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Diversity helps UAE fight coronavirus: Minister

22 June 2020


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The UAE's cultural and demographic diversity has been a secret ingredient in the war against Covid-19, said the country's health minister.

Abdul Rahman bin Mohammed Al Owais, Minister of Health and Prevention, said: "In reality, the UAE's diverse background of over 200 nationalities is the secret ingredient in our war against Covid-19. With more than 200 different experiences, we have been investing in the development of all kinds of people since our founders started the UAE."

Al Owais added: "Citizens and residents came together as one task force to help everyone. Like Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation, said, 'none of us are safe, if all are not safe'. We have maximised the benefits with what was made available to us, thanks to the organisation of cultural and religious dialogues, organised by the UAE leadership."

The minister was speaking at a high-level panel discussion at the 'Virtual Health Forum', held under the guidance of the World Government Summit on Monday, alongside Lena Hallengren, Minister of Health and Social Affairs, Sweden; Bent Høie, Minister of Health and Care Services, Norway; and Dr David Nabarro, WHO Special Envoy on Covid-19.

He said the UAE has exceeded three million tests, which is one-third of its population. "We wouldn't have reached it without proper flexibility, excellent cooperation with the private sector and solidarity and unity among all sectors," he added.
The war is far from over

Minister Høie, Al Owais and Lena Hallengren said aggressive testing, tracing and isolation, a universal healthcare plan for all citizens and residents, and willingness to accept social distancing as the new norm have been some of the most effective measures against the pandemic. However, all three ministers said the war against the dangerous disease is far from over. "The world needs an effective vaccine to come out of this crisis. Furthermore, preparedness is key," said Høie.

Citing examples of the methods adopted in Sweden, Lena Hallengren said the country kept its schools open for smaller children and nurseries to ensure staffing for critical care workers weren't affected. She said: "Public gatherings of more than 50 people have been banned. Regular social distancing is being ensured."

Al Owais also said the battle is still on. "People have gone through difficult times; however, we cannot force them to go through these measures repeatedly. We have to adapt to these new living standards. People need to be ready for social distancing and temperature checks." However, the minister said he is hopeful and positive about the future.

Flexibility in governance is key

Al Owais said: "Like many countries, this is a first pandemic for the UAE as well. Of course, like most, we did not have a contingency plan." He said it was the concept of flexibility in governance and preparedness on part of the UAE leadership that ensured the country has steadily low numbers. "We had a high-level preparedness meeting in January, way before the WHO announced something was happening in China," explained Al Owais.

Dr David Nabarro also said change in our behaviour is necessary to make things work. "Now is not the time to be rebellious and go against government instructions and not wear masks. Unlike what is being said by one to two political leaders, it is not like ordinary flu, it is a very tricky virus," he explained.

The session was moderated by Dr Mansoor Habib, family medicine and occupational health consultant, head of sustainability and wellbeing, Emirates Integrated Telecommunication Company, du.
Omar Sultan Al Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, spoke ahead of the keynote address and said the webinar showcases the solutions for fighting the pandemic.