The UAE – of which Abu Dhabi is the capital – became the first country in the Middle East to report a case of the virus on January 29. Although figures for individual emirates are not available, the UAE had reported 2,359 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 12 deaths as of April 7, out of a global total of 1.43m cases and 82,000 fatalities.
In an effort to prevent imported cases, Abu Dhabi announced the temporary closure of its airport and the suspension of all flights on March 24. On April 5 the airport partially reopened to allow the national airline Etihad to operate a limited number of repatriation flights for international travelers stuck overseas.
For residents, strict social distancing measures remain in force: a home curfew has been imposed from 8.00pm-6.00am, and people are only permitted out during the day to purchase necessary provisions or if they are deemed to work in essential professions.
Although such social distancing measures are broadly similar to other methods employed across the world, Abu Dhabi has distinguished itself in its use of medical innovation to limit community transmission.
As of April 7, the UAE as a whole had tested 220,000 people for Covid-19 out of a population of approximately 9.9m – the 12th-highest number of tests in the world by volume and the seventh-highest per capita.
At a local level, the rate of testing in Abu Dhabi is set to increase further following the opening of a pioneering drive-through testing center on April 1, which conducted some 3,000 tests in its first two days of operation.
The Abu Dhabi authorities are also carrying out a daily disinfectant program on the emirate’s streets, and have engaged a robot normally used for firefighting purposes to aid in this task.
While the government response to Covid-19 has been robust, Abu Dhabi’s private sector has also stepped up to boost resilience against the pandemic.
On March 31 Abu Dhabi-based technology firm Group 42 (G42) and Chinese genomics firm BGI announced they had built a vast throughput laboratory in the emirate’s Masdar City in just 14 days.
The lab is designed for population-scale detection of Covid-19 and is the largest of its kind outside China, capable of conducting tens of thousands of tests per day.
Although the opportunities for long-term private sector growth in health care and medical technology in Abu Dhabi are significant, action has also been taken to shore up businesses against the short-term negative effects of the pandemic.
On March 16 the Abu Dhabi Executive Council passed a comprehensive stimulus package with a 16-point strategy for protecting vulnerable firms and households.
Key measures include a Dh3bn ($816.9m) allocation to the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) credit guarantee scheme managed by Abu Dhabi Investment Office, designed to stimulate financing by local banks to SMEs; electricity subsidies for start-ups until the end of the year; and the establishment of a Dh1bn ($272.3m) market maker fund to boost liquidity in the stock market.
Oxford Business Group