The year 2020 was marred by the Covid-19 pandemic. The health crisis and resultant economic slowdown ushered in new norms changing lives, businesses and education upside down. The year will be remembered for the pandemic and how humans faced the disease.

Qatar is one of those countries where the deaths caused by the novel coronavirus are very low. Both its citizens and residents have hailed Qatar’s steps to ward off the pandemic and cope with the economic crisis. The financial stimulus for the private sector and emergency healthcare steps to deal with the virus outbreak have borne fruit as the people have grown further in confidence and resilience.

On the eve of New Year, Gulf Times spoke to representatives of different expatriate communities of Qatar about their experiences during 2020 and what they plan ahead for 2021 in Qatar.

P N Baburajan, president of Indian Community Benevolent Forum (ICBF), has long been into community service in Qatar. Talking about the unexpected health crisis, he said: “The world was caught unprepared by the Covid-19 and Qatar was no exception. The country however became an exception by implementing strict but unavoidable restrictions to slow down the outbreak. Being a part of Qatar’s one of the largest communities, there was a lot to plan, prepare and act in no time as many started losing the life harmony.”

Appreciating the efforts of ICBF for providing relief to Indian expatriates, Baburajan said: “With co-ordination from various ministries of Qatar, ICBF along with other regional expatriate groups launched a large relief activity. I was fascinated by the community’s harmony irrespective of cast, creed and geographical boundaries in India. I was also astonished to see how Qatar has taken proactive measures and executed action plans at different levels to keep the situation under control. It gave utmost priority to human life whether it is a Qatari national or an expatriate. For the most significant step was arranging medical consultations on telephone and delivering medicines at the doorstep.”

In 2021, Baburajan wants to continue his community and welfare work for both Qatar and his community. “I would focus on enhancing socio-cultural relationship between my host country and my community.”

Pakistani expatriate Adeel Akbar, in Qatar for about four decades, is general secretary for Pakistan Arts Society Qatar. He also praised Qatar’s efforts to curb the outbreak in 2020 and hopes 2021 would be safer after the vaccination drive is completed. “No doubt Qatar has done plausible work. With minimum deaths and controlled number of confirmed cases, Qatar stands out in the world devastated by the pandemic.”

Laying stress on the positive lessons learnt from the health crisis, he said: “When the Covid-19 started, we had no idea that its effects would be so horrible. Since its start, we have gone through different and new experiences, particularly during the lockdown. People realised that in the past they were not able to spend enough time with their families. People started making up for the deficiency. We interact and converse more now and get busy in different indoor activities that were not in practice earlier.”

The Pakistani community representative said that the New Year resolution should be to carry forward the good lessons learnt from the pandemic and lockdowns. “During lockdowns, the world witnessed cleaner air and improved environment in many countries. People need to avoid unnecessary use of cars and other vehicles in 2021 to have a better environment for future generations.”

Anwar Hossain Akon, president of Bangladesh Community Qatar, suffered from Covid-19 but got cured. “In January 2020, I predicted that the year would prove a great one. I thought the number ‘20’ is good one and would prove positive. But unfortunately everything went wrong for 2020. Personally, I suffered from this virus for about 10 days in May and I also lost my best friend in Qatar due to coronavirus.”

Despite all odds, Anwar has noticed a lot of good things done by Qatar government. “I would like to mention only one, that is how Qatar took care of Qataris and residents in an equal way. Further, Qatar provided food supplies and healthcare services to less privileged segments of the society as well.”

For 2021, the Bangladeshi expatriate hopes that the New Year will be free of coronavirus. “I hope the year will be safe with vaccination. We will have positive economic activities and education will go on unhindered.”

Hazim Hamza is general secretary of Sri Lankan Community Benevolent Fund and head of community development unit of Sri Lankan Islamic Center Qatar. He is all out praise for the response of the residents of Qatar to the pandemic, making it a safe country in 2020. “The people of Qatar adapted to the new norm quickly taking all necessary precautions and following guidelines of the authorities which helped to keep the impact of Covid-19 under control here.”

The Sri Lankan hopes that Qatar would carry forward the positive work in 2021. “I am optimistic about the resilience of Qatar. Let fall of 2021 give light of hope against all challenges we faced in 2020 due to the unprecedented pandemic.”

Victor Ikoli is an active member of Nigerian expatriate community in Qatar. During all the problems and hardships brought in by the pandemic, Victor said that he learnt how to be creative and steadfast. “During restrictions, I learned about the importance of being creative with the scarce resources and limited physical space we have at home. I also appreciate that small acts of kindness and gratitude to people, have helped to boost their emotional well-being.”

The Nigerian expatriate wishes to see everything normal in 2021. “My wish for the New Year is for life to return to normal again, safe travel, social gatherings, handshakes and prosperity for humanity.”

Joseph Timothy Rivera is investment promotion partner for the Middle East and active member of the Filipino community in Qatar. The expatriate hails Qatar’s fast recovery from the pandemic. “Qatar has been the most resilient nation in recovering from the pandemic in record time, so impeccable almost second to none. The pandemic has just validated this nation’s renowned strength in dealing with far greater challenges just as how it has gracefully endured the longstanding blockade.”

Shedding light on some positive aspects of the pandemic, Joseph said: “We have to admit that this invisible nemesis has actually managed to bring families and friends closer in many ways. It has rapidly expedited digital, information and communication technology.”

Regarding the New Year, he said: “I would like to help ensure that Qatar becomes a leading example in managing the pandemic during 2021.”

Ann Jangsell Williams, president of the Swedish Association of Qatar, views 2020 as a challenging year. “It has been a challenging year but from negative comes positive. Here in Qatar, I experienced communities coming together to offer emotional, spiritual, and economic support during the pandemic. I believe people have re-evaluated what is important in life. Human ingenuity to find new safe ways to carry on the fundamentals of life is nothing but amazing.”

Expressing her New Year resolution, Ann said: “When safe to do so, I plan to travel to see family in Sweden and England and get a hug from my parents and in-laws. I will also keep up my healthy way of living and take care of others and myself. Kindness is truly a superpower.”

Palma Libotte is president of Italian Chamber of Commerce and community leader for Supreme Committee 2022. She considers herself lucky to be in Qatar during the pandemic. “In this difficult year, I appreciated more than ever the positive aspects of living in Qatar. I felt safe that the country implemented promptly all measures to control the pandemic. I also feel blessed because we still have our jobs. I benefited from the extra time to strengthen relationships with family, friends and business contacts.”

About her New Year resolution, she said: “In 2021, I would like to prioritise my wellbeing and that of those around me in both the family and business environment. I think 2020 has taught us not to take things for granted.”

Aliguma Saul Rayan, Ugandan Community in Qatar president, believes that the pandemic has made people learn some positive lessons about life. “The lockdown brought us back to the proper way we ought to live and relate with one another. It is during this period that we came to realise that some elements of our lives (pre-Covid-19) could be done away with and yet life could continue. I appreciate the Qatar government and the Ugandan community for reaching out to the people in need during the pandemic.”

The community leader wishes to see a securer year ahead both for Qatar and Uganda. “We are having general elections in Uganda this month. I wish to see the elections conducted with peace and transparency.”

Mohammad Redzuan Nordin, president of Malaysian Association of Qatar, appreciateted Qatar’s early steps to stop the spread of Covid-19. “Qatar took early steps to start the lockdown and initiate the SOPS. Steps such as wearing masks, keeping a distance, temperature monitoring, using the health app, work from home, online education, and limited gatherings have ensured curtailment of the virus outbreak.”

The Malaysian expatriate’s New Year resolution is to see all the people getting vaccinated during 2021. “After getting vaccinated, everyone can be safe from the virus. Economy and business activities will be back to normal which can create job opportunities.”

Mohammad Muktda Musalman, president of Non-Resident Nepali Association NCC Qatar, lauds the way Qatar treated its residents and helped the Nepali community. “The Qatar government treated the immigrants and Qatari people equally. It addressed all the issues of the Nepali community. I think Qatar has been the safest country during the global pandemic.”

The Nepali expatriate wants to work in collaboration with the Qatar government for betterment of his community in 2021. “I will work for raising awareness among the Nepali diaspora as directed by the government of Qatar.”