The week the UAE welcomed the world

Key figures in the international defence world gathered at Abu Dhabi's Idex. WAM
Key figures in the international defence world gathered at Abu Dhabi's Idex. WAM

This has been an eventful week for the UAE.

At a two-day retreat, the country's government formulated a new edition of the National Agenda, part of a framework to shape the development of the Emirates for the next half-century. In outer space, building on the UAE's successful Hope Probe to Mars, students from one of the nation's leading universities saw their satellite, DhabiSat, arrive at the International Space Station, where it will now gather data and high-resolution images for research.

Idex, Abu Dhabi's world-famous biennial international defence exhibition, brought together industry experts from across the globe. It is one of the largest forums of its kind in the world, and a key chance to secure some of the most valuable investment deals for the arms industry. Idex ends with the UAE Armed Forces signing deals worth $5.7 billion. Capital inflow at this level shows how the Emirati defence sector is already a mainstay of the national economic diversification strategy.

At the same time, Dubai hosted Gulfood, an international gathering of 2,500 culinary sector exhibitors. It is a rare bit of good news for the hospitality and food sectors, which have both had a particularly difficult time as a result of the restrictions imposed around the world during the coronavirus pandemic. At Gulfood, firms from 85 countries were in attendance.

Gulfood is the world’s first in-person food and beverages industry event in the past year. AFP
Gulfood is the world’s first in-person food and beverages industry event in the past year. AFP

The UAE has shown that it is possible to host mass gatherings safely

Arguably, the most significant thing about both Idex and Gulfood is that they were in-person events. This would have been the norm before the pandemic, especially during the UAE's winter months. Nowadays, they are a novelty that only the most prepared and strategic organisers are capable of pulling off.

At Idex, strict measures were applied across the 35,000 square metres of exhibition space. To allow global participation, international attendees were exempt from Abu Dhabi's usual mandatory 10-day quarantine. However, they had to take a PCR test every 48 hours, and daily testing was encouraged. Tasting products is an integral part of any food fair, so Gulfood created kiosks in which removing masks to eat was permitted, as well as implementing one-way walking systems and deploying safety officers. At both events, attendance was reduced and carefully monitored.

People are hungry for in-person business gatherings. The UAE has shown that it is possible to host them safely, with maximum planning and precaution. But we are a long way off seeing pre-pandemic numbers of international meetings. Few countries will have the resources to pull them off. But for those that can, the benefits are tangible. Events of this kind showcase nations with the potential to become global hubs. The Emirates is among the first to do so because it has the infrastructure in place to limit the spread and severity of Covid-19. On Thursday, an event focused on innovation, dubbed "UAE Innovates", put a further spotlight on the country's ability to plan for the future.

After so long apart, people will remember fondly the time they were finally able to rekindle the personal relationships they missed, and the places that allowed them to do so.

Published: February 26, 2021 07:00 AM

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