Staying in nowadays is much easier than the decades that have passed. In the 1975 Lebanese civil war, which lasted 15 years, people in Lebanon barely had access to regular landlines. Quarantines took the shape of bunkers filled with displaced families and individuals who had lost their homes to bombs or looters. Lack of communication led many to lose contact with their loved ones.
In this day and age, our current war is with an invisible enemy; a virus that has caused global panic and lockdowns. The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) that broke out mid-December in China is obliging people to stay home to minimize the spread of the illness — it's debatably airborne, often symptomless, and can be caught through physical contact with an infected human or objects that have the virus on their surfaces (depending on the material).
Most Arab countries are currently under lockdown, with citizens being asked to remain at home, including students and employees whose jobs permit them to work remotely. Arab companies, on the other hand, are helping those at home cope with the reality of things.
Initiatives have been unveiling daily around the Arab region, all targeting people self-quarantining in a bid to keep them entertained throughout their new routine.
MBC Group, for example, is giving away a free one-month subscription to all new users in the Middle East to its streaming platform Shahid VOD. The latter holds a gallery of movies and series that can be streamed online. It includes MBC's own shows Beirut Bride, Project Runway Arabia, and The Voice Arabia, along with international ones like Top Gear as well as Disney and Marvel blockbusters.
"Given the current circumstances, Shahid wants you to stay safe but also be able to enjoy your time, while you #StayAtHome," the broadcasting company said in a statement.
To make use of this offer, first-time users in the Middle East have to sign up between March 20 and April 5. After the free month is over, a fee of 20 dirhams ($5.44) per month or 174 dirhams ($47.37) per year will be applied.
In Lebanon, the concentration is going towards the source of offers like MBC's: the internet.
With no proper infrastructure to withstand fiber optics installations, the connection in the Levant country is notoriously known for being poor to average. Internet companies like Ogero and Cyberia are offering their customers double speed and double data, respectively, until the end of March.
Telecommunication companies Alfa and MTC Touch, both government-owned, are granting users an extra month to pay their bills due to the closure of cellphone shops. The latter has even replaced its carrier name "Touch" with "Stay Home" on people's phones to remind them of their duties as responsible humans.
"An additional one-month grace period will be given to the subscribers of the Alfa and touch firms for paying their bills," Talal Hawat, the Lebanese telecom minister, said in a statement.
The minister added that schools and students in the country will be granted free internet consumption when using government-approved educational websites throughout the unofficial lockdown period.
In the UAE, a country well-known for its tech and AI advancements, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) announced that it'll be granting families with no home internet free data via mobile phones to allow distance learning amid the situation.
Oman, for example, had another plan in mind to facilitate this imposed stay-in. The country unblocked several voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) applications to allow citizens to use such platforms to work, conduct meetings, and communicate with their families and friends.
The country lifted restraints on internet tools such as Skype for Business, Google Meet, and Zoom to help companies and schools navigate their way through this tough time. So instead of having students/employees meet in person, they can hold remote meetings and classes without face-to-face contact.
Some Gulf states regulate the use of video calling services due to the fact that they are encrypted. This means that security services cannot track the activity taking place on those apps. Some of these internet calling applications are directly competing with local telecom providers.