Bahrain, a tiny island nation in the Gulf region, home to roughly a million people,
was also affected by the recent outbreak of the COVID-19 or the Coronavirus, but it’s the response to it has received global applaud and acclaim.
For weeks prior to the local outbreak, we had heard that the virus was spreading throughout China, and then the rest of Asia like wildfire. At the start, the panic was limited to friends who had booked flights and holidays to Asia, but primarily, life continued as usual. As one local newspaper article headlined, “Bahrain, free of coronavirus”.
When the first case was discovered in Dubai many days later, that was when it hit home for most. An hour’s flight and the cases were piling up. In the days following, multinational companies canceled all non-essential, personal and business flights to Asia, and nearby countries. But, such is the human plight, that many don’t worry, until the health calamity is on your own doorstep, so life continued, as normal.
One morning, a few weeks later, residents and expats alike woke up to Whatsapp messages and Instagram notifications that the first person infected with COVID-19 had appeared in Bahrain. It had hit home.
In the days following, the first case turned to over 30 cases, and in less than a week, the outlook turned grim to 50 cases and at its all-time high, of over 90 people.
With each case, came each Whatsapp forward, and the panic supervened. Within a day of the announcement, the masks ran out, supermarkets sold out on hand sanitizers and Dettol handwashes. The roads started becoming emptier, the coffee shops and restaurants deserted. You could feel fear in the air.
Bahrain became the largest Coronavirus outbreak per GDP Capita in the world. A large-scale spread of a deadly virus strain, in a population so small, in an area so dense, would have had tremendous ramifications.
But it didn’t – Bahrain’s formidable response to the containment of the spread of the Coronavirus in the days followed is one that is to be globally applauded, a case study to be written on how a government built on excellence, and not appearance, should perform.
The formidable way in which the Government of Bahrain responded, through its swift collaboration and synchrony, notwithstanding any measure or decision, regardless of any economical impact, sent not just message that the precedence of the health of its citizens and residents is higher than that of the potential impact of the loss of tourism or business opportunity, but it delivered so much on that excellence, that the World Health Organization and health experts across the globe had applauded it for its conduct.
Within a day of the announcement, flights were canceled to all affected countries. Those that had traveled to affected countries, were immediately quarantined. Many that had traveled in the month prior to the announcement of COVID-19, were asked to come forward for testing through a specially dedicated hotline that was purpose-built.
Those that did not voluntarily submit for testing, due to fears of contracting the virus at quarantine centers, were sent mobile vans to their houses for testing at their convenience. Thousands and thousands of people were tested in less than a week at their homes – mostly negative, but the quest continued.
Whilst this was happening inside the country, airports were being equipped with quarantine centers nearby; make-shift hospitals were established immediately to ensure that there is no shortage of space or availability of treatment to patients. In a few days, videos emerged, of the entire airport, it’s busses, and terminal areas, being disinfected by teams of people wearing hazmat suits. A point to remember is that this was at a time, where most travel, and business continued as normal everywhere else.
Subsequently, schools, universities, outdoor events, festivals, conferences, all postponed. Text messages were constantly sent by the Ministry of Health to every resident in an effort to reduce panic and increase awareness of hygiene.
A local and revered social media influencer, Omar Farooq, who has millions of followers, created a YouTube video in collaboration with the government, to show the inside of quarantine centers, and talked to doctors treating patients, to help us understand the virus better, whilst encouraging those in fear to come forward for testing.
And the containment effort continued.
Meanwhile, in the background, hundreds of health workers continued their magic to help treat patients, technology experts created an internet portal to give us access to real-time information on the outbreak.
In the days followed, videos of those recovering from Coronavirus had emerged, smiling, eating shawarma’s, further appeasing us all, that maybe, while precautions are necessary, the anxiety isn’t.
So whilst many around the world voiced their dissatisfaction, on the ways their health authorities could have contained the spread of the virus better; in a world ever so grim, I often find myself feeling grateful, that whilst, we may not be able to contain it completely, living in a country that left no page unturned, skipping the bureaucracy, to put humans first, I, and we should feel rest assured that the hands we are in, are safe.
This isn’t the first outbreak, and it won’t be the last, and whilst we scroll through our social media apps through the barrage of negative news, often amping up our anxiety at the current plight of the world, let’s try to turn down the anxiety, sip on our Vitamin C’s, stay safe, and turn up our trust in those working tirelessly behind the scenes, to keep us healthy and well-informed with times like these.
Saad Ahmed, LocalBH