The strategy behind Bahrain’s COVID-19 success

The strategy behind Bahrain’s COVID-19 success
Dr. Waleed Al-Manea is Bahrain’s undersecretary of the Ministry of Health. (File/Bahrain News Agency)
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Updated 01 July 2021

The strategy behind Bahrain’s COVID-19 success

The strategy behind Bahrain’s COVID-19 success
  • Dr Waleed Al-Manea tells Arab News how his country has dealt with COVID-19
  • Despite a world-beating testing regime, Bahrain remains on the UK’s “red list” for travel 

LONDON: The Kingdom of Bahrain, like the rest of the world, has been convulsed by a year of lockdowns, uncertainty, and painful — but necessary — sacrifices made by and on behalf of its people. 
But now, more than 18 months since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in China and engulfed nearly every country on the planet, the small Gulf state appears to have turned the tide against the virus.
Bahrain was the first country in the world to approve the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine and begin rolling it out, and is currently behind only the UAE and Malta in terms of vaccine doses administered per capita. While more than 1,300 people have died in Bahrain from COVID-19, in real terms, per person, that number is far below much of the rest of the world.
Dr. Waleed Al-Manea, Bahrain’s undersecretary of the Ministry of Health, told Arab News that he attributes this relative success to one clear strategy that the government has pursued throughout the pandemic: transparency.
“Since the start, we have adopted a strategy of transparency — that’s been very important to us,” he said. “With that transparency, we promised ourselves that we would work with facts rather than with deception. Whenever we have made a decision, it has been informed by facts.”
Al-Manea, who also plays a role in Bahrain’s dedicated COVID-19 taskforce, cited the country’s rigorous testing regime — around 5 million PCR tests have been administered in the country of just 1.5 million inhabitants — as an example of how that transparency has, at times, given the appearance that the situation in the kingdom was worse than it really was.
“Throughout the pandemic, the number of cases of COVID-19 in Bahrain has appeared higher per population than (many) other countries — since the start, we’ve recorded more than 250,000 cases,” he said, adding that because Bahrain prioritized widespread testing from the start of the pandemic, cases had appeared to be higher than expected.
“We wanted to trace all the cases, even the ones without symptoms. We did not just test the symptomatic people that arrive in hospitals … This is why we have this huge number (of cases) compared to other countries: because we wanted to test as many people as we could in order to save lives,” he explained.
The doctor praised the public’s patience throughout the pandemic, stressing the difficult experiences of Ramadan and Eid holidays that Bahrain’s people have gone through in states of semi-lockdown.
Al-Manea said the country’s transparent approach throughout the early days of the pandemic has paid dividends as Bahrain ramps up its vaccine drive, and it has meant that the country is fully prepared to handle any challenges — particularly relevant, he added, as the highly infectious Delta variant of the virus appears to be gaining dominance in much of the world.
“We have been communicating with the public very closely on a daily basis throughout the pandemic, and because of that they have this trust in us.
“Because of that transparency, they trust in our management, in the vaccinations, and they trust that we are planning ahead effectively for them. The vaccine rollout was done very smoothly because of this,” the undersecretary explained.
The country’s strategy certainly seems to be paying off. On Wednesday, Bahrain recorded just 184 new cases of the virus across the country — a far cry from the UK’s 20,831, even taking into account the significant difference in population between the two nations.
But despite the escalating Delta-variant crisis in the UK, and much of the West, and the success that Bahrain has achieved, the kingdom remains on the UK’s “red list,” preventing nearly all direct travel between the two long-time friends and allies.
Al-Manea said he respects that each country must make its own “totally independent decision” over its borders, but he added: “I am very confident in what Bahrain is doing … I’m confident that Bahrain is very safe.”