The start of a new decade saw Qatar staying on track with its ambitious plans to diversify the economy in line with Qatar National Vision 2030.
However, as was the case with the rest of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted many aspects of people’s lives.
Immediately from the onset of the pandemic, Qatar’s healthcare sector has worked tirelessly to handle the crisis and safeguard the community. Nationals, expatriates, individuals and familities have all been able to access high-quality healthcare.
Much of Qatar’s successful strategy in dealing with the pandemic has been due to the efforts of the COVID-19 Health Tactical Command Team, a joint operation between the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), Public Health Care Corporation (PHCC), and Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC).
The strategy employed by the team has led to the extensive testing of people, an emphasis on tracking and tracing cases, and ensuring those affected have been isolated and treated, to curb the spread of the virus to the community. The early detection of cases has enabled prompt treatment and quarantine measures.
The MoPH set up a number of field hospitals at the start of the pandemic for COVID-19 patients, many of which have now returned to normal operations. This has all contributed to reducing the number of deaths – Qatar continues to maintain one of the lowest COVID-19 mortality rates in the world.
In the midst of the coronavirus, the healthcare system adapted equally well to the way the population accessed its services. In order to meet the needs of its patients while protecting the health and wellbeing of everyone, PHCC now offers home visits by health professionals, virtual consultations, and the delivery of medical consumables and medications. Members of the public can also undergo prebooked drive-through testing at designated facilities.
Meanwhile, HMC continue to open state-of-the-art facilities and offer new services as part of their expansion plans. Rumailah Hospital’s new daycare unit under the Department of Geriatrics at HMC has benefitted more than 1,000 elderly patients since April. The new physician-led service at Al Wakra Hospital aims to improve acute pain management in surgical patients and patients with burn injuries, and its success means it will be soon be offered to more patients and at other HMC hospitals.
Read more about Qatar’s healthcare system in the Health and Beauty section.
HH the Amir in 2020
The Amir, HH Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, participated in the 75th Session of the United Nations General Assembly and High-Level Meeting to Commemorate its 75th Anniversary in September. Speaking at the opening session, HH The Amir stated that the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic remind everyone that the Earth and its peoples are only one family, and that the establishment of the United Nations represents great hope for humanity after the horrors of World War II.
‘We are on the threshold of the third decade of the current century, and despite the estimated efforts, the world is facing unprecedented challenges, foremost of which is the exacerbation of regional and international trouble spots and problems of disarmament, terrorism, the environment and sustainable development.’
HH the Amir added, ‘We affirm the firm position of the State of Qatar in support of the principles, charter and goals of the United Nations, and stress the need to implement the political declaration adopted today and to enhance pluralism and diplomacy. Respecting the sovereignty of states and activating the role of women and youth in all fields.’
HH the Amir acknowledged the country’s commitment and ability to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in his speech during the 49th ordinary session of the Shura Council in November.
The speech praised the country’s health system reliably dealing with the pandemic, making Qatar one of the world’s least affected countries. The address went on to emphasise the continuous investment in developing the health system and medical staff, including prevention, daycare centres, and hospitals. HH the Amir also lauded the success of measures taken to reduce the economic and social impact of the pandemic.
HH the Amir announced during the meeting that elections for the Shura Council will be held in October 2021, a move welcomed by the Cabinet. The United Nations will also establish the Office of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism for Parliamentarians headquarters in Doha.
Read more about the royal family and the political system in the Discovering Qatar section.
Business and Infrastructure
The country has gradually reopened businesses and international travel under clear, phased guidelines, but has kept the number of new cases in check, thanks to continued testing and quarantine rules for incoming passengers.
Oil, gas and petrochemicals remain an important part of Qatar’s economy, representing two-thirds of its GDP and almost 80% of export earnings.
Qatar withdrew from the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in January 2019 to focus on its gas sector. Producing one-third of the world’s liquefied natural gas (LNG), part of this focus is on expanding supply.
One of a number of mega-projects currently underway, the North Field Expansion Project, is moving ahead as scheduled in order to meet the proposed increase in capacity to 126 mn tons per annum. All remaining engineering, procurement, and construction contracts are due to be signed before the end of the year. The expected commissioning of Barzan natural gas facility could support domestic gas production and contribute positively to Qatar’s growth.
Read more about developments at home and overseas in the Oil, Gas and Petrochemicals section.
The emphasis on economic diversification away from the oil and gas industry has somewhat countered the volatility of oil prices seen in 2020, with Qatar’s performance better than its neighbours due to successful economic diversification via large-scale projects.
According to the revised IMF forecasts in its World Economic Outlook of April 2020, GDP growth is expected to fall to -4.3% in 2020 and pick up to 5% in 2021, due to the outbreak of the Covid-19, and assuming a post-pandemic global economic recovery, as well as the end of an expected boom in the services sector ahead of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022TM. The IMF estimated inflation to decrease to -1.2% in 2020 and increase to 2.4% in 2021. Plans to introduce a value added tax (VAT) have been postponed to 2021 at the earliest.
The private sector is playing a greater role in the economic development of the country, with new laws to support the increase in foreign investment. The recently ratified Law No 12 of 2020 on Public-Private Partnership (PPP Law) is a key move for the development of Qatar’s infrastructure, allowing the private sector to play a bigger role in the delivery and operation of major public sector projects.
Meanwhile, the amendment of the law allowing foreign investors to hold full ownership in Qatar’s residential and commercial sectors is expected to give a massive boost to the country’s real estate sector. More freehold zones sees the government diversifying away from oil revenue.
A number of financial initiatives have been implemented by the government throughout 2020:
• The private sector has been given a QAR75 bn support package, and QAR10 bn injected to boost the country’s capital market.
• Food and medical goods were exempted from customs duties for six months, with this reflected in the sales price to the consumer.
• Certain sectors (hospitality, tourism, retail), commercial complexes and logistic areas were exempted from electricity and water fees for six months.
• The emerging logistics zones and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) were exempted from rents for six months.
• Expired licenses and commercial registrations have been automatically renewed, with fees to be paid at a later date.
With the controlled, phased reopening of malls and shops, there has been a surge in consumers buying homegrown produce such as fruits and vegetables, and consumables such as paper products and beverages. At Al Wakra Central Market, Hassad Food, a subsidiary of Qatar Investment Authority, exempted stores and barns from paying rent for six months, and has now cut rents by 50% for the next two years.
Environmental awareness was a theme for Qatar Airways in 2020, which launched a new carbon offset scheme for passengers during Sustainability Week in November. The scheme allows passengers to voluntarily offset their carbon emissions from their flight journeys when booking tickets. Travellers can make a donation to a wind turbine farm which supplies clean electricity to the Indian National Grid, to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The project consists of 54 wind turbines which generate 108 MW and avoids 210,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year.
The airline’s latest sustainability efforts come as part of its partnership with IATA and profit-for-purpose company ClimateCare, joining several other airlines globally to reduce their impact on the environment. Qatar Airways currently operates more than 700 weekly flights to just over 100 destinations, and plans to increase the network to more than 125 destinations by the end of the IATA Winter Season, according to HE Akbar Al Baker, Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive.
Read more about the economy and investment opportunities in the Banking and Commerce section.
Qatar has a slew of mega-projects underway, many of which will be completed in time for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022TM, an event that provides a unique showcase for the country’s economic achievements and plans for the future.
Main roads and highways continue to be developed, with new junctions and intersections offering commuters easier access around the country. Al Khor Coastal Road is now one of the biggest, widest in the country with accompanying 32 km of cycle paths, and Al Shamal Road is undergoing a mammoth restructure, connecting it with the Doha Expressway and Mesaieed Road.
Work also continues on the stadiums for the World Cup. The Gulf Organisation for Research & Development (GORD) has accredited staff for sustainable operation and maintenance, and the stadiums are achieving major sustainability ratings from GORD’s Global Sustainability Assessment System (GSAS).
The FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022TM
Qatar was awarded the rights to host the FIFA World CupTM in December 2010, with sustainability as one of the main aspects – this desire started at the bid stage and it will continue through to the end of the tournament. The State aims to use the power of football to open up a world of amazing experiences and build a lasting legacy that fits in with both FIFA’s vision and Qatar’s national development goals.
FIFA and the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC) began to develop and implement the event’s first joint Sustainability Strategy in 2015. It was formally unveiled in January 2020, with five sustainability commitments:
• Human Pillar: To develop human capital and safeguard workers’ rights.
• Social Pillar: To provide an inclusive tournament experience.
• Economic Pillar: To catalyse economic development.
• Environment Pillar: To deliver innovative environmental solutions.
• Governance Pillar: To set an example of good governance and ethical business practices.
Supporting this, 22 objectives have been described in detail, together with more than 70 initiatives and programmes to deliver the strategy and achieve the objectives set. These were identified with the help of more than 100 national and international governmental, non-governmental and private-sector organisations, via surveys, workshops meetings and the circulation of drafts. The development process for the strategy also included a full human rights salience assessment, a first for a mega-sporting event.
The FIFA World Cup 2022™ First Sustainability Progress Report, published in October, gave an update on the progress made by FIFA, SC and the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 LLC in 2019 regarding the five sustainability commitments. Key achievements included:
• The opening of Al Janoub Stadium, after exceeding its targeted sustainable construction management certification.
• The FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ headquarters in Doha becoming the first office tower in the country to receive sustainable building certification for operations.
• The continued implementation of SC’s programme monitoring compliance with its Workers’ Welfare Standards, and the expansion of SC’s recruitment fees reimbursement scheme benefitting 16,500 workers on related projects and 18,000 workers on other sites.
The world finally got to know more about the World Cup matches when the schedule was released in July. Hosts Qatar will kick off the tournament on Monday 21 November 2022 at Al Bayt Stadium, a 60,000-capacity arena taking its name and design from the traditional tents used by nomadic peoples in the Gulf region.
The local kick-off times for group matches have been set for 1 pm, 4 pm, 7 pm and 10 pm. The simultaneous kick-offs for the last round of group games and knockout-stage timings are 6 pm and 10 pm. Khalifa International Stadium will host the play-off for third place on 17 December, with the final one day later (National Day) at 6 pm at Lusail Stadium in front of an 80,000 crowd.
Read more about how the country is gathering momentum in the build-up to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022TM in the Infrastructure section.
Read more about this and other events in the Sports section. For details about the Sustainability Strategy and the schedule for the 2022 FIFA World Cup QatarTM, visit FIFA.com/sustainability and qatar2022.qa
Not only businesses have benefitted despite this somewhat difficult year. August ushered in a new era for the labour market, ending the requirement for migrant workers to obtain their employer’s permission to change jobs, and becoming the first country in the region to adopt a non-discriminatory minimum wage.
Law No 17 of 2020 sets a minimum wage of QAR1,000 and will apply to all workers, including domestic workers. In addition to the basic minimum wage, employers must ensure that workers have decent accommodation and food. If these are not provided, employers must pay allowances of at least QAR300 and QAR500 to cover the costs of food and housing.
The Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs (MADLSA) will be working with employers to update all employment contracts where workers earn less than the amount established by the new law, and a Minimum Wage Committee will be formed, tasked with studying and reviewing the minimum wage of workers and domestic workers.
Under Law No 19 of 2020, migrant workers can now change jobs before the end of their contract without having to obtain a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from their employer. This new law, along with the removal of exit permit requirements earlier in the year, ends the ‘kafala’ sponsorship system.
The new amendments also include increasing the number of labour dispute resolution committees in an effort to tackle the number of labour disputes, facilitate workers’ access to the rights, and expedite legal proceedings.
It is envisaged that these changes will not only protect employee rights, but enforce stricter penalties for employers who fail to pay wages, and introduce penalties for employers who fail to provide adequate accommodation for their workers.
These new labour laws have been well received by international observers the International Trade Union Confederation, the International Organisation of Employers, and the International Labour Organization – the latter worked closely with the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs and with employers’ and workers’ organisations over labour market mobility and the new minimum wage in Qatar.
Read more about living and working in Qatar in the Discovering Qatar section.
Marhaba has also had a successful year! Joining the ever-popular printed guide are our new, comprehensive e-Guides.
‘This year has been one of adaptation, as we now have a ‘new normal’ for how we live our lives. Our focus has never wavered though – we are still passionate about being the premier resource to life in Qatar, by delivering high quality news stories and being a one-stop-shop for everything you need to know about the country. Now we have e-Guides to complement our printed books, so it has never been quicker or easier to get all the information you could ever want about Qatar.
‘We would like to thank our clients and readers for continuing to support us in 2020, and we look forward to seeing you all in 2021!’
Founder and Managing Editor of Marhaba Information Guide
To view our e-guides, simply visit marhaba.qa/marhaba-eguides and start reading! While you’re there, why not take a look at our hospitality listings, food and motoring reviews, events calendar, and the most up to date news? You can also stay connected by following us on social media and by signing up for our weekly newsletter.
Author: Sarah Palmer
This feature is from the ‘Special Features’ section in Marhaba – Issue 79 (December 2020).
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