What initial changes did you make to the processes and internal structure of NUPCO to deal with COVID-19?
From the beginning of the pandemic, the government made it clear to everyone in the Kingdom that we should put people first. For us, this meant, as a company responsible for procurement, to enable healthcare providers to offer quality care to people affected by COVID-19. We had to fully equip frontline workers by providing them with what they need to protect themselves and, at the same time, maintain social distancing. Our internal process was adjusted to allow our employees to work from home and collaborate through a platform that we introduced. Productivity has surprisingly increased, and we are considering adjusting our internal policy post-COVID-19 to allow employees to work from home on certain days. It is an opportunity to revisit the need for physical presence and focus more on getting things done without rigid HR policies.
Can you elaborate on the deal with a prominent Chinese firm increase testing capacity in Saudi Arabia?
We have a deal with the Chinese institute BGI to provide us with the ability to quickly ramp up our testing capabilities to 9 million within a period of eight months and boost our capabilities from between 5,000 to 10,000 tests per day to more than 80,000. This is one of the most strategic deals that we have signed and implemented. In addition, our deal is also about creating five additional labs with a large capacity that will remain in Saudi Arabia even after COVID-19 is fully contained. We are benefiting from this as an infrastructure project. We also have a mobile lab capable of doing 10,000 tests per day in addition to the operation manpower and resources provided by the Chinese institute in order to operate with more than 600 people. Our capacity is around 45,000 tests per day, and the five labs have already been launched and started gradually, with the manpower already in the Kingdom in order to help us. At the same time, we are providing tests for other companies and procuring more than 15 million tests in the Kingdom, some of which have already been carried out.
Based on the current trajectory of the pandemic, will this infrastructure be required for the medium term?
We developed our COVID-19 strategy and infrastructure with a long-term outlook. We faced challenges in the beginning for tests as the competition was huge, and we were not satisfied with the percentage of tests being conducted in Saudi Arabia. Our concerns over PPE and ventilators are not only about the price and delivery time but also the quality. We make sure we are getting equipped at not only the right price but also with high quality, which cannot be compromised. The supply chain is very important for us, and supplies are limited in specific regions. One of the lessons we learned from COVID-19 is that for essential items; it is best to forget about globalization and be independent. If you cannot produce locally enough masks to meet local demand, you are jeopardizing everyone's safety.
What have been the key learnings of the past few months in a managerial sense?
One important thing is to have in place and develop jointly with all stakeholders a contingency plan. It might not capture everything, but we will be better guided to handle any future eventuality. Secondly, it is important to diversify your supply chain and not be dependent on one or two countries, as there have been export restrictions in some countries with regards to some PPE and machines. The third thing is to quickly adapt to developments around the world with regard to COVID-19. Finally, we need to appreciate our most essential needs and the true value of the many people who have roles in the community that have been undervalued.