A brief look at the number of people who have died in GCC countries compared to the most advanced western countries reveals a stark contrast. This has been a shock for many people as the Arab world is often portrayed in the media as backward.
As of 2 June 2020 deaths in the GCC nations stand at: Saudi Arabia (525), UAE (266), Kuwait (220), Oman (50), Bahrain (19). Let’s compare this to some of the most advanced western countries top the number of deaths: USA (106,925), UK (39,045), Italy (22,475), France (30,046), Belgium (9,486), Germany (8,618), Canada (7,326)
One can not help but wonder how that has been possible since a large part of these country’s GDP relies on foreign visitors whether in the form of tourists in the UAE or the millions of pilgrims to Saudi Arabia. Three factors stand out to explain why the Arab nations may have combated this pandemic better than the west.
1. Early Lockdown
The GCC would have been forgiven to not lockdown early due to a large part of their GDP coming from welcoming outsiders into their country. Whether being a world leader in tourism like the UAE or seeing the most pilgrims in the world arrive in your country like Saudi Arabia, there was no hesitation to lockdown the country early. Even the two Holy Mosques in Saudi Arabia were totally locked down, which can not have been an easy decision.
This meant foreigners had to leave, the citizens had to stay at home and strict curfews dictated when you can leave your home and where to. Freedom of movement between cities was also restricted. This meant both quarantining and social distancing were achieved early on.
Police enforced the lockdown with hefty fines and roadblocks. For emergencies such as hospital appointments, a permit was granted to people but everyone else was bound to their own homes.
Comparatively in the UK people were asked to stay at home and there were no road blocks. This meant many people still broke the rules and went out. We saw police asking people to not sunbathe and even government advisers going site seeing.
2. Swift Decisions
Saudi Arabia is a monarchy, meaning decisions can be made super fast directly from the King. With Coronavirus these decisions were able to be made faster than other nations. While much discussion in the west takes place on the negatives of such systems, this has proven itself to definitely be one of the advantages.
Testing for Covid-19 was expanded at phenomenal rates with test centres popping up in UAE and being available for everyone. GCC Governments also handed out sanitising gel and masks for citizens.
3. Old beats New
Pandemics are nothing new. The Arabs have historically been advantaged to beating pandemics due to ancient Islamic guidance being the same as current modern guidance on pandemics.
The command of the Prophet Muhammad in pandemics is to strictly quarantine. His companions, who learnt directly from him, also enforced social distancing. Such steps meant historically that pandemics such as the “Amwaas” plague were able to not spread as virulently as it did the rest of the world.
These experiences can teach the world the manner in which to deal with pandemics in the future. There are many way things to be learned from different parts of the world. For example Taiwan is next to China but has only seen 7 deaths because of taking steps early steps.
Taiwan’s success comes from their learning from the 2002 pandemic they suffered. With Covid-19, Taiwan introduced a travel ban to infected countries, asked (and provided) their population to wear masks, incentivized reporting of symptoms through welfare and support, and had a ready healthcare services to deal with pandemics (despite no WHO membership). This meant Taiwan has been able to fight the pandemic without a lockdown.
It appears the world may never be the same again to viruses such as Coronavirus spreading. This means the world needs to learn and adapt to this new challenge through learning how different countries have tackled the spread.