UAE is approaching the next phase of the pandemic – recovery

Even as it warns against complacency, the country's leadership is moving the ball forward

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, May 10, 2020.  
 The reopening of the Al Wahda Mall during the Coronavirus pandemic.  Distance signs on the mall floors.
Victor Besa/The National
Section:  NA
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The news this week that new coronavirus cases in the UAE are falling may well be a sign that a corner has been turned in the pandemic. The past few days of data show sharp declines in new infection rates from their peak at the end of January and early February.

The country's vaccination programme, meanwhile, continues at pace. Government data shows the rate of distribution is currently more than 67 doses per 100 people. Close to seven million doses have already been administered.

This is no time to relax, of course, even as each piece of encouraging data is released, which explains why officials talked on Tuesday evening of the measures that have been put in place to avoid a new spike in infections during Ramadan, including rules regarding public gatherings and exchanging food.

This global crisis has repeatedly taught us the folly of complacency. Only this week politicians in France have warned of a gathering third wave of infections in Europe.

The lingua franca of last summer, encapsulated in the idea of a “new normal” settling across society once the worst of the pandemic was over, now seems a totally inadequate way of describing the changes that have and will continue to occur to our everyday lives in the years ahead. Now, however, we are starting to discern what the post-pandemic world might look like, especially in the UAE.

Mohammed Al Gergawi, Minister of Cabinet Affairs, last week said the challenges the post-Covid-19 world faces rival those of the post-conflict reconstruction years of the late 1940s following the end of the Second World War. Few people would regard this as a hyperbolic statement, such has been the complexity and far-reaching nature of this year-long crisis. Making his remarks at the World Government Summit Dialogues, Mr Al Gergawi also suggested that those challenges would define the next decade but they would be met with "new motivation" to face them head on.

On Tuesday, the UAE unveiled its plans to celebrate the country's 50th anniversary this year. Announcing the "Year of the 50th", President Sheikh Khalifa reminded citizens and residents that the "rapidly changing world" of today provides opportunities for innovation and creativity.

We have seen several examples of this perspective this week.

The official logo for the UAE's 50th year celebrations. Wam

On Sunday evening, the Securities and Commodities Authority announced that listed companies in the UAE will be required to have at least one female director on their boards. Minister of Economy, Abdulla bin Touq, said the move was designed to ensure UAE companies met the highest global standards. It certainly marks the UAE as a regional leader and sets a marker on the road.

The previous day, Dubai unveiled its 2040 urban master plan. The strategy set forward by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid will overhaul the city's landscape as it continues to develop people-led solutions and to continue to build out its reputation as a magnet for regional talent, essentially providing the city with the tools for the future.

Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology, has hosted a series of Future of Industry Dialogues, to help develop the country's competitive advantages, most recently at the weekend.

A photo of young and confident Arab businesswoman discussing in a meeting. Emirati woman wearing traditional abaya. Middle Eastern professional female is gesturing towards colleague while sitting in board room meeting.
This global crisis has repeatedly taught us the folly of complacency

Recent banking data also indicates economic bounce back is expected to be driven by services sector revival. An Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank survey released this week noted strong pent-up demand and an anticipated "return in consumption".

And on Monday, the Mohamed bin Zayed Majlis for Future Generations gave us a wide angle view of the nation's future. The meeting involved the participation of a dozen Cabinet ministers and many more officials.

The message that came out was that the country will emerge from the pandemic with resilience and purpose. The long-held commitment to a knowledge-based economy is unbreakable, but we will see even greater emphasis on technological innovation and on renewable energy.

Perhaps the most intriguing vision that emerged from the Majlis for Future Generations was of the social shifts that are occurring, which have been accelerated by the pandemic.

Responding to a question regarding social media and mental health and recognising the toll the past year has had on many communities and individuals, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, said that "mental health must be considered as important as physical health", while also saying that it is vital that the stigma that was once previously been attached to these subjects must be banished forever. "There is no shame in having them," he said.

It is clear that the complex renegotiation all of us have been forced to undertake, and will continue to have to do so this year, will leave behind scars that will take time to heal. The prolonged uncertainty of the situation creates an uneasy tension for many. That's why it is all the more important that societies and economies don't just snap back to what they were at the end of 2019, but reimagine themselves and regenerate to address our new circumstances.

We can already see a strong sense of purpose in the UAE’s short and long-term responses, with commitments to international co-operation, candid recognition and social awareness to address the rapidly changing world, backed by strategic economic stimulus and investment.

Nick March is an assistant editor-in-chief at The National