Combating Covid-19, Bahrain shows the way

Bahrain's handling of the coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic offers a beacon of hope to other countries wanting to emulate the kingdom's example, even as the world battles the rising numbers of cases, which has hit 19,20,618 according to a senior US diplomat.


"On February 24, the island state of Bahrain recorded its first Covid-19 case, when a school bus driver who had recently traveled home from pilgrimage in Iran via Dubai tested positive. Alarm bells immediately went off," said Adam Ereli, who was the US Ambassador to the kingdom from 2007 to 2011. 


With a population of 1.5 million in an area the size of New York City (777 sq km), Bahrain is the world's third most densely populated country (after Monaco and Singapore). Significant numbers of its citizens travel regularly to Iran and Iraq, which are regional epicenters of the pandemic. 


This combustible mix of exposure and crowding had the potential to decimate Bahrain's population. Yet after only five weeks, the Bahraini authorities have succeeded in containing the virus. So What is the secret to Bahrain's success?, asks Ereli.


His Majesty Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa took swift and prudent measures such as banning flights from Covid-hit countries as early as March 24; announcing a mammoth BD4.3 billion ($11.3 billion) economic package equivalent to 29.6% of Bahrain's annual GDP; compulsory testing for all who enter the country followed by quarantine besides setting up isolated Covid-19 camps and free Covid-19 testing and treatment for all citizens and residents.


The Royal directives to provide free testing and treatment to every resident in the kingdom was a major step in the battle against the deadly coronavirus. 


This step will help save lives, ensuring all citizens and residents in need receive swift and comprehensive medical care, remarked the US diplomat.


Secondly, it will help to mitigate against the spread of Covid-19 as no-one need worry about costs associated with being tested or follow-up medical care. Without HM's intervention, some may have delayed seeking tests or treatment, he stated.


As per the directives of HM King Hamad, the Minister of Information Affairs declared that all GCC citizens will be treated as Bahrainis.


Another major step taken by Bahrain was the establishent of a comprehensive medical protocol based on guidelines set out by the Gulf Health Council (GHG) and the World Health Organization (WHO).


Public health announcements were then circulated in different languages via national TV and broadcast channels, social media, and regular press conferences, he added.


According to Ereli, the National Task for Combatting the Coronavirus (Covid-19) is currently implementing the 'Trace, Test, Treat' strategy, which ensures a comprehensive approach to tracking and treating all active cases, under a specialised medical team.


No wonder, the WHO has commended the kingdom for enacting a comprehensive national strategy, led by HRH the Crown Prince and a dedicated Covid-19 response team.


Also Bahrain has become one of the first countries in the world to use Hydroxychloroquine to treat the Coronavirus (Covid-19), he added.


Stepping up the fight against Covid-19, the Ministry of Health has implemented a mobile testing process to test individuals returning from Covid-19-hit countries and provide them with the necessary care should they prove to carry the virus.


Field visits across the kingdom are also underway to collect random medical samples via mobile testing units, in order to safeguard the health and safety of the community, he pointed out.


A fully dedicated testing center has been set up at the Bahrain International Exhibition and Conference Centre.


The kingdom has one of the highest testing rates per capita in the world, garnering the recognition of the WHO for its agile response.


The Supreme Council for Women (SCW), meanwhile, has started field work as part of the "Together for Bahrain's Safety". 


Basic commodities and health supplies were distributed to families supported by Bahraini women, based on the lists on needy households whose living conditions are being monitored by the council, said Ereli.


Salmaniya Medical Complex (SMC) has launched the home delivery service of prescribed medicines to ensure the health, safety and comfort of the patients as part of the precautionary measures implemented by the kingdom to curb the spread of the virus.


Bahrain was also the first Arab country to join the WHO's "Solidarity Trial" to find effective treatment for the virus.


As part of its immediate steps to contain the spread, a number of regional flights have been reduced or suspended.


Besides all educational institutions, including public and private schools and institutions of higher learning, have been closed until further notice, and remote teaching has been instituted.


Various government entities are providing their services online for citizens and residents

and detailed social distancing guidelines have been published. 


Individuals are advised to remain at home, with the exception for those who commute to and from work, those buying medication or essential necessities or visiting a hospital


All citizens and residents are required to wear face masks whilst in public, stated Ereli.


The government recently permited commercial and industrial businesses providing goods or services directly to customers, to open and resume work on certain conditions such as:


*All employees and visitors must wear face masks

*The number of employees in any facility be reduced; no overcrowding in stores at all times.

*Stores must ensure continuous sterilization, including external premises, in accordance to guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health

*Queuing line-ups outside stores must be arranged in accordance to the social distancing measures issued by the Ministry of Health


The Ministry of Health, in coordination with the Ministry of Interior, has now begun announcing contact tracing information via the Ministry of Health's website. 


Locations visited by contacts of active cases of Covid-19 along with dates and times, are listed to ensure other citizens and residents are able to identify whether they have been exposed to active cases.


The iGA has developed and released an app which advances contact tracing efforts by utilises location data to alert individuals in the event they approach an active case or a location an active case has visited and track the movement of quarantine cases for a duration of 14 days, said Ereli.


In line with the directives of HRH Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the Crown Prince, Deputy Supreme Commander and First Deputy Prime Minister for deployment of emerging technologies to help mitigate the spread of the Coronavirus (Covid-19), the Information & eGovernment Authority has begun distributing electronic bracelets compatible with the Kingdom's Covid-19 contact tracing app, 'BeAware'.


Medical examinations been conducted by Ministry of Health for all citizens and residents who have visited Iran during the month of February, as part of comprehensive precautionary measures that have been activated in light of the spread of the Coronavirus disease (Covid-19).


In a major economic boost, the Bahraini government unveiled a BD4.3 billion economic stimulus package, equivalent to 29.6% of Bahrain's annual GDP to help crisis hit businesses. 


Also the government announced that all individuals and businesses's electricity and water bills will be paid for three months staring from April. Additionally, all individuals and businesses will be exempt from municipal fees, industrial land rental fees and tourism fees for these three months.


Bahrain also doubled the Liquidity Support Fund to BD200 million, while its labour fund Tamkeen has been redirected to support adversely affected companies.


Also it has terminated monthly work fees for three months besides the fees for issuing and renewing work permits.


Also the government has directed all banks in the country to delay loan installments of Bahraini nationals by six months. 


The waiver is in line with the royal directives of His Majesty King to unify all national efforts to avert the spread of the global outbreak of Covid-19 in Bahrain and protect the health and safety of citizens and residents, said the top diplomat.


In a major move, the Health Minister has suspended the BD7 medical consultation fee, stipulated in edict 2 of 2017 on health fees for non-Bahrainis.


Also the Labour Market Regulatory Authority has introduced a 9-month grace period for all illegal workers in Bahrain. A humanitarian decision to help these workers legalise their status amid this pressing time, the government through this amnesty will allow undocumented foreign workers to either legalise their stay or leave as part of measures to offset the impact of Covid-19.


The International Covid-19 Repatriation Programme (ICRP) has been established to ensure citizens are repatriated safely and as quickly as possible. The ICRP has been in operation since March 11.


The ICRP is a clinically managed programme to safely repatriate citizens from Iran and other Covid-19 affected countries. Every step of the ICRP process is supervised by specialist medical officials, in line with WHO guidelines, explained Ereli. 


The ICRP process includes the chartering of specialist aircraft, the provision of necessary medical equipment, and dedicated quarantine and isolation facilities to ensure returning citizens receive immediate medical care, he added.




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