Coronavirus pandemic gives Dubai chance to put tech to the test

Coronavirus pandemic gives Dubai chance to put tech to the test
Above, the Dubai COVID-19 Command and Control Centre at Mohammed bin Rashid University which plans and manages coronavirus fallout plans in the Gulf emirate. (AFP)
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Updated 24 May 2020

Coronavirus pandemic gives Dubai chance to put tech to the test

Coronavirus pandemic gives Dubai chance to put tech to the test
  • The UAE has carried out more than 1.6 million coronavirus tests
  • Many tech options were already at Dubai’s fingertips when the pandemic struck

DUBAI: From smart police helmets to research labs, the coronavirus has given Dubai an opportunity to test its technological and scientific clout as it shapes its approach to the pandemic.
A key part of the glitzy Gulf emirate’s fight is its COVID-19 Command and Control Center, set up to coordinate the efforts of Dubai’s doctors, epidemiologists and other professionals.
It is hosted within the Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences (MBRU) in Dubai’s Healthcare City, also home to state-of-the-art hospitals, labs and research centers.
“For several years, Dubai has endeavored to put in place solid digital infrastructure, and this has contributed to the fight against the coronavirus,” said Amer Sharif, who heads the multidisciplinary center.
It was established at the start of the health crisis by Dubai Crown Prince and social media star Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum.
In one room, young mask-wearing men and women sit at carefully separated desks crunching data on laptops and coordinating with workers on the ground.
The initiative includes a scientific team whose role is “to stay abreast of the latest advances in research and scientific evidence, both in the country and elsewhere in the world,” team head Alawi Alsheikh-Ali said.
The United Arab Emirates has carried out more than 1.6 million coronavirus tests, and has officially declared over 28,700 infections, including 244 deaths.
This high-tech approach, Sharif said, including “the complete digitization of the health system,” has prevented a greater spread of the virus and made the lockdown easier.
Tom Loney, associate professor of public health and epidemiology at MBRU, said the coronavirus was an opportunity for Dubai to put its capabilities to the test.
“It’s the ability to react, to make quick decisions based on data and science” that sets Dubai apart, said Loney, who is also an adviser to authorities in the city-state.
According to him decisions were made by order of Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, whose portrait is featured on the MBRU building.
Dubai is one of seven emirates in the UAE, a key Gulf state with big technological and scientific ambitions.
The emirate lacks the oil wealth of its neighbors, but has the most diversified economy in the Gulf, building a reputation as a financial, commercial and tourism hub.
The UAE sent an astronaut into space last year, and in July is set to launch the first Arab probe toward Mars, a project sponsored by the emir of Dubai.
Many tech options were already at Dubai’s fingertips when the pandemic struck, and the emirate was quick at putting its technology to a variety of uses during the virus crisis.
Police wear smart helmets that take the temperature of passers-by while laboratories make protective masks using 3D printers.
When a night-time curfew begins, Dubai residents — 90 percent of whom are expats — receive a reminder message on their mobile phone in Arabic, English or other languages.
The UAE has regularly announced research advances into the COVID-19 illness, developing several apps to help manage the pandemic.
One of them, Alhosn, which the government has encouraged residents to download, helps track people who are infected with the virus or who may have come in close contact with confirmed cases.
But the use of technology to fight the pandemic has raised concern across the world over government surveillance and privacy risks.
Tech experts and the media have highlighted this issue in the UAE, where some foreign websites and applications are already blocked.
But Sharif pushed back against skepticism.
“Dubai and the Emirates respect privacy, whether it is a question of patient records or smart applications,” he said.
The emirate was creating its “own model” of responding to the health crisis, Sharif added, though authorities were also looking at countries such as South Korea, seen as a positive policy response to the crisis.
“We must follow the developments ... but also add to them,” he said.


HRW urges Iran to probe deadly shooting on Pakistan border

HRW urges Iran to probe deadly shooting on Pakistan border
Updated 26 February 2021

HRW urges Iran to probe deadly shooting on Pakistan border

HRW urges Iran to probe deadly shooting on Pakistan border
  • Shooting in the border area near the town of Saravan killed at least 10 people and wounded five
BEIRUT: Human Rights Watch called on Iran Friday to investigate a deadly shooting by Revolutionary Guards against smugglers attempting to transport fuel into neighboring Pakistan for excessive use of force.
Monday’s shooting in the border area near the town of Saravan killed at least 10 people and wounded five, HRW said, citing Baluchi activists.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had blocked a road used to transport fuel before apparently opening fire at people attempting to reopen the route, it added.
The action has prompted attacks by angry protesters on government buildings in both Saravan and the Sistan-Baluchistan provincial capital Zahedan.
“The Iranian authorities should urgently conduct a transparent and impartial investigation into the shootings at the Saravan border,” said HRW Iran researcher Tara Sepehri Far.
“The authorities should hold those responsible for wrongdoing to account, appropriately compensate victims and ensure that border guards are taking the utmost precautions to respect the right to life and other human rights.”
Provincial deputy governor Mohammad-Hadi Marashi said Tuesday that the shooting had started from the Pakistani side of the border and one person had been killed and four wounded.
Sistan-Baluchistan province has long been a security headache for the Iranian government.
Its large ethnic Baluch population, which staddles the frontier, has made it a flashpoint for cross-border attacks on government or Shiite targets by separatists and Sunni extremists.
HRW said the lack of employment opportunities in the province had left its ethnic Baluch population few alternatives to black market trading with their fellow Baluchs across the border.
“Similar to the western provinces of Western Azerbaijan and Kurdistan (on the border with Iraq), its lack of economic opportunities has led many residents to engage in unlawful cross-border commerce with Pakistan,” the New York-based watchdog.

Israel vaccinates 50% of its population against COVID-19

Israel vaccinates 50% of its population against COVID-19
Updated 26 February 2021

Israel vaccinates 50% of its population against COVID-19

Israel vaccinates 50% of its population against COVID-19
  • About 35 percent of Israel’s population had received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine

JERUSALEM: Israel has administered at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose to 50 percent of its 9.3 million population, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said on Friday.
Israel counts East Jerusalem Palestinians, who have been included in the vaccine campaign that began on Dec 19, as part of its population. Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip are not part of the Israeli campaign.
Edelstein said 35 percent of Israel’s population had received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine, putting them on course to receive a so-called “Green Pass” with access to leisure sites that the country has been gradually reopening.


Libya’s new PM delays naming Cabinet as deadline looms

Libya’s new PM delays naming Cabinet as deadline looms
Updated 26 February 2021

Libya’s new PM delays naming Cabinet as deadline looms

Libya’s new PM delays naming Cabinet as deadline looms
  • Appointing the Cabinet is part of a UN-backed transitional roadmap
  • Since 2015, Libyan state institutions have been divided between two administrations

CAIRO: Libya’s newly-elected prime minister failed to name members of a much-anticipated Cabinet ahead of an expected deadline Thursday, raising questions over whether his transitional government can unite Libya’s factions.
Prime Minister designate Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah was set to announce his Cabinet in a news conference from the capital, Tripoli, and send it to Libya’s House of Representatives for approval.
Instead, Dbeibah told reporters he only shared with Libyan lawmakers proposed guidelines for the selection of Cabinet members and an outline of his priorities in the coming period.
Appointing the Cabinet is part of a UN-backed transitional roadmap, which envisages holding general elections in the war-torn North African country by the end of the year.
Since 2015, Libyan state institutions have been divided between two administrations: One in the east and another in the west, each supported by a vast array of militias and foreign governments.
“We are ready to submit the names (of Cabinet ministers) but we should consult among ourselves and examine candidate names meticulously,” Dbeibah told reporters in Tripoli without specifying when he will actually make the submission.
Dbeibah said he envisages a Cabinet of technocrats who would represent Libya’s different geographic areas and social segments.
“These are critical times and we are taking into consideration that the Cabinet must genuinely achieve national unity and seek consensus and reconciliation,” he said.
He added that the country’s sovereign ministerial portfolios should be equally divided between candidates from Libya’s three key geographic areas in the east, the west and the south.
Earlier this month, Dbeibah was elected as prime minister by Libyan delegates at a UN-sponsored conference near Geneva.
The 75-member Libyan Political Dialogue Forum also elected a three-member Presidential Council, which along with Dbeibah should lead the country through general elections on December 24. Mohammad Younes Menfi, a Libyan diplomat from the country’s east, was selected as chairman of the council.


Bahrain introduces fifth vaccine, extends COVID-19 safety measures

Bahrain introduces fifth vaccine, extends COVID-19 safety measures
Updated 26 February 2021

Bahrain introduces fifth vaccine, extends COVID-19 safety measures

Bahrain introduces fifth vaccine, extends COVID-19 safety measures
  • The Janssen Covid-19 Vaccine will be the fifth vaccine authorized in Bahrain in the fight against the spread of COVID-19
  • The announcement comes as the Government Executive Committee extended precautionary measures

DUBAI: Bahrain’s National Health Regulatory Authority (NHRA) has authorized the use of Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine for coronavirus the Bahrain News Agency reported on Friday.

The Janssen Covid-19 Vaccine will be the fifth vaccine authorized in Bahrain in the fight against the spread of COVID-19 and will be given to those most at risk, suchas the elderly, people with chronic diseases and other groups identified by the Health Ministry.

The announcement comes as the Government Executive Committee extended precautionary measures, aimed at slowing the spread of the virus, for an additional three months.

The measures involve the continued enforcement of  social distancing and screening of people at commercial and industrial premises for a further three months.


Oman extends COVID-19 safety measures, closes parks, beaches, leisure areas indefinitely

Oman extends COVID-19 safety measures, closes parks, beaches, leisure areas indefinitely
Updated 26 February 2021

Oman extends COVID-19 safety measures, closes parks, beaches, leisure areas indefinitely

Oman extends COVID-19 safety measures, closes parks, beaches, leisure areas indefinitely
  • Three Omani citizens convicted of violating coronavirus safety protocols

DUBAI: Oman’s Supreme Committee supervising the country’s coronavirus response has extended indefinitely the closure of beaches, public parks and leisure spaces to curb the spread of the highly contagious disease.

It reiterated the ban on indoor gatherings in resthouses, farms and winter camps, state news agency ONA reported, citing the high risk of coronavirus transmission in closed spaces.

In the North A’Sharqiyah governorate, the Supreme Committee has extended the shortened business operating hours with commercial activities required to close from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m..

Petrol stations, health establishments and private pharmacies are exempt from the updated regulation.

The latest regulations were issued as the Sultanate’s coronavirus cases reached 140,588 with 29 new patients hospitalized overnight. The total number of COVID-19 related death cases is at 1,562.

Meanwhile, three Omani citizens have been convicted of violating coronavirus safety protocols and separately fined $2,000 and sentenced to a three-month imprisonment.

“Primary Courts in the governorates of North Al Batinah and Dhofar issued penal verdicts convicting three citizens who breached decisions of the Supreme Committee” particularly non-compliance with the institutional quarantine and for not wearing a mask, ONA said in a separate report.