Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 10 July 2020

The UAE's public sector leads the gradual return to office and normality

Starting on Sunday, a third of Dubai's government employees will return to their workplaces

Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai during the Eid break. Jeffrey Biteng / The National
Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai during the Eid break. Jeffrey Biteng / The National

After more than eight weeks of staying at home and working from home, some of the UAE's residents and citizens are set to return to their offices.

Even before Wednesday's announcement, an easing of stay-at-home measures meant that non-essential businesses had started to lift their shutters. People had begun to venture out. Signs of commercial activity were visible in malls, restaurants, supermarkets, salons, gyms and cinemas across the country.

As the world enters the sixth month of living with the virus, the decision to resume life and restart more businesses is a positive development that has a huge bearing on people's earnings, the health of the economy and indeed the future of work

In terms of offices, however, it is those of public-sector institutions that are leading the gradual return to normality. Starting on Sunday, a third of federal employees will be allowed to return to their workplaces. By June 14, Dubai's entire government workforce will follow suit. The percentage is expected to increase dependent upon the level of society-wide progress in efforts to flatten the rate of coronavirus infections. However, exceptions have been made for those who need to remain at home.

As has been stated before in these pages, the events of this year have crippled economies across the world. Covid-19 has killed over 356,000 people and blighted countless livelihoods. The pandemic is still very much a threat. But as the world enters the sixth month of living with the virus, the decision to resume life and restart more businesses is a positive development that has a huge bearing on people's earnings, the health of the economy and indeed the future of work. It also marks an important milestone in the UAE's efforts against the spread of the virus.

Government services and institutions are indispensable to day-to-day living. Significant efforts to digitise processes and services have allowed for government to continue. Without them, economies cannot function effectively. It is fitting, then, that a definitive re-emergence should begin with federal institutions paving the way for other sectors. As even employees return to the workplace – albeit with measures such as temperature checks, social distancing and new hygiene norms in place – the matter of personal responsibility gains tremendous importance. We have to learn to live with the threat of Covid-19. Given this reality, being careful to neither catch nor spread the virus cannot be overstated. A personal duty to wear a face mask takes on the dimension of social responsibility.

The UAE has been prepared to deal with the pandemic and its fallout. The investments in field hospitals and the Dh256 billion economic stimulus package are just some of the measures the country preemptively took to support lives and livelihoods.

The country's sustained fight to contain the spread of the virus has been evident from the start, and acknowledged recently by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which said the UAE "has proven to be an important and innovative partner" in the global response to the pandemic.

And in the plan to return to work, the authorities have in place crucial and thoughtful exceptions of those who don't have to get back to office just yet: pregnant women, peo­ple with disabilities, those with chronic diseases and so on can all continue to work from home.

As Dr Amna Al Dhahak, spokeswoman for the UAE government, said: “Resuming business is very important [but] reopening does not mean lifting the precautionary measures, they are there to stay – such as wearing masks, washing your hands regularly, street sterilisation programmes and applying physical distancing at all times.”

Even as countries cautiously open up to the new normal, the human toll of the virus and the devastation it still wreaks must be borne in mind.

Updated: May 28, 2020 09:38 PM

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