Manama, The Information and eGovernment Authority (iGA) Chief Executive, Mohammed Ali Al Qaed represented the kingdom of Bahrain at the Ministerial Conference on the Digital Response to COVID-19, an online event organised by Estonia and Singapore providing countries with an opportunity to discuss ways of confronting the pandemic through innovative digital solutions. The participants exchanged information and lessons learned from each country’s digital response to the crisis before highlighting future expectations.
During the discussion Al Qaed stated: “I would like to underline that our approach has always been based on the directives of His Majesty the King, to safeguard the health and safety of all in the Kingdom, regardless of nationality, race or religion. This principle is demonstrated by the wide range of measures taken to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, including providing free COVID-19 treatments to all; and raising awareness among all segments of society through a multilingual public awareness campaign. These measures received wide ranging international recognition, including by the World Health Organization (WHO).”
He added: “We are also acting under directives from HRH Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the Crown Prince, Deputy Supreme Commander and First Deputy Prime Minister, to unify and strengthen the Kingdom’s efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 by deploying technology as part of national efforts to combat the virus. On the digital front, our COVID-19 response efforts leveraged the Kingdom’s eGovernment strategic framework, which is supported by a strong ICT infrastructure, digital transformation readiness, and compliance with international ICT standards and best practices.
Bahrain was the first country in the region to implement a ‘Cloud First Policy’ for our re-engineering of public services. At the same time, we invested in developing government employees’ ICT skills, fully optimising our public service delivery channels.”
In line with directives to employ modern technology in mitigating the spread of the pandemic, the iGA carried out a number of digital interventions including migrating approximately 80% of the most commonly used government systems, those requiring no physical visits to Government premises, which enabled 70% of public sector employees to work from home ensuring business continuity, and facilitating a government-wide approach to work policy, while reinforcing 24/7 cyber surveillance.
Al Qaed continued by stating: “With AI technologies revolutionizing the way, the BeAware app, one of the first fully functional contact tracing apps, facilitates the work of the National Task Force for Combating the Coronavirus and healthcare professionals by identifying, tracking, isolating and providing early treatment – factors which are central to effective prevention, and reduction in spread of the virus. BeAware app , which has been downloaded more than 800,000 times, alerts individuals in real time whenever they approach an active case and supports the public by providing up-to-date notifications related to public health and international developments. At the same time, it ensures the privacy of users through fully automated processes, implemented without any human intervention whatsoever, in addition to providing data encryption and user privacy.
In his concluding remarks, Al Qaed noted how the pandemic had clearly demonstrated the value of fast and resilient digital services, and the importance of technology as a factor in sustainable development, noting support for the principles outlined by the declaration on the digital response to Covid-19 adding that the crisis must not lead to a widening of the global “digital divide”.