Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 30 September 2020

How UAE got its Covid-19 strategy so spot on

Decision-making in the country, for one, has been united and coherent during the pandemic, and this has been crucial

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, and Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, and Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces

Like the rest of the world, GCC countries have been afflicted with Covid-19. The response of member states to its fallout, however, has been expectedly diverse, as there are inherent differences in the layout within these countries.

Political scientists have long measured the degree of development in a country by its capacity to extract resources from society.

Except for the recent indirect taxation, GCC countries have not had to depend on their societies to finance the government. Most countries in the region have been endowed with oil and natural gas, which has obviated the need for taxation.

There is little doubt that Gulf countries have evolved greatly in their institutional capacities. Their response to the coronavirus pandemic corroborates this.

Take the case of the UAE. As an indicator of the UAE's political development, if we use the pandemic to measure the country's capacity to control the disease, one can ascertain exactly how the UAE has evolved.

Located close to the regional centre of the pandemic – Iran – the UAE government had to mobilise at once to stop the virus dead in its tracks. It closed public spaces such as mosques, gymnasiums, stadiums and parks, and barred public gatherings – including weddings and funerals. Since then, social distancing, self-isolation, working from home, and remote learning have become the norm.

The government ordered a daily lockdown from dusk to dawn, even adjusting the times during Ramadan. During this period, authorities carried out a daily nationwide decontamination programme. Drive-through testing facilities were set up to provide easy public access and to encourage people to get tested.

Cases in the country have reached 60,999, including 351 deaths and more than 54,615 recoveries. In short, the situation is under control, especially when compared to some other countries.

When countries face a crisis of this magnitude, leadership counts for a lot and the UAE’s leadership is cohesive

So what accounts for such success? To answer this question we must delve into the course of political development of the UAE. Essentially, four factors explain this achievement.

First is leadership. When countries face a crisis of this magnitude, leadership counts for a lot and the UAE’s leadership is cohesive. Since the country’s inception in 1971, leaders of all seven emirates have understood the importance of unity.

Al Nasr Club and Shabab Al Ahli drive-through coronavirus testing centres will be closed during the Eid holidays. Chris Whiteoak / The National
A drive-through coronavirus testing centre in Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

The country’s political system is unique in one way: the UAE’s federal authority is the total of all emirates. The Federal Supreme Council, the highest authority in the land, consists of rulers of the seven emirates and when the council makes a decision, everybody is committed to implement it.

The outcome is that decision-making has been united and coherent during the pandemic, which is crucial. Unlike in some other countries, we have not seen squabbles between federal and local authorities. The whole country has certainly marched in lockstep.

Second is natural resources. The UAE has been able to harness these well and has been prudent in spending the wealth it has earned from these resources.

It has also invested heavily in infrastructure, including in its healthcare system, which has paid off handsomely during the crisis.

Financial wherewithal has translated into hospitals, equipment and a talented workforce that includes doctors, nurses and other health workers. The UAE has managed to tap into foreign expertise as well as develop local talent.

Today, the country has one of the highest ratio of doctors per population at 2.39 physicians per 1,000 people. The ratio of nurses is also among the highest in the world, at 5.89 nurses per 1,000 people.

The third factor is legitimacy. People's general perception of the government is that it is benevolent and goes the extra mile to provide care and services, and the population is grateful for this.

Government legitimacy translates into public compliance – people adhering to to regulations and guidelines. In the UAE’s case, this been useful in fighting Covid-19.

Another benefit of legitimacy is that it obligates the government to keep improving its performance, which only increases its legitimacy in the eyes of the public. This reciprocity between the government and people constitutes a healthy dynamic.

And fourth, technology and communication. These have played a crucial role in the campaign against the pandemic. The UAE is one of the most wired countries with the fastest download speed in the region, according to the consumer website cable.co.uk.

Cell-phone subscription is also among the highest in the world – a return on the country's heavy investment in communication capabilities early on.

Technological advances coupled with a cadre of well-trained communication experts enabled the government to effectively disseminate pandemic-related information. For example, before the daily lockdown, a message went out to every mobile-phone subscriber to stay home.

Monitoring systems on the streets made enforcement easy too, with appropriate punitive measures taken against offenders.

Overall, during the pandemic the UAE has shown how far it has come and that it has well-developed institutions to mobilise resources, make decisions and implement policies.

There is no doubt that these are all telling signs of a country with immense capabilities and a high level of political development.

Albadr Alshateri is a former professor at the National Defense College in Abu Dhabi

Updated: August 3, 2020 09:18 AM

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