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The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has reached countries across the globe and is heavily affecting international businesses and economies. The viral illness is also taking a toll on businesses in the Gulf, where employers are now scrambling to figure out how to keep the workflow going.

A survey conducted by leading Middle East employment portal Gulf Talent and released this week found that 35 percent of Gulf-based employers said they could soon ask their staff to work from home. 

The study is based on responses from 1,600 company executives, managers, and human resource professionals in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman. According to the survey, 6 percent of these companies in the aforementioned countries have already implemented plans for their employees to work from home as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.  

This is aside from 12 percent of companies which already had remote work arrangements in place before the spread of the illness. Five percent of firms in the region said they were rolling out similar plans very soon, while 12 percent confirmed they are reviewing the idea. 

Not all companies are hopping on the work-from-home wagon yet, with 54 percent of respondents saying they had no such plans so far. A further 11 percent said they will not consider such schemes and will continue to ask staff to come in to work. 

Out of the six surveyed countries, Bahrain emerged as the nation with the "highest rate of remote work plans at 38%."

The Gulf state was followed by Qatar, the UAE, and Kuwait, where numbers stood at 37 percent each. In Saudi Arabia, only 30 percent of companies confirmed plans for employees to work from home, while the percentage went down to 18 percent in Oman. 

Around 45 percent of companies planning to shift to remote work said they were going to do so for all their employees while the rest revealed they will only apply the scheme to some of their workers. 

Local companies are struggling to organize work from home arrangements

The survey also found that Gulf companies were having more difficulties arranging remote work for employees in contrast with multinationals who showed they were ready to implement work-from-home schemes. 

A few of the execs who took part in the study said the shift to remote work could change how businesses operate in the region even beyond the COVID-19 outbreak. 

According to Gulf Talent, companies that aren't looking to apply remote working plans are taking other precautions including "restricting business travel, providing health advice to employees and limiting external meetings of staff with clients and suppliers."

Gulf businesses have been hit hard by the virus

Just like businesses worldwide, the virus' spread has taken a toll on firms in the region. 

Many of those interviewed as part of the survey said they were facing struggles including keeping up their supplies due to the closure of factories in China. Others said they were affected by the cancelation of public events,  gatherings, and exhibitions.

Despite all that, some companies reported that they were seeing surges in profits and demand for products. This is especially true for firms operating in the healthcare industry. Restaurants and stores also saw surges in their online orders as the majority of people in the six countries surveyed are opting to get things they need delivered to them. 

Coronavirus cases have been reported in most Arab countries

Hundreds of cases of the new strain of coronavirus have now been confirmed in the region. 

The first case in the Arab world was confirmed by the UAE on Jan. 29. As of Thursday night, the Gulf state has confirmed a total of 29 cases. Five of those who were infected in the country made full recoveries; the rest continue to be monitored under quarantine. 

Egypt so far has recorded three cases, while Jordan and Tunisia have reported their first cases on Monday, with Morocco revealing a second case on Thursday. Saudi Arabia reported five cases of the viral illness this week. 

The virus' spread in Iran eventually led to an escalation in the rates of infections in Arab countries as nationals traveling back home from the Islamic Republic carried the virus with them. 

So far, Lebanon has confirmed 16 cases of the illness; Kuwait has reported 58 cases, while the number of patients rose to 50 in Bahrain this week.