On January 29, 2020, UAE registered its first coronavirus case. Later, it became exemplary among its neighbours for the way it was dealing with the pandemic at government, economy and people levels.
UAE announced a comprehensive economic support plan worth 100 billion dirham ($27 billion) to contain the repercussions of the coronavirus on banks, small- and medium-size businesses, real estate, tourism and the retail market, amid lack of social protection plans for the least cared for. [i]
As part of a series of briefs papers on the reality of social protection in the Arab world, Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD) presents in this brief the responses to and procedures taken by the UAE to fight the corona pandemic and to protect the more vulnerable among its population, such as the elderly, the poor, children, immigrants, refugees and people with disabilities.
UAE has had around 51,540 confirmed coronavirus cases, among individuals of different nationalities; of these, 323 died and 40,297 recovered.[ii]
In support of the elderly and people with disability, the Social Services Department of Sharjah provided corona tests for the elderly in their homes, instead of having them go to hospitals or medical examination centres, in collaboration with the Preventive Medicine Center in Sharjah. However, this was limited to Sharjah, excluding the rest of the emirates.[iii]
Since the crisis started, The National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority in Abu Dhabi facilitated more than 180,000 return journeys for workers confirmed negative. All received their dues following the required procedures, free tests were provided for all residents of industrial cities and free treatment was given to people testing positive. Educational materials in several languages were provided via a variety of platforms to raise the awareness of workers about the risks of the virus and prevention methods.[iv]
However, recently, there have been calls on the prisons administrations in UAE to take urgent measures to protect the mental and physical health of prisoners amid the spread of the corona virus, in at least three detention centres around the country.
Prisons are overcrowded and lack proper health conditions and medical treatment; this is not a new situation in the UAE detention centres, but the pandemic is magnifying the threats posed to prisoners.[v]
UAE provided hundreds of humanitarian and medical aid consignments to refugees, in response to the corona crisis. A plane flew to the Somalian capital Mogadishu carrying more than 35 tonnes of medical equipment and humanitarian aid, as well as to support relief operations for thousands of people affected by floods that forced them out of their homes, providing them with their basic needs.[vi]
UAE put many medical procedures in place; it provided medical and prevention equipment for medical staff and distributed a medical guide to the medical, public, private, education, tourism and other sectors. In addition to raising awareness, the UAE also organised training workshops, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, on prevention and on ways to handle suspected cases, symptoms and emergencies.[vii]
Since the crisis began, youth-led initiatives included operating a mobile field hospital, which came to support governmental and private institutions’ interventions by providing diagnosis, treatment and prevention services to thousands of citizens and residents.[viii] UAE also launched the initiative “Stand up to the Challenge”, aiming at investing in individuals’ and businesses’ efforts to fight corona.[ix]
With the spike in cases of coronavirus, prisoners of conscience and other inmates suffer from arbitrary detention and medical negligence; this worsens their situation, as most have weak immune systems and lack prevention measures, like disinfectants and sterilisation, in prisons. International organisations ask that UAE release political prisoners, fearing the spread of corona in prisons.[x]