By Dr. Ali Obaid Al Dhaheri
Dr. Ali Obaid Al Dhaheri, UAE Ambassador to China, says that a proactive approach has mitigated wider economic damage
China’s response and recovery to the coronavirus in Wuhan offers hope for how a strong rebound from the crisis can happen. In this city there has been the same pattern seen many times around the world, first a quick growth of the virus then a swift moving to lockdown and containment. What once seemed an overwhelming situation was step-by-step contained over the course of 76 days after which this the lockdown in Wuhan was finally lifted. The lifting of this lockdown offers a watershed moment and a chance to reflect.
In the UAE we are seeing similar challenges as those which were faced in Wuhan. I know that at the moment things seem stark and challenging - but stay strong.
From where I am sitting in Beijing, let me share this with you. There is hope. Here I can tell you that the type of solutions that the UAE has applied against COVID-19 are effective. Each country has a different approach however applying mitigation measures has been proven effective in Wuhan and in China.
The economy in China, just like in the UAE, has faced challenges, however a pro-active approach has mitigated against economic impact. Effective fiscal methods implemented by the Chinese Ministry of Finance to fortify the Chinese economy, including introducing tax policies and financial relief measures to aid the economy during the epidemic, as well as a pro-active approach by the People’s Bank of China has also worked to guarantee sufficient liquidity.
This Chinese fiscal plan is in tandem with the projection that there is sharp decline then bounce back, key to protecting companies and jobs. All indications are that a rebounding of China’s economy is happening, with the official manufacturing purchasing manager’s index (PMI) – a survey of sentiment among factory owners in the world’s second largest economy – achieving 52 in March, up from an all-time low of 35.7 in February. As of late March, 98.6 per cent of large-scale businesses in China were back at work, with 89.9 per cent of employees returning to their jobs, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
Therefore, this approach offers hope that the UAE’s own way of dealing with this issue will provide a robust solution in the long-term.
In the UAE also, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has announced a stimulus package of US$70bn by the UAE Central Bank to guarantee liquidity in the banking system. There have also been a number of measures to support small businesses and ensure delivery of large-scale government infrastructure projects. Additionally, a number of tax relief measures have been implemented across the UAE.
From a practical perspective, when it comes to direct measures to minimise the spread of the virus and deal with its health effects, the UAE can be inspired that measures to address the virus have been effective in Wuhan. Chinese policymakers had very quickly realised, upon the onset of the virus, that rapid and significant movement was needed to tackle this challenge. The foundation was testing, isolation and contact tracing.
The action plan from the Chinese government included the drafting in of additional healthcare workers from all over China, making up over 340 medical teams consisting of over 42,600 medical workers from across the country, who all went to the hardest-hit city at the request of the government. In addition, there was the building of two hospitals in just over a week to care for the rising number of patients; the shutting down of public transport services including buses, railways, flights, and ferries; the closing of factories, offices, and schools; and utilising technologies such as social media platforms and apps to monitor movement.
China’s positive model aligns with the way of thinking in the UAE, in our country too we are employing technology to battle COVID-19, including drive through coronavirus testing centres, as well as an electronic permit system - to aid in applying a curfew and provide a tracing mechanism for those who may have caught the virus. Additionally, our nation is employing drone technology for street sanitising.
Furthermore, UAE company Group 42 (G42) has been tackling the outbreak head-on. The plan is to leverage existing artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing technology to prevent the virus from spreading and to ensure medical supplies reach the areas where they are most needed. The company has also launched its Population Genome Program, which will provide genotyping that gathers necessary data for researchers to develop a cure for the virus.
All of this stems from a strong foundation of an action plan by our wise leadership, activated from the very top, steered by careful assessment of conditions and rolled out in a proactive manner.
It is certainly true that caution still needs to be taken and for the short to medium term at least, the world and the UAE will go through a period of adjustment even once lockdown is lifted. Still in China now there is a cautious approach, where the country is viewed at a county level to be watchful against smaller outbreaks. For example, in Hubei province, Beijing, Tianjin and North China’s Hebei province are still sticking to first-level emergency response against the novel coronavirus. However, slowly but surely there is progress.
What I would ask our country to consider at this time are the successes of China in pulling together for virus response. China’s positive social cohesion on this matter aided success. There were overwhelming societal commitments in battling COVID-19 and the broader support by the Chinese people to government efforts in confronting the results as a collective fight was very active.
The signs are that the UAE is similarly united. We can see a positive community-wide response as areas with restrictions see empty roads and a strong commitment by the community. For a diverse nation we have seen the broad range of multiple nationalities from around the world singing the UAE National Anthem, rousing for all. Spontaneous outbreaks of applause for the medical staff have repeatedly rang out across different communities. As well as providing a touch of beauty and relief, these responses have reminded us of what’s truly important as we applaud our country’s heroes. This demonstrates true faith in our nation, admiration for the healthcare professionals and confidence in the UAE leadership’s strong strategy in dealing with this crisis.
All of this is supporting the community spirit and our collective response - togetherness is at the core of seeing through this challenge. In the UAE we are fortunate to have a robust commitment by the population towards a peaceful and joyful country. Only recently Abu Dhabi topped Arab cities for the World Happiness Report 2020 and 35th globally – this in an annual publication of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network made in partnership with the Gallup World Poll.
Such a strong foundation demonstrates the trust and commitment that people in the UAE have to our society and the strong cohesion that results. Let us draw on this collective resolve and be resolute in this time of challenge – there is light at the end of the tunnel.