Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 1 April 2020

Coronavirus is jeopardising jobs

Governments, responsible companies and compassionate individuals are stepping up to help

Dubai's Burj Khalifa lights up with a message "Stay Home" reminding citizens to stay put amid the coronavirus pandemic. AFP
Dubai's Burj Khalifa lights up with a message "Stay Home" reminding citizens to stay put amid the coronavirus pandemic. AFP

The coronavirus pandemic has confined one fifth of the world's population to their homes and the number of infected people has risen to nearly half a million. Unfortunately, the victims of coronavirus are not limited to those who have contracted the disease. Millions of people are at risk of losing their source of income overnight.

In Lebanon, on Tuesday, taxi driver Salim Khadouj set himself and his car on fire in despair, after receiving a fine that he could not afford to pay for violating lockdown rules. He is still recovering from severe burns at the hospital. The father of four and sole breadwinner of his family had seen his financial situation deteriorate over the past months and felt he had no choice but to put his health at risk to provide for his loved ones. The country is reeling under an unprecedented financial crisis, which is now further compounded by the coronavirus.

Mr Khadouj’s story is not an isolated case. From Lebanon to the US, France, the rest of Europe and indeed, across the world, the pandemic has put businesses big and small in a tight economic spot, jeopardising the livelihoods of millions. In the US alone, the number of people who have lost their jobs and now seeking unemployment benefits has soared in just a few weeks.

In response, communities have shown extraordinary solidarity. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Mr Khadouj and it garnered more than $10,000 in one day.

Governments and responsible companies have also launched initiatives to save jobs and, by extension, the economy. Countries around the world are announcing initiatives to deal with this unprecedented situation. The US is planning to roll out a stimulus package of $2 trillion to curb the economic impact of the virus.

Economists are expecting the impact of COVID-19 to be far-reaching and it is already being felt, especially in the tourism and aviation sectors. Airplane maker Boeing, for one, is seeking $60 billion in US government loans, but while big companies usually get their fair share of support during times of recession, it is important to also provide help for the small and medium enterprises, the businesses run by ordinary citizens.

In the words of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and ruler of Dubai, now is a time “for unity, cooperation and solidarity to fight the worst enemy of humankind.” Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces said "I'd like to recognise all the small, medium and large businesses in the UAE that have risen up with initiatives and programs that support the people of the UAE'.

In times of crisis, big businesses need financial help, but the safety net needs to be expanded to cover smaller businesses

The UAE Central Bank has allotted Dh126.5 billion to keep the economy afloat. Electricity bills have been reduced by 10 per cent for people and businesses. Abu Dhabi has decided to waive road toll charges and cut utility bills for the rest of the year to support everyone during these difficult times.

Al Futtaim Group also announced it will offer Dh100 million fund to lend a helping hand to retailers affected by the pandemic, including three months of rent relief in its malls across the UAE. Abu Dhabi government has announced that financial institutions have come up with 17 financial initiatives to help individuals and small and medium businesses.

Some companies have found creative ways of saving their employees’ jobs. Majid Al Futaim's Vox Cinema and Ski Dubai will redeploy 1,000 staff workers to Carrefour supermarkets, which are facing a larger number of customers during the current crisis.

In times of crisis, big businesses need financial help, but the safety net needs to be expanded to cover smaller, family-run businesses and neighbourhood stores. A holistic approach is required to curb the spread of coronavirus, but also to save jobs, and provide relief for individuals. We must come together to save lives - and livelihoods.

Updated: March 29, 2020 09:12 PM

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