How the coronavirus crisis disrupted the global urban order

Moroccans wearing face masks walk along a street in the capital Rabat, after the authorities eased lockdown measures in some cities, that had been put in place in order to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, on June 25, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
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Moroccans wearing face masks walk along a street in the capital Rabat, after the authorities eased lockdown measures in some cities, that had been put in place in order to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, on June 25, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
Pedestrians, wearing protective face masks, walk on the waterfront next to the White Tower in Thessaloniki on October 31, 2020, as Greek Prime Minister declared a one-month partial coronavirus lockdown. (AFP/File Photo)
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Pedestrians, wearing protective face masks, walk on the waterfront next to the White Tower in Thessaloniki on October 31, 2020, as Greek Prime Minister declared a one-month partial coronavirus lockdown. (AFP/File Photo)
How the world’s cities adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic may very well determine their resilience and longevity, say experts. (AFP/File Photo)
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How the world’s cities adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic may very well determine their resilience and longevity, say experts. (AFP/File Photo)
A man wearing a face mask gazes at the Dubai skyline from a window, during a lockdown imposed by the authorities in a bid to slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus in the Emirati city on April 5, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
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A man wearing a face mask gazes at the Dubai skyline from a window, during a lockdown imposed by the authorities in a bid to slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus in the Emirati city on April 5, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
A picture taken on April 18, 2020 show the Great pyramids lighten-up with blue light and reading with a laser projection the message
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A picture taken on April 18, 2020 show the Great pyramids lighten-up with blue light and reading with a laser projection the message "Stay Home" on the Giza plateau outside the Egyptian capital of Cairo, on the world heritage day, as the country fights against the spread of COVID-19. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 08 January 2021

How the coronavirus crisis disrupted the global urban order

Moroccans wearing face masks walk along a street in the capital Rabat, after the authorities eased lockdown measures in some cities, that had been put in place in order to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, on June 25, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
  • In order to emerge more resilient from the pandemic, Middle East city leaders must reimagine what comes next
  • For East Asian cities, long-term investment is starting to pay off as they close the gap with their Western peers

DUBAI: History is full of examples of mighty cities brought to their knees by deadly disease outbreaks. While COVID-19’s global toll is miniscule compared with the ravages of, say, the Black Death during the Middle Ages, the sheer scale of urbanization and the interconnectedness of today’s modern economy amplified the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. How different cities adapted to the latest contagion may very well determine their resilience and longevity.

Without a doubt, the COVID-19 crisis has shaken up the existing global urban order and thrown the reputation of several Western cities into question. Yet in many ways, the pandemic has merely accelerated a long-established eastward trend.

In its 2020 Global Cities Index report titled “New priorities for a new world,” management consultancy Kearney examined how the pandemic has impacted urban life and economic competitiveness of the world’s metropolises. This year’s study included data from 151 cities — up from 130 surveyed in 2019 — reflecting the growing importance of urban spaces in the Middle East, China and Central Asia.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the findings of the 2020 report are very different from previous years, as cities continue to limit entry to visitors, cancel events and festivals, and restrict the free movement and social mixing of their citizens in the hope of containing successive waves of the virus and its latest mutations.

Kearney’s Global Cities Outlook (GCO) suggests that although some well-established contenders have maintained their ranking over the course of the year, others have witnessed a notable change of fortunes — for better or worse.

London, for instance maintained its high ranking in 2020 despite the British capital’s repeated lockdowns and the economic uncertainties of Brexit. Meanwhile, for many rising cities, particularly those in China and the Middle East, it appears that long-term investment in governance and economic infrastructure is starting to pay off as they rapidly close the gap with their American and European peers.

One example is Abu Dhabi, which has risen to 7th place on the index, 13 notches above its 20th ranking in 2019, overtaking Stockholm, Amsterdam and Dublin. The city also topped the economics metric in infrastructure, which, as the report states, was “thanks to its openness to the private sector and robust engagement in public-private partnerships.” This boosted per capita gross domestic product (GDP) and foreign direct investment.

Dubai also has cause to celebrate, climbing 14 points in the index to rank 18th, up from 34th in 2019 and 41st in 2018. Meanwhile in Asia, Singapore dropped a notch to 3rd whereas Tokyo climbed two ranks to 4th. Although they have not emerged unscarred by the pandemic, these Eastern powerhouses are primed for significant growth in the coming years.

Dr. Parag Khanna, managing partner at FutureMap, a consultancy firm analyzing trends in globalization, says the world can be divided into two categories now. “The places that shifted together and are going to figure out how to move ahead and those that have not been successful at sticking to a plan,” he told Arab News.

“Countries such as the UAE, Kazakhstan and Singapore are all countries that are going to come out of the pandemic not necessarily better tomorrow but in the hierarchy of countries that had a plan and are going to stabilize a profit in the years ahead.”

Kearney’s analysis suggests that in order to emerge stronger and more resilient from the current crisis, city leaders have been forced to reimagine what comes next.

Its study covers four dimensions — personal well-being, economics, innovation and governance — which are key determinants of a city’s ability to attract talented human capital, generate economic growth, increase competitiveness and ensure stability and security.




An aerial view shows King Abdullah Finance City and the northern ring road which remains empty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, on the first day of the Eid al-Fitr feast marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in the Saudi capital Riyadh, on May 24, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

It stresses the need for “urban value creation,” meaning that in order to remain relevant and competitive in a post-pandemic world, “global cities will need to deepen their focus on creating public value — that is, value centered on the common good across all sectors and segments of society.”

Other top priorities are promoting “global city connectedness” — meaning the international flow of goods, ideas and people — and “the transformation of urban space” — placing the onus on urban leaders “to address the many challenges tied to physical space that have been so starkly revealed by the pandemic.”

Khanna says the coronavirus crisis has shown that some countries need to slow down and re-evaluate. “It is more important now to fix the cities that you have than to build new cities that you don’t necessarily know if you are going to need in the future,” he said.

“When you are looking at cities now you need to ask yourself the following: Which cities are stable and successful? In what cities are people recongregating? Which cities are going to attract young talented people who could now be anywhere in the world because of remote work? And could Dubai or Riyadh or Tel Aviv or Istanbul or Muscat be that place?”

A case in point is NEOM in Saudi Arabia. Before the pandemic struck, the world watched expectantly as Saudi Arabia outlined its plans for the futuristic smart city located in the northwest Tabuk province.

With the global public-health crisis expected to catalyze the digital transformation of different sectors, “NEOM has an unprecedented opportunity to become the first health technology capital of the world, and a global hub for innovation and cooperation in health and wellness technology,” wrote Roxana Mohammadian-Molina, chief strategy officer at London-based financial technology company Blend Network, in a commentary for Arab News in July last year.

As for the Saudi capital, Afshin Molavi, senior fellow at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said: “Riyadh is making many of the right moves, particularly in its upgrading of transport infrastructure and the expansion of entertainment offerings.

“If it continues to move in this direction, I could envision Riyadh landing on most of the top regional urban indexes over the next few years.”

The pandemic does appear to have accelerated a trend that has long been in evidence — the shift of business eastward, with major economic centers opening in China, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

The continued rise and apparent pre-eminence of the East during this challenging period may also have something to do with planning, allocation of resources and leadership.

“The rise of the East has nothing to do with the fall of the West,” said Khanna. “The global economic pie was growing for centuries and certainly for decades during the entire post-Cold War era.

“The rise of the East began the second the atomic bombs were dropped in 1945 because that’s when Japan started to reinvent itself as a peaceful country. Japan then took exactly 30 years — from 1945 until 1975 — to become the world’s second largest economy.”

Khanna says many countries in the East have withstood the harsh punishment of the coronavirus pandemic thanks in part to sound socio-economic planning. “This reinforces the Asia-centricity of the coming era,” he said.

During this time of global fragmentation, there has also been a noticeable resurgence in economic activity along regional lines. “You don’t have de-globalization but an enhancement in regional cooperation,” said Khanna.

“It’s not an accident that reconciliation with Qatar is happening more now or the normalization of relations between the Israel-UAE or the recent Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) — the big trade agreement that has just gone ahead in the midst of a pandemic, because Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thais and Koreans realize that for the foreseeable future, they are going to trade a lot more with each other rather than across the vast oceans.”

Small wonder then, as the Kearney report concludes, the cities that are emerging on top are the ones that have long been innovating for the future, that have stuck to sound plans, and those that have strengthened their regional ties for the bumpy road ahead.

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Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor

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Oman imposes Ramadan night-time ban on commercial activities, movement of people

Oman imposes Ramadan night-time ban on commercial activities, movement of people
Updated 20 min 19 sec ago

Oman imposes Ramadan night-time ban on commercial activities, movement of people

Oman imposes Ramadan night-time ban on commercial activities, movement of people
  • The decisions can either be relaxed or toughened, depending on the pandemic situation

DUBAI: Oman has imposed a night-time ban on all commercial activities and movement of people throughout the holy month of Ramadan.

All types of gatherings, including iftars in mosques, tents or public places typical during Ramadan are affected by the prohibition against mass assembly, which starts from 9 p.m. until 4 a.m.

Oman’s Supreme Committee, which was created to deal with all coronavirus pandemic related developments, also imposed a ban on all social, sports and cultural activities and any other group activities throughout the holy month of Ramadan.

Key sectoral workers such as in oil, healthcare, utilities, food supply and media were however exempted from the movement ban, provided they have permissions, as well as three-ton trucks. Pharmacies were also allowed to operate during the night-time commercial ban.

The decisions can either be relaxed or toughened, depending on the pandemic situation, according to Dr. Abdullah Nasser Al-Harrasi, the minister of Information and a member of the COVID-19 Supreme Committee.


UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight

UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight
Updated 13 min 50 sec ago

UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight

UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight
  • UAE health officials reported 2,022 new coronavirus cases overnight

DUBAI: The UAE administered 1118,805 more doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight, bringing total jabs given to residents and citizens to 9,156,728 or about 92.58 doses per 100 individuals.

The nationwide inoculation program aims to give the population immunity from coronavirus that will help curb its spread as well as bring down infection cases.

UAE health officials reported 2,022 new coronavirus cases overnight, bringing the country’s caseload to 487,697 since the pandemic began. Four deaths were also confirmed due to COVID-19 complications, bringing the total number of deaths in the country to 1,537.

Meanwhile, an additional 1,731 individuals had fully recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries to 471,906.


Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE

Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE
Updated 14 April 2021

Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE

Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden’s administration has told Congress it is proceeding with more than $23 billion in weapons sales to the United Arab Emirates, including advanced F-35 aircraft, armed drones and other equipment, congressional aides said on Tuesday.
A State Department spokesperson said the administration would move forward with the proposed sales to the UAE, “even as we continue reviewing details and consulting with Emirati officials” related to the use of the weapons.
The Democratic president’s administration had paused the deals agreed to by former Republican President Donald Trump in order to review them.


Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier

Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier
An honour guard of Israeli soldiers with their rifles stands to attention during a one minute siren, as they partake in a state ceremony for Memorial Day in Jerusalem on April 13, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 14 April 2021

Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier

Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier
  • ‘He saw horrible things and nobody took care of him,’ his tearful brother Avi Saidian told journalists at the hospital

JERUSALEM: Israel was shaken Tuesday after a 26-year-old former soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder since the 2014 Gaza war set himself on fire, suffering severe injuries.
Itzik Saidian went to a support service for wounded soldiers near Tel Aviv on Monday, doused himself with a flammable liquid and lit it, “due to significant psychological distress,” the army said.
He was rushed to the intensive care unit of Tel Hashomer Hospital near Tel Aviv and was in “critical condition” with “deep burns all over his body,” the hospital said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “very shocked” and “determined to undertake a complete reform of the way we take care of our disabled and wounded veterans.”
The young man had been recognized as partially disabled because he suffered from PTSD related to his service during the 2014 war between Israel and the armed Islamist movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Around 2,250 Palestinians were killed in the war, mostly civilians, and 74 Israelis, mostly soldiers.
Saidian’s self-immolation came on the eve of Israel’s Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers and attack victims.
It sparked controversy over the support system for wounded or psychologically ill soldiers, which is often deemed inefficient and bureaucratic.
“He saw horrible things and nobody took care of him,” his tearful brother Avi Saidian told journalists at the hospital.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced a “thorough investigation to find the reasons for this tragic event.” His ministry pledged to “substantially improve the treatment of post-traumatic soldiers.”
Military service is mandatory in Israel for 18-year-olds. Women serve two years and men two years and six months.


Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval

Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval
Updated 13 April 2021

Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval

Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval
  • Aoun's decision could significantly delay the process
  • Israeli Energy Minister said Monday Lebanon's expanded claim would derail talks

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s president said on Tuesday a draft decree expanding its maritime claims in a dispute with Israel must be approved by the caretaker government, rejecting a request to grant it swift presidential approval.
The dispute with Israel over the maritime boundary has held up hydrocarbon exploration in a potentially gas-rich area of the eastern Mediterranean.
The decree, approved by Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, defense minister and minister of public work on Monday, would add around 1,400 square km (540 square miles) to an exclusive economic zone in the eastern Mediterranean claimed by Lebanon.
Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s office said the decree should be approved by President Michel Aoun so that the new maritime coordinates setting out Lebanon’s claim could be submitted to the United Nations.
But the presidency said it should be approved by Diab’s full cabinet, even though the government resigned eight months ago following a devastating explosion in Beirut, because of the gravity of the issue.
The draft decree “needs a collective decision from the council of ministers..., even under a caretaker government, due to its importance and the consequences,” a statement from Aoun’s office said.
Aoun’s decision could significantly delay the process. Since the government resigned in August it has referred all issues for exceptional approval by the president, leaving them to get formal endorsement when a new government is finally agreed.
Negotiations were launched in October to try to resolve the dispute with Israel yet the talks, a culmination of three years of diplomacy by the United States, have since stalled.
Israel already pumps gas from offshore fields but Lebanon has yet to find commercial gas reserves in its own waters.
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Monday Lebanon’s expanded claim would derail the talks rather than help work toward a common solution, warning that Israel would implement “parallel measures.”
Lebanon, in the throes of a deep financial meltdown that is threatening its stability, is desperate for cash as it faces the worst economic crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war. But political leaders have failed to bridge their differences and form a new government.