Moves to begin easing restrictions were partly prompted by data that shows a slower spread of the virus in the region than in many other parts of the world, largely thanks to the swift enactment of containment and testing measures.
In particular, centralized data systems in the GCC have allowed for efficient contact tracing.
In the UAE, where 198 people had succumbed to the virus and where the total number of cases stood at 18198 as of May 10, a gradual re-opening of shopping centers and other businesses has been taking place since April 24.
Meanwhile, a strict 24-hour lockdown has been lifted in Dubai, allowing shopping centers and restaurants to operate at 30% capacity, with social distancing measures set to remain in place for the foreseeable future.
In neighboring Saudi Arabia, where 246 people had died and 39048 tested positive for Covid-19 as of May 10, the government began to ease curfews in all regions on April 26 – although the 24-hour lockdown has remained in place in Makkah and neighborhoods that had previously been isolated to prevent the spread of the virus.
In Qatar the authorities fully opened Doha’s Industrial Area on May 6. This district was closed off in mid-March due to a spike in cases amongst its migrant population, but was reopened following widespread testing. Strict entry and exit regulations have been put in place, in part managed by the use of a mobile application by employees and employers entering or exiting the area.
Finally, in Oman on April 28 the authorities began discussions about lifting restrictions on some areas of the economy. The decision was subsequently made to open some commercial businesses, including car servicing, repair, and rental agencies; currency
A changing reality
The consistent question that decision-makers at all levels are facing – both in the Gulf region and globally – is how the current pandemic will shape the economic and social behaviors of businesses and consumers over the longer term.
One area where a shift has already become evident is digital engagement.
Digital transformation forms a central plank in the many diversification and development plans being executed by countries in the Gulf. Indeed, last December’s GCC meeting renewed calls for member states to speed up the rate of digitization across their economies.
The summit, which took place in Riyadh, outlined in its declaration a set of measures to achieve such a transformation, including the “employment of technology and artificial intelligence (AI) to modernize government services and improve the efficiency of those services”.
It also called on governments to put incentives in place to foster the emergence of youth-led private companies developing digital tools applicable to all sectors.
Oxford Business Group