Objectives The World Health Organization (WHO) published a global strategic response plan in February 2020 aiming to mitigate the impact of the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak. It identified immediate activities required for global preparedness and response to the outbreak and set eight priority areas (pillars) essential for scaling up countries’ operational readiness and response. Despite a semi-annual progress report on implementing the Global Strategic Plan in June 2020, there is limited granular information available on the extent of the national plan’s content and implementation, particularly in the Member States of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Therefore, we sought to review the preparedness and responsiveness towards the COVID-19 outbreak in the GCC in the first phase of the pandemic and to document lessons learned for improving the ongoing response efforts and preparedness for future pandemics. Methods A rapid appraisal was conducted in June 2020 according to the WHO Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan and the accompanying Operational Planning Guidelines. The survey was administered to public health professionals or/and infectious disease experts in the states. The findings were cross-triangulated with secondary data that was publicly available for each country. Results The preparedness and response efforts of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE were fully compliant with all 11 (100%) pillars of the modified strategic response measures. Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar complied with eight of the pillars. The component on conducting COVID-19 related research was the lowest-performing across all the six states. Conclusions All GCC states demonstrated an effective response to the pandemic, enhanced existing infrastructures, and accelerated reforms that would have otherwise taken longer. The lessons learned through the early phase of the pandemic continue to steer the states in realigning their strategies and resetting their goals of controlling the outbreak, particularly in the current context of vaccine introduction and increasing preparedness capacities for future pandemics.