Dubai cracks down on tourism as Covid-19 circumstances surge

(CNN) – Take a quick look at Dubai and you might think that life is back to normal. For the past few weeks, the bustling city has been a sparkling attraction for tourists, especially from Europe, trying to escape the brutal winter and strict coronavirus lockdowns.

But when tens of thousands of visitors flocked there during the high season at the end of the year, the virus inevitably caught up with the city, despite precautions taken to limit its spread. Cases increased, nearly quadrupling since November.

While Covid-19 gained a foothold, the pictures from Dubai – especially from the Instagram feeds of influencers or celebrities – drew a picture of a wide-open winter sun paradise.

For those at home in countries like the UK, where most people are told they cannot travel abroad because of the health risk, these images caused dismay and criticized those who enjoyed themselves.

Angry reaction

Dubai faces stricter restrictions after a surge in Covid-19 cases. This is Atlantis the palm tree in the background.

GIUSEPPE CACACE / AFP via Getty Images

For the Danish tourist Emma Mathilde, who has visited Dubai frequently in the past few months, the backlash was not surprising.

“In Europe everyone is locked up at home, it’s cold and it’s gray,” she says. “Dubai is the only place you can travel so everyone goes there. It’s sunny, you can go out to eat, and so people get angry about why they have to stay home when other people are enjoying their lives.”

With a recent travel ban in the UK that has effectively cut off the world’s busiest airplane route in recent weeks, Dubai’s openness is clearly facing external challenges – an issue that has helped rethink Covid-19 measures.

However, the emirate is determined to keep its tourism-dependent economy in business, and officials are not impressed by the recent bad press. They are confident that adherence to the precautions for Covid-19 so far is in line with expectations.

“We’re taking things very moderately, but managing this pandemic is our philosophy,” Helal Saeed Al Marri, director general of the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, told CNN.

“If we ask everyone to change their behavior 100%, it is very unlikely that it will be fully complied with. In our case, we asked people to optimize their behavior, learn to live in the new normal, and people accepted that. “

Al Marri said the actions of few tourists shouldn’t detract from Dubai’s reputation.

“When you walk on the street in Dubai, people wear masks. If someone doesn’t wear a mask, it won’t be the authorities telling them to put on a mask, there will be passers-by because that’s that.” This is how we learned to live in this Covid era. “

“Inevitable” tip

Dubai was one of the first countries to fully reopen after the first global wave of Covid-19 cases.

Dubai was one of the first countries to fully reopen after the first global wave of Covid-19 cases.

KARIM SAHIB / AFP via Getty Images

In the United Arab Emirates, cases jumped 80,000 last month to more than 290,000, with more than 4,000 reported per day, putting hospitals under pressure. The blame for the climb, some experts say, shouldn’t necessarily be put on the door of tourists.

The city’s population is roughly 85% expatriates, many of whom were either home in December or attended local Christmas or New Years gatherings to replace canceled trips back to their families.

Celia Antony, a doctor at Aster Clinics in Sharjah, says Covid cases in the UAE were very low in August and then increased from September to October and weakened in November and early December before increasing sharply from the end of the year .

The peak, she says, was an inevitable result of the residents’ movement. The numbers, she adds, have also increased due to increased testing.

Ahmed Mohamed Abdelhameed, an internal medicine specialist at Medcare Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Dubai, says the increase would have been the same whether the borders were closed or not.

“Most countries are now suffering from an increase in most cases [and] Many of them were very restrictive in opening their port of entry, “he says.” I still believe that the only way to overcome this situation is to follow infection control measures and get vaccinated. Closing the doors can only prevent people from entering, not the virus. “

Al Marri, director of the tourism board, says Dubai has always been ready to respond to the local situation. In particular, Dubai’s lockdown in the early days of the pandemic was one of the first and one of the toughest in the world.

During the lockdown, residents could not leave the house without prior approval via an app for a maximum of three hours and only for medical emergencies, grocery shopping or important work.

More severe penalties

Dubai plans to host the delayed 2020 World's Fair later this year.

Dubai plans to host the delayed 2020 World’s Fair later this year.

KARIM SAHIB / AFP via Getty Images

Al Marri says pragmatism continues to influence Dubai’s Covid policies and new measures will be monitored for effectiveness, even if they are aimed at keeping the city’s economy moving.

“We shut down when we need to, and we’ve been following the dates since we opened,” he says. “If we see compliance, we don’t have to tighten up. If we don’t see compliance in any part of the economy, we look very carefully at this sector by sector. It has nothing to do with what others tell us.”

When a drop in compliance scores was noted in early January, directly attributable to an increase in cases, the authorities started restricting, according to Al Marri.

From Tuesday, beach clubs, hotels and shopping malls are limited to 70% and cinemas to 50%. Bars and pubs have been temporarily closed, with more severe penalties for breaking the rules.

According to the Danish tourist Mathilde, this type of reaction according to the threat is absent in Europe.

“I think the (UAE) government is doing great with it,” she says. “It’s very different from how we deal with it in Europe, where cases are still high and the economy is suffering a lot.

“In Dubai, I think it’s just a different way of doing it. It’s a balance between listening to people, taking care of people, and taking care of businesses that need to survive during the pandemic.”

It’s a dilemma all too familiar to governments around the world: they’re trying to strike a balance between keeping the economy open and keeping people safe.

Security before profit

Dubai has one of the world's highest Covid vaccination rates.

Dubai has one of the world’s highest Covid vaccination rates.

KARIM SAHIB / AFP via Getty Images

Adil Ghazzawi, co-owner of the local waterfront club Cove Beach, says Dubai has struck that balance.

“I think they (the government) felt like everyone felt the pain of the initial lockdown,” he says. “So the idea now is not to lock down, but to be methodical about how we can help keep the venues open in a way that is safe for visitors.”

Vaccinations are now an integral part of the equation in the UAE as well. The country has one of the highest Covid-19 vaccination rates in the world – more than four million doses of the vaccine have been given to a population of 10 million. The government plans to vaccinate half of its residents by the end of March.

Al Marri says this and other dates will regulate the tightening of restrictions.

“All decisions related to public health are made by a health agency and the scientists who sit within it,” he says. “Whatever they recommend, we work with the private sector to make sure it gets implemented in the best possible way.”

For Dubai, 2021 is a big year from both an economic and a tourist perspective. The city is slated to host the World’s Fair in October after being postponed for a year due to the pandemic.

That is why it is important that the services keep moving. This view is shared by some Dubai business owners like Ghazzawi.

“It’s a gradual opening, but it could be a drastic shutdown in a heartbeat based on what is happening. I think this sends the message that Dubai is safe because they aren’t shy about making quick adjustments when needed. “

Mohammed Islam, general manager of the Bla Bla Beach Club, which became Dubai’s largest venue when it opened last month, says safety must come before profit as long as things remain so unstable.

“There are a lot of people [in the industry] Applying too much pressure but we need to think of security as our main concern, as if we were abusing the system. We’re going to shut down completely, “he says.” Let’s not think about making money, we all stick together and can do it behind us. “

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