Coronavirus: sectors thriving despite the economic gloom

Companies related to health tech, drones, last-mile delivery and e-commerce have seen a rise in demand

Joseph Alvarado steps down from the back of the van as he makes deliveries for Amazon during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Costa Mesa, California, U.S., March 23, 2020.      REUTERS/Alex Gallardo
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The coronavirus outbreak has impacted businesses worldwide and wiped more than $20 trillion (Dh73.5tn) off the value of global equity markets.

Businesses across various industries have been forced to readjust their strategies in response to the social distancing measures put in place to contain the spread of Covid-19. Sectors such as aviation, tourism and hospitality are among the worst-hit.

However, there are businesses that are thriving during the pandemic as they experience a spike in demand for their products and services.

The National looks at a few industries where there is a surge in activity.

Health start-ups

Healthcare technology firms that offer home diagnostics and telemedicine services are witnessing a rush in the number of customers and queries.

Okadoc – a UAE-based instant doctor-booking company – recorded a jump in traffic to its platform after the coronavirus outbreak.

“In the first 15 days of March we received the same number of appointment requests or traffic that we got in full February. It is accelerating even more with each passing day,” said Fodhil Benturquia, founder and chief executive of Okadoc.

The start-up is also gearing up to launch a telemedicine service in the next couple of weeks to tackle the increasing rush of patients.

A telemedicine service allows patients to have virtual consultations with a doctor remotely.


The drone industry has seen an increase in business over the past two months and industry analysts predict the trend to continue.

Drone technology that had previously been used to spray pesticides in agricultural fields was effectively used by China to spray disinfectants in public places and on prevention vehicles travelling across affected areas.

Countries including China, Spain and South Korea are using drones to keep an eye on people during lockdown campaigns. Drone company Antwork has flown medical samples and quarantine materials in China's Xinchang province in February at a time when the pandemic was at its peak.

epa08319147 A drone pilot of the Civil Protection agency operates one of the three drones supplied to the municipality of Opera, near Milan, 24 March 2020. The drones are used to monitor citizens' compliance with the rules restricting movement amid the national lockdown implemented in a bid to slow down the ongoing pandemic of the COVID-19 disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that is ravaging the Mediterranean country.  EPA/MATTEO CORNER
A drone pilot of the Civil Protection agency operates one of three drones supplied to the municipality of Opera, near Milan. The drones are used to monitor citizens' compliance with rules restricting movement amid a nationwide lockdown. EPA

Delivering medical samples by drone can significantly reduce unnecessary human contact throughout the transport cycle, according to a World Economic Forum report.

“It can also speed feedback for critical tests needed by patients and medical workers,” it added.


E-commerce companies are witnessing an overwhelming demand from customers placing online orders for packed foods and household goods as they avoid congested supermarkets and stores.

Global technology giant Amazon recently announced plans to hire 100,000 more staff at its fulfillment centres and across its delivery network to meet rising demand.

“Due to mobility restrictions and fear of going to public places, consumers are turning to e-commerce for their daily needs,” said Arif Saiyad, chief executive of Dubai-based platform Zon.

However, one of the main challenges faced by the sector is supply chain disruption as they struggle to meet increasing demand.

Last mile and services delivery companies 

With people staying at home to stop the spread of the coronavirus, last mile delivery companies that transport essential goods such as grocery and medicine are experiencing a surge in business.

Instashop, an online grocery delivery company, said its orders have risen more than 53 per cent month-on-month, with a significant increase from the end of February.

Saudi home maintenance services start-up, Fanni App, has reported a 30 per cent increase in orders since people in the kingdom were asked to stay at home.

"There has been a good increase in the number of orders in March than the previous month," Rita Huang, founder of iMile, a Dubai-based last mile delivery company told The National. 

“We are also in the process of approaching local pharmaceutical firms and health authorities in case they need our help. We are well-equipped in the movement of such items.”

Remote online work platforms

As a greater number of people work remotely, they are turning to videoconferencing and other real-time communication tools to stay in touch with colleagues.

K’waun Conquest (L) and Parris Bender organize students before a live virtual lesson over Zoom at One Martial Arts as California continues its statewide "stay at home order" directing the state’s 40 million residents to stay in their homes in the face of the fast-spreading coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Millbrae, California, U.S. March 23, 2020. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
Students taking a live virtual lesson over Zoom. Reuters

Platforms such as Zoom, Slack and Skype are experiencing an increase in the number of users on their platforms.

In China, downloads of home-grown work apps like Alibaba's DingTalk and Tencent's WeChat Work shot up significantly over the past two months.