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Welcome to our monthly Covid-19 Government Measures newsletter. Our goal is to keep you up to date on key Covid-19-related policies and initiatives, with a focus on the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).

As this edition coincides with the start of the new academic year across the globe, we are afforded the opportunity to examine how different countries have handled this critical phase of their recovery, and especially the response of countries in the Middle East as compared to their counterparts in Europe.

The UN, in an August policy brief, commented, “The Covid-19 pandemic has created the largest disruption of education systems in history, affecting nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries and all continents. Closures of schools and other learning spaces have impacted 94% of the world’s student population, up to 99% in low and lower-middle income countries.”1

Despite this, from our analysis of individual countries’ approaches, the new academic year has seen schools across the world re-start mostly in the traditional fashion, though with many safety and continuity measures in place, as well as with a greater degree of the incorporation of digital learning methods, with many countries mandating some form of digitization in education.

Analysis of similarities across governments’ responses

  • Globally, a continued increase in the uptake of e-government development is evident, with 65% of UN member states now classified as ‘high’ or ‘very high’ in the UN’s 2020 E-government Survey. The provision of digital government services has improved significantly. More than 84% of countries now offer at least one online transactional service, and the global average is 14.
  • The pandemic has stimulated innovation in the education sector. Distance learning solutions have been developed thanks to quick responses by governments and partners all over the world supporting education continuity, such as the “My school is my home” initiative in Saudi Arabia.
  • The power of digital technology to drive innovative and agile sustainable development is recognized by most countries in Western Asia (including the GCC). Priorities for improving service delivery in the region include enhancing citizen participation, fostering innovation within government structures and institutions, opening government data, and digitalizing institutions.

Analysis of differences across governments’ responses

  • While some countries are pushing towards economic recovery and development of a ‘new reality’, others (Jordan, UK) are grappling with setbacks and new breakouts. Countries seem better prepared now for these setbacks than in the spring, with continued economic recovery and policymaking despite them.
  • Digital transformation priorities across the Middle East are informed by diverse national needs and capacities and therefore vary widely from one country to another and the process can be affected by numerous factors, including digital capacity and access, governance, and societal circumstances or conditions.
  • Countries with moderate levels of development, e.g. Jordan, are improving delivery of high-quality inclusive government services. Higher income countries, e.g. the UAE, are mobilizing emerging technologies to provide services and user satisfaction.

We see ever more digitization present in government services both to combat the repercussions of the pandemic, and catalyzed by it, whereby the threat of contagion and subsequent quarantine measures have triggered a cultural shift towards increased demand for digital channels, accelerating the pace of government digitization.

While there is a positive correlation between digitization and the income level of a country, financial resources are not the only factor in e-government development. Very often, a strong political will, strategic leadership, and the commitment to expanding the provision of digital services will allow a country to digitize faster than might otherwise be expected, a factor which works in favour of GCC countries, with the UAE scoring highly, and the KSA making significant strides up the index this year.

Strategies for ‘Govtech’ and ‘e-government’ have been given additional emphasis as the pandemic has progressed and demand for them has increased, while ‘e-participation’ (leveraging technology to enable citizen participation in processes involving government) is rapidly gaining attention. Future editions of this newsletter will continue to examine these strategies as they are developed and executed in the coming months.

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