Coronavirus: UAE was braced for Covid-19 impact due to long-term investment in services, study finds

Support for health care and education allowed the country to 'enter the pandemic in a position of considerable strength'

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Years of investment in health, education and infrastructure put the UAE in a strong position to weather the storm of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new study.

The Covid-19 Response Report found the UAE's long-term approach to bolstering its services allied with its swift response to the rise of the coronavirus were vital to mitigating the impact of a health crisis that has gripped the globe.

The research was carried out by the Oxford Business Group, a global business intelligence and advisory firm, and the University of Manchester Middle East Centre in Dubai.

Investment in the healthcare sector was increased by the government from Dh3.83 billion in 2016 to Dh4.84bn this year, the report revealed.

“Sustained investment in health infrastructure in recent years allowed the UAE to enter the pandemic in a position of considerable strength," read the report.

It said the UAE's expansion of its Covid-19 testing capabilities was crucial to its goal of limiting the spread of the virus.

As of Tuesday, the UAE had carried out close to 17 million tests since the outbreak began.

Andrew Jeffreys, Oxford Business Group's chief executive, said that while the UAE had to wrestle with the challenges posed by Covid-19 and lower oil prices, successful efforts to put strong, broader economic foundations in place before the pandemic arrived bode well for its recovery.

“Businesses remain concerned about the impact of Covid-19 and consumer sentiment will have a key part to play in driving recovery, both in the Emirates and beyond,” Mr Jeffreys said.

“Our research shows that the UAE’s private sector is adapting to the new normal, having benefited from supportive action in the early stages of the outbreak and the country’s focus on achieving the goals laid out in its National Vision 2021 road map.”

Our research shows that the UAE's private sector is adapting to the new normal, having benefited from supportive action in the early stages of the outbreak

The UAE’s focus on healthcare spending had led the sector to improve considerably across several indicators, including beds, doctors and nurses per capita.

The number of hospital beds in the UAE increased from 9,000 in 2012 to more than 12,000 in 2017.

Data from the Ministry of Health and Prevention in 2018 showed there were 24,345 doctors in the UAE, with 2.53 physicians per 1,000 people.

The UAE had a clinical workforce of 118,121 in 2018.

Patrick Cooke, Oxford Business Group regional editor, said that the sustained efforts to diversify the economy and build an advanced medical ecosystem, along with an increasingly skilled workforce, strengthened the UAE’s resilience before the pandemic.

People in the UAE still worried about job security

Although the UAE has delivered a robust response to the pandemic, there is still caution mixed with optimism among the business community.

An April study by Ipsos, a market research company, found that 58 per cent people in the UAE were concerned about their job security, and 32 per cent said Covid-19 posed a very high risk to their job or business.

Another report by McKinsey and Company, an American management consulting firm, found that 61 per cent of Emirati consumer were optimistic about the UAE's economic recovery in June.

The Oxford Business Group surveyed 109 chief executives in the region in July and found that six out of 10 believed they would almost be back to regular business by September this year.

Four in five bosses said the pandemic had permanently changed the way they communicated with their customers.

UAE was ready to take education online

The report said that the long-term investment in public and private education infrastructure meant schools and universities were equipped with the technology to quickly shift lessons online.

Schools and universities in the UAE moved classes online in March when they had to close to control the spread of Covid-19.

The report forecast a spike in demand for part-time blended learning courses as working professionals looked to improve their skills.

Randa Bessiso, Middle East director at the University of Manchester, said soft skills such as leadership, creativity, innovation and adaptability would remain essential.

“I believe we will see a surge in creative partnerships between educational institutions, as organisations try to build on our new collective experience and quickly add capabilities, resources and reach," Ms Bessiso said.

How the UAE was primed for the pandemic: