Bahrain leads from the front

The world is facing a new and still largely unknown threat. To quote UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson following his release this month from hospital where he was undergoing treatment for coronavirus infection, we are in “a fight we never picked against an enemy we still don’t entirely understand”.

No doubt those sentiments can be understood universally, as nations around the world step up their attempts to contain the pandemic.

In the GCC we are facing the same enemy. And we are making progress.

Bahrain, in particular, has set itself apart with its rapid, focused and sustained government response which has been commended by the World Health Organisation.

The kingdom established a 130-bed field intensive care unit in the parking building of a hospital in just a matter of days. And this follows on from a number of world-leading initiatives, spearheaded by the National Taskforce for Combating the coronavirus.

Bahrain was amongst the very first countries in the world to introduce tracking bracelets to monitor confirmed cases of infection; order the kingdom-wide sterilisation of bank notes; and take rapid action to ground flights until quarantine facilities were in place. Moreover, the government is working hand-in-hand with the private sector to develop innovative solutions for mitigating the effects of the crisis.

Engineers from the Bahrain International Circuit are working with the Health Ministry to increase capacity of ventilator equipment which can be used for Covid-19 patients. They have already designed two new devices to aid breathing, which have been approved by the ministry.

The kingdom is also playing its part in the global search for a vaccine. Bahrain is the first Arab country to announce its participation in the World Health Organisation’s “Solidarity” clinical trial, an international study that will compare treatment across the world to find the most effective means of fighting Covid-19.

All these efforts have been shored up by an imposing stimulus package to the tune of BD4.3 billion ($11.4bn) – equivalent to 29.6 per cent of the country’s annual GDP – to mitigate the economic impact of Covid-19 for both individuals and businesses.

Moreover, the kingdom has announced that it will earmark $570 million to pay salaries to its over 100,000 citizens employed in the private sector from April to June.

The private sector has a role to play here too. At Al Salam Bank, for example, and as part of our #AlSalamInitiative, we’ve announced and disbursed interest-free loans (Qard Hasan) to our retail clients, deferred instalments by six months at no cost, increased our allocation to CSR projects, implemented an automatic increase of 10 per cent in credit card and overdraft limits and are waiving processing fees for credit limit increases for both retail and corporate customers.

A major factor in the kingdom’s ability to respond so quickly and effectively to the outbreak has been the foresight of government leaders in prioritising a high level of digital connectedness.

The first GCC member to begin its diversification efforts, Bahrain has over the last decade focused its attention on putting the digital infrastructure in place to build a thriving tech ecosystem.

This has included passing pioneering data legislation, moving its entire government to the cloud and partnering with global tech giants to roll out commercial 5G and launch the region’s first hyper-scale data centre.

This has enabled the government and private sector alike to continue working remotely and virtually with minimal disruption.

At Al Salam Bank, we were able to draw and announce the grand winner of our Danat Saving Scheme draw, comprised of the largest cash prize in Bahrain ($1.5m), and hand over the prize using Zoom!

Similarly, students have been able to continue their studies uninterrupted thanks to the Education Ministry’s online learning platform. Citizens have been able to receive regular updates and critical information across all communication channels.

The kingdom’s supportive ecosystem has also enabled rapid growth of startups and SMEs – by 46pc over the past three years alone.

There are today a wide range of local, regional and international apps available in the kingdom, allowing for delivery of groceries, meals, mobile payments, laundry pickup – all minimising the need to exchange paper cash and break quarantine.

With private and public sectors as well as local communities all coming together to play their part, Bahrain has every chance of beating this pandemic in the coming months while showcasing its measures to the entire world.




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