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Covid-19’s Disruption on the Construction Industry Across the Middle East

Covid-19’s Disruption on the Construction Industry Across the Middle East

With much of the world currently on its knees from the impact of Covid-19, it is hard to comprehend the magnitude this pandemic will have on our lives, industries, and economies, for years to come. Since its outbreak, we have witnessed countries systematically grounding flights, closing borders, and implementing strict socialising measures to safeguard its residents and reduce the spread of the virus.

Generally, across the Middle East, construction works have been allowed to continue, but the effects of measures taken around the world, as well as in the particular country, have impacted contractors as they endeavour to progress their works. This article considers some of the issues that have been faced across the region. 

An overview in the Middle East

The effects of the pandemic were first felt in January 2020, before any specific measures were introduced by Middle Eastern countries. As China closed its borders, shipments of goods and materials for construction projects were halted, causing a supply chain delay that was soon felt by many projects. Whilst contractors sought to re-sequence works to minimise the effects, doing so with complete uncertainty as to when such restrictions would be lifted was challenging, to say the least.

In addition, as travel restrictions were imposed across much of the Far East, and with many contractors active across the Middle East hailing from China and South Korea, in particular, many contractors faced problems in terms of mobilising (or re-mobilising) much of their management and supervision resources.

As countries within the Middle East began experiencing outbreaks of Covid-19, some governments took action to protect their citizens and residents, with varying degrees of impact upon construction works.

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s government implemented a 24-hour curfew from 23 March 2020 to help prevent the spread of Covid-19, with only workers in healthcare or critical sectors allowed out of their accommodation at certain times. Construction was not deemed to be a critical sector and whilst some permits were issued on a case-by-case basis, to allow essential projects to continue, largely construction projects were suspended.


Kuwait imposed a similar curfew to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, bringing most construction projects to a halt.


United Arab Emirates

While the UAE also imposed a lock-down across the country, construction was classed as a critical work sector, allowing most construction projects to continue.

In particular, the government implemented preventative measures such as, but not limited to, the following:

  • Social distancing limits of 1.5 m
  • Permit system to reduce the number of times the public could leave their accommodation
  • Remote working for private sectors
  • Reduced bus capacity to 25%
  • Restriction of traffic and the public between designated hours, due to a National Disinfection Programme
  • Strict regulations on movement across the emirates
  • Screening / temperature testing requirements within workplaces and labour accommodation
  • Sanitisation guidelines








Despite the government classification of construction as a critical work sector, there were many projects in the UAE that had to be suspended, or in some cases, even cancelled. The effects of these delays are easy to determine. However, a large proportion of projects did continue.

Remaining operational, they had to adapt to the preventative measures introduced by the UAE government, and in particular, the following:

  • Reduced capacity of Labour Buses
    The occupancy of labour buses had to be reduced to 25% to comply with social distancing guidelines. Consequently, increasing the number of buses required to transport labour to and from their accommodation, and increasing the time required to transport labour onsite. As some contractors were unable to acquire additional buses, labour numbers attending site decreased.

  • Cross-border restrictions
    The transportation of labour across emirates was temporarily stopped, therefore preventing contractors bringing labour to site whose accommodation was in a different emirate to the project site. Again, this has impacted labour numbers on many sites.

  • Increased sick leave / absences
    Contractors have experienced high numbers of sick leave and absences - amongst staff, direct and indirect labour - due to those who have contracted the virus; others who have quarantined; and some who refuse to come to work due to the fear factor of Covid-19.
  • Restricted movement on site
    Contractors have had to implement split shift work among trades, to ensure compliance with social distancing guidelines. Breaks have been staggered to avoid large gatherings, while the capacity of hoists have been limited to two or three people.
  • Material shortages
    Contractors have been experiencing material shortages both locally and internationally. In some instances, specified material is taking longer to obtain due to the restrictions of movement within and across borders, while other specified material is not available because the supply chain has suspended trading. This then leaves the predicament of finding alternative sources.

The effects of these circumstances are that projects are being delayed, and significantly disrupted, and all contractors are facing the challenge to maintain their records and document the effects to their works, in order to pursue any rights or remedies that they may have within the contract.



The Government of Qatar issued directives to private sector employers to help tackle the spread of the virus.

The main measures which came into effect on 2 April 2020 extend to:

  1. Imposing restrictions on the numbers of employees permitted to work in the office (20% of employees)
  2. Imposing restrictions on office timings for such employees (7am to 1pm)
  3. Require the implementation of remote working for the remaining 80% of employees
  4. Six hour working day for government employees that are required to work
  5. Transportation restrictions, aimed at promoting social distancing for workers

In a similar manner to projects in the UAE, projects are being delayed and significantly disrupted; with contractors facing the same challenges of record keeping, to enable them to pursue any entitlements they may have.


What does the future look like for the construction industry in the Middle East?

As the whole world remains in the grip of the pandemic and with commentators predicting a new “normal” way of life for us all, for a while yet, the recurring effect to the construction industry across the region is impossible to predict. With many Middle East governments indicating their desire to push on with planned projects, not only to deliver on commitments already made, but also to provide necessary stimulus to the wider economy, the way of delivering such projects will likely be far removed from how they had been conceptualised. The construction press within the region generally seem to predict that construction costs will fall on any new projects that start in the near future. However, with current restrictions and social distancing measures predicted to continue for some time yet, it is impossible to see how costs calculated against productivity under the “old” way of life, can fall under this “new” way of life.


*Some of the information in this article has been taken from the following articles by Driver Trett Colleagues.
COVID-19’s Disruption on the Construction Industry – Michael Kelly, LinkedIn April 2020

Global Coronavirus Pandemic: Disruption to Projects – Loss of Productivity arising from Directives issued by the Government of Qatar – Shane O’Regan, LinkedIn April 2020


ArticlesGlobalMiddle East

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