According to a recent article (1) by MEED.com, “the number of COVID-19 cases in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region crossed 129,502 as of April 22.” Compared to other regions, MEA is further behind in the number of COVID-19 cases and casualties, and appears to have not yet reached its peak. However, the region’s governments are not taking the outbreak lightly and are rolling out a slew of measures to minimize infections and help their regional economies.
Scheduled events have been postponed to late 2020 or 2021, public gatherings and travel have been limited, borders have been closed for international travel, companies have requested for non-essential employees to work remotely, and people testing positive for COVID-19 have been placed in isolation. According to an article (2) by the Associated Press, some nations like Saudi Arabia and the UAE have established nationwide drive-through testing and curfews to identify and contain the spread of the virus.
With these measures in place and lockdowns practiced around the world, business and trade have been greatly affected in these regions. To help ease the financial burdens, some governments, such as the Lebanese Cabinet, have introduced tax measures such as the suspension of tax deadlines and deferral of the payment of social security contributions. Other governments, like the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, have unveiled programs to support SMEs in addition to tax measures and other government reliefs. The Algerian government, in another example, implemented measures to cover the salaries of 50% of their workforce, giving priority to women, the elderly, and people with medical conditions.
In light of the current state of the pandemic, our Members from the MEA region have developed initiatives to assist their members and tenants while complying with local government restrictions.
For example, WTC Abu Dhabi, among other commercial centers, shut down for a two-week period per the directives issued by the UAE government. According to a recent article (3) in The National malls in Abu Dhabi are preparing to reopen.
WTC Algiers has kept only one to two employees on site at a time with scheduled shift rotations. It has also established health and safety protocols for staff and tenants, including disinfecting the buildings several times a day and building a system that allows employees to work remotely. Since the lockdown started, WTC Algiers created a task force of members across a variety of sectors to maintain communication. This task force is working to help the government and population overcome difficulties, assist tenants, and share information with fellow World Trade Centers (WTCs) around the globe such as what actions to take post-COVID-19. It is also launching an e-learning platform that will provide clients with ways to facilitate trade and increase knowledge of COVID-19.
WTC Al Khobar, WTC Jeddah, and WTC Riyadh are open for clients operating during the pandemic. As three of the largest business centers in Saudi Arabia, these WTCs are taking extra measures to serve their customers in light of the government’s curfew conditions. They have created a virtual network for employees to communicate with each other, for example. They have also increased staff to thoroughly clean and sanitize the business centers and tightened security measures to control those who are entering the business centers.
WTC Beirut is open for clients, but operating under measures that a limit be placed on the number of employees reporting to the workplace. Since March 19, the International Airport Rafic Hariri has been closed, with commercial flight services suspended until the airport reopens. All land border crossings into Syria have also been closed indefinitely. The Lebanese government introduced tax measures as a response to the pandemic, including the suspension of tax deadlines, deferral of payment of social security contributions, and limited exemption for two months from custom duties.
WTC Cairo reached out to each of its tenants, offering relief measures, including payment deferrals and discounts on bills. Many tenants are working remotely, but the team has also sanitized the entire complex and provided hand sanitizers on all floors. Recently, Egypt has received medical equipment from China and Japan, and the government has granted incentive packages for small businesses including the postponement of loan payments for six months, a three-month exemption for real estate taxes, and six-month exemption for hotels.
WTC Dubai’s exhibition halls were converted into a temporary field hospital, equipped with isolation and intensive care units, to treat up to 3,000 patients. Nearby vacant local hotels have also been turned into quarantine facilities for those infected. According to a recent article (4) in The National, the Dubai World Trade Center Authority has implemented a “number of relief measures including fee waivers and rent deferrals for its clients and commercial tenants” and full refunds on canceled events. Additionally, Dubai just recently re-opened after a three-week, 24/7 lockdown.
WTC Sharjah has closed its expo center and converted it into a 2,000-bed medical facility. The local government will continue to use the facility through the end of August, when it will undergo extensive cleaning and sanitization for a month before re-opening. While the team works remotely, WTC Sharjah is offering webinars and virtual meetings for business members. Further, His Excellency Al Midfa, CEO of WTC Sharjah, has recently participated as a speaker in several international discussions about the economic impact of COVID-19 and its effects on the exhibitions industry.
(1) MEED.com, “MENA Nears 130,000 COVID-19 Cases,” Accessed April 28, 2020. https://www.meed.com/mena-nears-130000-covid-19-cases.
(2) Associated Press, “Iraq, Lebanon Extend Government Restrictions to Combat Virus,” Accessed April 28, 2020. https://nbc16.com/news/nation-world/iraq-lebanon-extend-government-restrictions-to-combat-virus.
(3) The National, “Coronavirus: Malls in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain Prepare to Reopen,” Accessed May 4, 2020. https://www.thenational.ae/uae/coronavirus-malls-in-abu-dhabi-and-al-ain-prepare-to-reopen-1.1013639.
(4) The National, “Dubai World Trade Centre Authority Reveals Relief Measures for Clients and Tenants,” Accessed April 28, 2020. https://www.thenational.ae/business/dubai-world-trade-centre-authority-reveals-relief-measures-for-clients-and-tenants-1.1009931.