Coronavirus News Asia

Gulf states benefit from tough Covid-19 responses

While South Korea and New Zealand have received most of the global plaudits for exemplary pandemic strategies and public health policies, the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have been just as assertive in their responses and have also seen impressive results, given their relative circumstances.

That success was by no means a given. The pandemic and collapse of the OPEC+ deal in March sparked an oil price crash that spelled potential economic disaster. The global health crisis drastically disrupted lifestyles and service-based economies, leading to massive layoffs and expats leaving in large numbers.

Economic pressure also drove fiscal conservatism, with fears the GCC countries would need a considerable amount of time to bounce back. Several of these countries were uniquely vulnerable as important global travel hubs heavily dependent on international supply chains, both of which were severe impacted by the crisis.

Nonetheless, the members of the GCC have, for the most part, applied effective strategies that have thus far curtailed the spread of the pathogen.

Crises averted across the Gulf

The United Arab Emirates was at particular risk of becoming a pandemic hotspot. Dubai and Abu Dhabi are two of the world’s most important travel hubs, having positioned themselves over the past few years as crossroads connecting three continents by air.

Last year, Dubai International Airport handled 86.4 million passengers, 6 million more than Heathrow, and retained its first position in the world for the sixth consecutive year. Relaxed visa requirements and tourism are economic assets under normal circumstances, but with a pandemic raging, they could trigger outbreaks that are difficult to contain.

Instead, last week, the head of the UAE’s Covid-19 command and control center announced the rate of infections in the last three weeks has fallen considerably. Of some 45,000 cases, more than 32,000 have recovered. For the first time, recoveries make up more than half of total cases. The UAE’s mortality rate has also remained mercifully low, with roughly 300 deaths recorded so far.

Fellow GCC members Kuwait and Bahrain have largely replicated the UAE’s success. Early this month, Kuwait earned the maximum grade of 100% on the Government Response Stringency Index against Covid-19 compiled by Oxford University. Despite nearly 40,000 confirmed cases, the death toll has been kept to under 350 and more than 31,000 have officially recovered.

Bahrain, despite its complex ethnic and religious divides, had only seen 63 deaths as of June 22, despite having more than 5,000 confirmed active cases  and well over 21,000 overall cases since the pandemic began. Bahrain took its first steps to prepare for the health crisis in late January, ramping up procurement of testing equipment and medicines and issuing guidance less than a month after the first official death in Wuhan and well before the country saw its first cases.

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