As Covid-19 cases slowly rise across the UAE, Sharjah’s government has approved a comprehensive plan to shield its economy from the most negative consequences of the outbreak.
Sharjah, along with the other emirates, is undertaking an extensive testing programme for its population. As of April 13 the UAE as a whole had tested around 650,000 people, which is among the highest per capita rates globally. Drive-through testing centres have been set up in car parks across the country with the capacity to test 600 people per day at a cost of Dh375 ($102) per person.
No statistics are available for individual emirates, but on a national level 4521 cases had been confirmed, with 25 deaths, as of April 13.
As part of wider social distancing measures, movement permits are now required for residents to travel for essential activities, with those violating stay-at-home orders liable for fines.
Travel restrictions also apply to international travellers. All passenger flights were suspended from midnight on March 23, a measure that is still in place for civil aviation operating out of Sharjah International Airport. Only cargo and charter flights for repatriation purposes are permitted.
While the restrictions on movement and public activities have been largely legislated nationally, the Sharjah government has also acted at the emirate level to protect its economy.
On March 31 the Sharjah Executive Council (SEC) announced a 47-point stimulus plan designed to support the emirate’s economy during the countrywide lockdown.
Measures applicable for businesses include a three-month exemption from business renewal fees this year. Tenants in buildings one and two of the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) complex have also been given a three-month exemption from rent payments starting in April, with the SCCI calling on other landlords in the emirate to adopt the same approach.
In addition, more specific measures have been introduced with a view to cutting bureaucracy while attempting to reduce overhead costs for firms in highly exposed sectors.
For companies in the transport sector, and in particular the air travel segment, a number of exemptions have been made.
Rental payments for airlines’ offices, warehouses and maintenance hangers have been reduced by 50%, while Sharjah’s Air Arabia is exempt from paying the passenger facility charge, as well as aircraft landing fees, baggage check fees and airport entry permits for three months starting in April.
Similarly, a number of fees have been waived for companies in the logistics sector, as the need to facilitate deliveries and ensure consolidated supply chains is paramount for the health of both Sharjah’s economy and society.
Measures include removing inspection fees for all commercial companies, and excusing shipping and customs clearance firms from the bank guarantees required for them to operate legally. In addition, parking tariffs for trucks at Sharjah’s ports have been reduced by 50%, while handling, shipping, unloading and marine fees pertaining to port operations have been reduced by 20%.
Reworking essential business services
In the face of stringent social distancing measures, some entities integral to the emirate’s economy have implemented policies to ensure the continued operation of essential business services during the lockdown.
For instance, the SCCI has been able to provide its basic services online and, during the month of March, recorded 27 new membership applications and 440 membership renewals. The emirate’s free zones also increased their membership by 25 during the same month.
For other client needs, the chamber has launched the ‘You call, we arrive’ initiative. On request, the SCCI sends a van to carry out transactions with clients or members on an individual basis. It is capable of issuing memberships, certificates of origin and attestations – which all previously required an in-person visit to the SCCI.
Looking forward, the SEC has formed a committee to constantly monitor Sharjah’s public health and economic situation. It is headed by Sheikh Salem bin Abdul Rahman Al Qasimi, chairman of the Sharjah Ruler’s Office, and includes members from the Sharjah Finance Department and the Sharjah Economic Development Department, as well as three representatives from the private sector.