Businesses and societies around the world have been hit hard by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. But what has been the specific impact on tech use and adoption in a region as diverse as the Middle East?
For some, it's been an opportunity to innovate. For example, in Egypt, 3D printing has been pioneered in the battle to equip doctors and other health workers with personal protective equipment, or PPE.
Giza Systems Education Foundation (GSEF) announced, via its Facebook page, in early May that it had already provided 27,000 protective face shields to doctors and hospitals across Egypt.
According to the Saudi newspaper Okaz, and reported by Bloomberg, 30 billion riyals ($8bn) has been cut from initiatives designed to deliver help deliver Saudi Arabia's 'Vision 2030'.
Meanwhile, AP suggests that Dubai, which isn't oil and gas-dependent, will once again need to look at the focus of its economy, given the reliance on international workers and trade; both of which are vulnerable to the aftershocks of the coronavirus pandemic.
For many people, the region's airlines will be their first major interaction with a Middle East business. They are among some of the best-known and highest-regarded brands in the region and around the world. With most flights grounded, airlines have inevitably suffered job losses.
To counteract the impact of the health crisis, some airlines in the region are banking on tech as a way to ensure passenger safety and boost consumer confidence once we start flying again.
Conducted on site at the Dubai International Airport, in coordination with Dubai Health Authority (DHA), blood tests offered results in 10 minutes. However, concerns about reliability and accuracy led to the idea quickly being shelved.
Nonetheless, these two developments offer a strong hint about the future of air travel, and the way tech will shape it more than ever.
Emirates becomes first airline to conduct on-site rapid COVID-19 tests for passengers. Source: Emirates/YouTube
However, WhatsApp, FaceTime, and Skype – but not Skype for Business – "remain blocked for voice and video calls", CNBC reported at the end of March.
Meanwhile, efforts by the local telecoms provider Du to allow free internet calling via its new app Voico, which launched in late March, met with strong pushback, given that this app is seldom used outside the country.
Tech legacy and future
With the first wave of the pandemic still running its course, it is too early to say what the long-term impact will be.
Other worries include the spread of rumors and false information online, the use of track-and-trace apps; and whether data-protection laws are fit for purpose – issues far from unique to the region – as well as the impact of the digital divide on telehealth and remote working and schooling.
However, it's likely that the technology clock cannot be turned back.
With the video-call genie out of the bottle, it will be difficult for regulators to revert to the former status quo for platforms that businesses and individuals have been using during the pandemic.
Similarly, as people get used to online education, homeworking and shopping, coupled with use of contactless payments and digital health products, it's likely that some of these digital habits will continue.
"It's unclear to what extent these new behaviors will continue once lockdowns have been lifted and people are able to socialize in person again," notesSimon Kemp, CEO of Kepios and chief analyst at DataReportal.
"But with many people now using these platforms multiple times each day, it's likely that significant numbers of people have already overcome key barriers to trial and adoption."