Data is a driver, not a liability, for a proper Covid-19 response

A Saudi man wearing a protective face mask performs the Friday prayers inside the Al Rajhi Mosque, in Riyadh. Reuters
A Saudi man wearing a protective face mask performs the Friday prayers inside the Al Rajhi Mosque, in Riyadh. Reuters

In countries around the world, strict rules put in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus are gradually being eased, with varying degrees of incrementalism and haste. Yesterday, the world reached the tragic milestone of 7 million infections globally, with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia both hitting the 100,000 case mark. As coronavirus cases continue to soar around the world, a cautious and sensible approach is merited.

Saudi Arabia’s infection rates have been particularly high over the last few days, in large part due to the kingdom's rigorous testing regime and an approach to public policy driven by transparency and co-operation. The kingdom has collected data about infection rates since the early days of the pandemic, with numbers available city by city and governorate by governorate made entirely public.

Saudi Arabia was also among the first of the Gulf nations to impose restrictions in heavily-impacted areas. Authorities are doing their best to use data to inform their coronavirus response, utilising facts and numbers as an essential tool in the fight against the disease instead of treating open information as a liability.

Riyadh has also provided free testing and medical care for all those infected, and has taken care to communicate its national strategy widely among the general public. Other Gulf nations have implemented a similar approach, with the UAE leading the way when it comes to mass testing and supporting vulnerable communities with free medical assistance and screenings. The UAE has also ensured regular updates on cases, recoveries and testing, providing data essential for public awareness and planning.

Elsewhere in the world, withholding this crucial information has proven to be potentially catastrophic. Brazil is a case in point. Since Friday, Brasilia stopped releasing the overall number of cases and deaths in the country, in addition to erasing past data from the government’s official website. The move was reportedly ordered by President Jair Bolsonaro and has been met with widespread criticism. The most populous Latin American nation has become a global hotspot for the coronavirus, second only to the US in total number of cases with nearly 700,000 people infected.

No matter the strength of any government response to coronavirus, responsibility also lies with the public to curb the virus’s spread and to protect one another from the disease it causes. Individual actions, including wearing masks, are crucial to the next stage in battling the virus.

Saudi authorities are using data to inform their coronavirus response, instead of treating open information as a liability

In late April, Saudi Health Minister Tawfiq Al Rabiah warned that up to 200,000 people living in the kingdom could become infected with the coronavirus within weeks if citizens and residents do not respect new public health rules meant to protect them from disease.

“We are at a critical juncture that requires a rising to responsibility as a society” Mr Al Rabiah forewarned. While it may be difficult for some essential workers to practise physical distancing or to work from home, the rest of society bears a responsibility to abide by new public health rules in order to ensure that all of the efforts gone into fighting the pandemic are not wasted. A holistic approach to this global health crisis is crucial. This includes countries tailoring their strategies to targeted areas that require more attention, as well as strengthening global co-operation through data sharing and open communication. All countries have a responsibility to fight this pandemic.

Published: June 9, 2020 08:00 AM

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