ABU DHABI (Al-Bilad English): Communities in Asia have succeeded in flattening the new novel coronavirus (COVID-19) curve by adopting a proactive and technology-driven approach and by learning from its past experiences, experts participating in an E-lecture said on Tuesday.
Organized by TRENDS Research & Advisory, the lecture highlighted the international best practices adopted by countries in Asia – namely the UAE and South Korea – and the factors behind their success in tackling the pandemic.
Dr. Victor Cha, Senior Advisor Korea Chair, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the United States, said Asian governments and societies have done something right to emerge from the pandemic, which provides some lessons for the world.
“You have to acknowledge the pandemic early and respond quickly. It took nine days for South Korea’s Center for Disease Control and the National Health Service to form a call center, inform the public and receive data about cases,” he said.
Dr. Cha said that 10 days later, the South Korea government agencies started supplying extra masks to medical workers and started testing over 20,000 people daily. “The Korean president declared National Emergency on February 23, and it took three more weeks for President Trump to do the same,” he said.
According to Dr. Cha, the second lesson from the Asian cases is that governments listened to their health experts and delegated implementation to local levels while, at the same time, galvanizing the private sector to develop innovative responses.
“The government in South Korea also fostered public-private sector collaboration, from social distancing to contact tracing. It hired pharmaceutical companies to work together to produce test kits,” he said.
Dr. Saif Al-Dhaheri, Director of Safety & Prevention Department at the National Emergency Crisis & Disasters Management Authority (NCEMA), said the UAE adopted the PPA (proactive and preventive approach), which was similar to the South Korea model.
“In January, we did not close everything with China but we reduced the number of flights. We continued to stand with China, we wanted our relationship to go beyond the pandemic, and we put people coming from China through a PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test,” he said.
At that time, according to Dr. Al-Dhaheri, the UAE also started scenario planning, considering all socio-economic scenarios and learning from the H1N1 experience. He said that this was a very complex operation and the country is until now looking at multiple domains in parallel.
“For 120 days, we conducted about 500 high official meetings, roughly 20-30 meetings a week, looking for various domains and different levels (from medical to tourism),” he said, adding that a strong communication strategy was the key to dealing with a country that has over 200 nationalities.
“We are not an island. Perhaps New Zealand and Taiwan faired a bit better because they are island nations. But the UAE is slightly different so our policies had to be custom-tailored,” Dr. Al-Dhaheri said. He also highlighted the significance of the Woqaya initiative, a digital platform that answers public queries, which helped the public understand the situation and raised awareness.
He also highlighted the country’s disinfection program, which minimized human mobility while the authorities disinfected public places. “The UAE has proved that it has an exceptional model in managing crises. We also look outward, not only inward, and we have maintained our commitment to humanity,” he said.
Dr. Al-Dhaheri mentioned the UAE’s stem cell experiment, which helped treat 73 patients and marked a breakthrough in treatment using stem cell research. Dr. Stephen Blackwell, Director of Research & Strategic Studies at the TRENDS Research & Advisory moderated the session.