On Tuesday, officials in the UAE said that a decline in the number of Covid-19 infections over the past two weeks has brought a return to normality in the country "a step closer". In the same statement, however, they announced almost 56,000 recorded breaches of Covid-19 restrictions throughout February. Almost half were for failing to wear masks, highlighting that although progress is being made in the Emirates, the risks posed by public complacency remains high.
At his address to the World Government Summit when, Mohammad Al Gergawi, Minister of Cabinet Affairs and the Future, predicted that the generation emerging from the pandemic will face challenges similar to those encountered after the Second World War. He also discussed the need for governments to be agile in the circumstances. In the Emirates, this has been expressed in the form of a dynamic regime of public health measures that can adapt as the day-to-day dangers of the pandemic rise or subside.
It is also embodied in a widespread commitment across the public and private sectors to retool the country’s technological resources and healthcare infrastructure to prioritise more efficient and widespread testing and vaccination schemes. Abu Dhabi International Airport, for instance, now offers free PCR tests to all arriving passengers, with results available in 90 minutes. The country's inoculation programme now has the capacity to provide a third dose of the coronavirus vaccine to individuals in rare instances in which their immune systems did not respond to an ordinary dosage.
Abu Dhabi recently announced that all vaccinated government employees will still have to undergo a monthly PCR test to ensure that transmission rates, even among the inoculated, remain low. And even as cases fall, plans are underway to build seven Covid-19 field hospitals this month.
The need for flexibility extends to economic policy also. Dubai, for instance, has extended a three-year freeze on fees for a number of government services, in order to boost competitiveness as businesses navigate difficult times.
The urgency of taking the necessary steps to restore the economy by making society safer cannot be overstated. At the Culture Summit Abu Dhabi this week, a conference organised by the Department for Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi which ended yesterday, leading figures in the global creative sector emphasised the extent to which their industry has been impacted over the past year. According to some estimates, the losses in creative royalties alone amount to $4 billion.
This year’s Culture Summit took place virtually. But, as demonstrated last month by the successful staging of two in-person, large-scale international exhibitions, Idex in Abu Dhabi and Gulfood in Dubai, agility in public health policy can translate into major economic returns. It can also reignite confidence, at home and abroad, that the days of travel and global gatherings will not be behind us for too long.
By now, the cyclical nature of the pandemic has become obvious. Even with the roll out of vaccines, many nations are bracing for new waves of infection. In the UK, England's chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, has said that many more could die if restrictions are lifted too hastily.
The agility of the UAE's response to the crisis has been the envy of many other nations. But it has not been without sacrifice, both from the public purse and from the country’s residents. And so it must not be taken for granted. One year on, maintaining progress will depend on continued discipline, vigilance and flexibility among the public, even as things start to look up.