Hindsight: Reflections on COVID-19

COVID-19 has revealed key lessons about how the global community responds to crisis. Despite some remarkable examples of determination, cooperation and innovation, most countries struggled with at least some aspects of crisis management— and the world has not yet come together to mitigate the fallout. While it is too early to draw definitive takeaways, the lessons drawn from this crisis inform decision-makers only how to better prepare for the next pandemic—rather than enhancing the processes, capabilities, and culture for galvanizing effort around other major concerns—the world will have fallen into the familiar risk management trap of planning for the last crisis rather than anticipating the next.

Lockdown management

National lockdowns had some successes: for example, the shielding of vulnerable individuals often worked well in advanced economies, with public-private collaboration ensuring delivery of food supplies. After the gradual opening up of economies caused cases to rise again, many governments were reluctant to revert to extended nationwide lockdowns, instead trying short (two-to four-week) “circuit breakers” or more nuanced local restrictions (such as curfews, hospitality closures, bans on inter-household mixing, and travel constraints). Governments in the MENA region have rapidly reacted to contain COVID-19, with the help of strict containment measures implemented in the very early stages of the outbreak that have proven efficient in limiting the spread of the pandemic in the region.

National-level responses

In the Middle East and North Africa, capacities and responses varied greatly but relatively young populations may have spared the region from higher death tolls; however, data in some locations are uncertain. Some nations with advanced medical systems and regimes able to enforce lockdowns and other social restrictions along with border controls have managed successive waves of infections. Other, poorer nations, and those that are fragile and in conflict situations, however, are suffering exacerbated economic and humanitarian challenges. The UAE’s approach in particular has been hailed as a beacon in crisis management. The response plan included a National Disinfection Program which began in March of 2020 as well as the strengthening of the growth of the economy and business sector, which saw close to Dh200 billion allocated federally and locally to support the banking and business sectors.

Vaccinations

Vaccine development progressed rapidly through collaboration among private companies and universities facilitated by government funding, although it is still unclear how concerns about intellectual property rights, pricing and procurement will be handled. Other implementation challenges for vaccine programs still require resolution—for example, distribution (cold chain requirements, global glass vial availability and supply logistics for low density areas) and application (defining priority groups, recording doses given and countering vaccine hesitancy). As vaccine rollouts begin, rapid dissemination of challenges and best practices will be key for successful iteration across economies. As of March 21, all residents of the UAE aged 16 and over can now begin booking their appointments for free Covid-19 vaccinations at any of the 205 designated vaccination centres across the country. In fact, the UAE ranks highly globally in terms of daily COVID-19 vaccine doses administered per 100 people with other MENA countries such as Bahrain and Qatar not far behind. For the latest information on vaccine rollout by region, you can access our complimentary COVID-19 Insights Dashboard which offers data and analysis in real time.