationwide curfews and a border lockdown by halting all inbound and outbound commercial flights from March to August, Kuwait also suspended work at most private businesses and public establishments starting early March.
All public gatherings were banned, with the closure of mosques, malls, schools, and universities. Two cities that were suspected of having high numbers of infections were quarantined. Masks were made compulsory, and people who would not comply faced hefty fines and even jail time.
It is worth noting that, because of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak in 2012, Kuwait had some experience dealing with COVID-like diseases. Triage units specialized in respiratory illnesses have already been set up in hospitals, which tremendously helped take care of patients exhibiting COVID-related symptoms.
The Kuwaiti government also adopted a series of measures to help businesses and the general population cope with the economic consequences of the pandemic. Among these, a stimulus package was created to help small- and medium-sized companies, loan repayments were postponed for three months, a national donations drive was set up to help the population in need, 30,000 Kuwaitis were repatriated for free from other countries, a month’s salary was disbursed to all Kuwaiti students abroad, and the state supply company was directed to cover any basic food shortages.
Some restrictions have now been lifted. For example, international travel is authorized again, except when coming from certain high-risk countries, and a two-week quarantine is in place for the foreseeable future. Most lockdown orders and curfews have been lifted, but some activities remain restricted (parties, weddings, funerals, etc.).
The United Arab Emirates:
The UAE started responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in early March. A curfew was declared to allow for deep cleaning overnight, except for essential workers. Violators were facing heavy fines. Public transport was suspended, and remote work was implemented (in Dubai, 100% of government employees and 80% of private-sector employees had to switch to remote, except for essential businesses). A 3-day National Sterilisation Drive took place from March 26th to March 29th.
All public venues were closed, and mass gatherings were all canceled. Schools and universities closed early March, while commercial centers, shopping malls, and markets had to close starting March 23rd. Cinemas, gyms, camps, and nightclubs, all had to close down in March as well. Elective surgeries were postponed. Strict lockdowns were imposed along with social distancing measures.
Passenger flights were suspended, and a 14-day quarantine at home was imposed mid-March for passengers returning from countries with an outbreak. All tourist visas were stopped mid-March, and Dubai and Abu Dhabi shut down their main tourist attractions to limit mass gatherings.
The country also implemented mass testing (as of June 7th, 28% of the population have been tested), and masks were made compulsory.
The government took several measures to help the population and businesses cope with the economic consequences of the pandemic: encouraging lending to businesses, lowering or even suspending various fees, lowering electricity and water bills, deferring loan installments, suspending all evictions, etc.
In April, some restrictions were lifted, and malls and restaurants were authorized for reopening. Precautionary measures included temperature checks, social distancing monitoring at supermarkets, and marked-off empty seats could also be found on the Metro in Dubai.
Qatar took stringent measures to stop the spread of the virus in March. All incoming flights were canceled, all non-essential shops were forced to shut down while working hours were restricted for all other stores. Universities, schools, and museums had to close as well. Public transport was suspended for disinfection.
A stimulus package was put in place to help the private sector survive the economic shutdown consequences.
Since June, the State of Qatar has started easing the restrictions. The process was set to take place in 4 phases, with phase 1 starting on June 15th, phase 2 on July 1st, phase 3 on August 1st, and phase 4 on September 1st.
For restrictions to be lifted and the country to move forward through the different phases, the government has established 9 KPIs that have to be met (e.g., continued decline in the percentage of cases, sufficient capacity for all emergency patients, enough capacity to process tests daily, etc.).
People have to follow several precautionary measures, ranging from observing a 2 meters physical distance, to wearing masks, practicing hand hygiene, and using the Ehteraz app.
The Omani government introduced measures to curb the spread of the virus in March. In a first effort early March, retail outlets were strongly encouraged to install sanitizing stations. Oman’s Supreme Committee for Dealing with COVID-19 was created on March 10th, and was tasked with taking nationwide decisions regarding the pandemic.
Then, similarly to what other countries were doing, more drastic measures were implemented: schools and universities were suspended from March 15th, all gatherings and events were banned, and mosques, souks, cinemas, gyms, and non-essential shops had to shut down. Most public transports were also suspended mid-March.
The “Work from Home” initiative was also launched in March, along with a switch to online learning. Lockdowns were implemented in April, effectively restricting movement between governorates. Wearing face masks in public was made compulsory in May, with violators facing fines and detention. Around the same time, some businesses were allowed to resume their activity if they complied with preventive measures.
All domestic and international air traffic was effectively haltedstarting March 29th, except for cargo traffic and some repatriation flights. A trial flight took place on July 1st, but regular air traffic has yet to resume, and several requirements will have to be followed. For example, travelers will need to show proof of valid international health insurance; they will be subjected to a 14-day quarantine upon arrival to Oman; they have to register in the Tarassud app, etc.
Several measures were put in place to help businesses and the general population whether the pandemic’s economic consequences, such as a three-month waiver on utility bills, a reduction in various fees, the deferment of loans/interest, etc.
The COVID-19 pandemic has spared no region of the world, and the Middle East is no exception. With Iran, the epicenter of the pandemic in the area, close by, Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar, and Oman, could have ended up with a catastrophic situation on their hands. These four countries’ governments chose to implement very firm measures to curb the pandemic as early as March, including lockdowns, curfews, and forced quarantines.
These steps seem to have paid off as the number of deaths per 100K population is at 12.76 for Kuwait, 3.94 for the UAE, 7.05 for Qatar, and 14.18 for Oman, compared to 26.11 for Iran.