TEHRAN (Press Shia Agency) – Director of Risk Management Office at Sultan Qaboos University (SQU), Oman, said there is “no certain method” to contain the novel coronavirus, noting that the “most important thing is effective leadership at different levels”.

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In an interview with Press Shia Agency, Salim Al Harthi, professor of surface physics in charge of the risk management team at SQU, said that a lot of countries were not prepared for such a crisis and even if they were, “they were not resilient enough to tackle the issue in different aspects such as education, health, and economy.”

However, “we witnessed a lot of initiatives, techniques, trials and errors, and scenarios developed and changed almost every day,” he added.

Asked which method of confrontation he suggests in pandemics like COVID-19, he replied, “There is no certain method of confrontation. The most important thing is effective leadership at different levels—countries, universities, institutions, etc.”

Al Harthi also emphasized the significance of quick adaptation and flexibility during the times of crisis, saying “how fast one can adapt to the new environment and new situation is crucial.”

Owing to technological and scientific advancements, the current pandemic cannot be compared to those of 100 years ago. “Nowadays in different countries the adaptation occurs very fast,” he continued.

Underscoring the importance of acting quickly in times of crisis, he said “you do not have time to wait. Nor do you have time to think much about the quality. Because the disease will not wait for you to think, plan, and adopt different strategies unhurriedly.”

He stressed that bringing people together to attain a common objective is pivotal.

When people work towards a common objective, “decisions can be made very fast, and measures can be implemented without bureaucracy,” Al Harthi said.

“If you want to achieve good results, first make sure that people understand the objective and believe in it. It’s a matter of convincing people what would be the consequences and benefits. Once you do that, then the rest will follow.

“So you need to have a team with a clear objective, and in parallel you start implementing the strategies. Also, at the same time, you start evaluating and learning.”  

Regarding the key role of collaborative research in fighting the coronavirus, he said that universities and other scientific centers need to work “not only in collaboration with each other, but also in multidisciplinary teams.”

“Nobody will be able to tackle the current issue and the problems emerged from it alone,” he said.

Elaborating on this issue, he maintained that this challenging situation requires lots of expertise which can be found “within an institution, a university, a country, or which can be realized as a result of collaboration with other institutions globally. Because the objective is one.”

According to him, there are plenty of potential opportunities in the realm of research projects on pandemics. These projects not only attempt to find a medicine for curing the disease, but also deal with a variety of other issues such as economy, logistics, and the methods to prevent such diseases in the future, he said.

“So everyone has a chance to benefit from the opportunities provided by this pandemic.”  

Another opportunity provided by COVID-19 pandemic is that it made people to “rethink where they have to put their money and effort in research in order to tackle such problems,” he observed.

He said one of the most favorable outcomes of the current pandemic is that it has propelled us to “rethink and redirect the thought into carrying out research projects which practically benefit every institution or every country.”

Al Harthi then talked about the experience of Sultan Qaboos University in dealing with the coronavirus, saying that they started taking measures in early January. “We knew it’s coming. We had a crisis management plan.” 

He said they have taken a lot of measures regarding remote teaching, research, dealing with different attitudes, and even handling different psychological problems of students. “It was a very comprehensive way of handling this crisis.” 

Lauding the strong leadership at Sultan Qaboos University, he said that “in my university everyone contributed to providing solutions to tackle this problem. Everyone was working in a team with a clear objective.”

“We succeeded in handling the issue in a short time by following the crisis management protocols and things are getting normal now, even though we have faced lots of challenges,” he continued.

“When people are under pressure, they always come up with something. Actually, the pressure caused by a crisis makes people think about alternatives and solutions.” 

Al Harthi also touched upon the virtues of thinking ahead in times of crisis, saying “this is a very good strategy because if you think in advance, then you have different scenarios. So you are always prepared more than those who start meeting and thinking during the crisis.”

Asked about the role of top universities in the Islamic world in raising public awareness about this pandemic and tackling the problem, he replied: “so far, the universities in the Islamic countries have done a good job in raising awareness, but we need to go beyond this level.”

He elaborated on the necessity of going beyond merely raising awareness and putting efforts into “something which will shape the future; like finding a cure to the disease, protecting the citizens, and going back to the tradition of working together as Islamic nations and Muslims.”

Al Harthi stated that “it makes sense that at this time, large Islamic countries forget about politics. At the end of the day, universities and governments are there to serve the society. So they can come together with solid research programs on handling pandemics or infectious diseases in general.”

He believed that this goal can be attained if Islamic countries join together through “Islamic organizations, Mustafa (PBUH) Science and Technology Foundation, or different universities. So these countries will be prepared for future crises,” he added.