Gulf states praised for response to coronavirus crisis

The World Health Organisation welcomed the actions of the UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait, who have all confirmed cases of the virus, and Saudi Arabia

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Gulf states have been praised for their response to coronavirus by the World Health Organisation.

Oman, the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait have all confirmed cases of the virus, and the majority acted quickly to suspend arrivals from hot spots.

On Sunday, Oman said it suspended all flights from Italy to Salalah after blocking them from Iran. The UAE has halted all flights to and from Iranian cities, apart from Tehran.

Saudi Arabia has no confirmed cases but restricted entry to the kingdom for the Umrah pilgrimage to the holy sites of Makkah and Madinah.

"I feel happy about what has been done by member states," Dr Ahmed Al Mandhari, WHO regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean told The National in Riyadh.

“A lot of states, for example, Gulf countries, they have from day one started preparing their system at points of entry in the airports or other points of entry to their country.”

He said a strong process was essential to the success of containing the virus, including ”strengthening the surveillance system, identifying those who are suspected, taking them to the healthcare facilities to make sure that yes or no.”

On Monday, the UAE chartered a flight in support of the WHO to move over Dh1 million of supplies to Iran, which is struggling with the largest outbreak outside China, where the virus originated.

Omani Dr Al Mandhari, who was appointed regional director in 2018, has also been clocking up the air miles in the fight against coronavirus. He was in Kuwait on Saturday and Bahrain on Monday – both countries have halted flights from Iran in a bid to halt the spread of the virus.

He said all this travel costs money, and appealed for members states to inject more cash into co-ordinating the battle against the disease. The WHO has called for $675 million (Dh2.48 billion) to fund the fight against coronavirus.

“We are seeking funds. We're trying to get funds because this sort of support to member States needs resources. It needs money,” he said.

“Hiring experts, sending them to these member States, their travels, their program, you know, and also supplies needs money and funds. So this is what we are doing at all levels.”

That’s not to say member states and other organisations have not been generous.

UN Humanitarian Chief Mark Lowcock on Sunday released $15m from the Central Emergency Response Fund to help fund global efforts to contain Covid-19, with the money split between the UN’s children’s fund and the WHO.

“At this pivotal moment, every effort must be made to push back against the outbreak,” said Unicef executive director Henrietta Fore. “These crucial funds will support our global efforts to bolster weaker health systems and inform children, pregnant women and families about how to protect themselves.”


Despite his encouragement about the Gulf’s handling of coronavirus, Dr Al Mandhari said the region faced many other health challenges exacerbated by weak healthcare systems.

“It is one of the difficult regions among the six WHO regions, but I always tell my colleagues it is a very inspiring one,” he said, describing the moment he brought a Polio survivor on stage at the WHO regional health forum in Tehran last year.

“I told them very clearly that this man got Polio because his immunity is weak and his immunity is weak because our healthcare system is weak. We did not vaccinate him and our healthcare system is weak, we missed that child by not vaccinating him."

The WHO found there are more people in need of humanitarian assistance and more forcibly displaced people in the Eastern Mediterranean than in any other WHO region.

Eight of its 22 countries faced emergencies in 2018, and a further seven were directly or indirectly affected by them.