Dubai Blessing
Image Credit: Gulf News

  • Dubai and the UAE have done whatever it takes to win the pandemic challenge
  • Mass vaccinations against COVID-19 well underway in the country
  • The UAE leads in inoculations: more than 20% of the UAE population has already been vaccinated against COVID-19 by January 20, 2021
  • Vaccinating 50% of the country’s population in 3 months is a mammoth task, but that's the target the UAE has set. 

Sharmila Dhal, UAE Editor

As someone engaged in the dissemination of news, I can safely say that the beastly coronavirus has hogged the headlines like nothing ever has in my entire career. Over the past year, much has also been written about how the UAE has led the global combat against COVID-19 with several breakthroughs.

But there is more to being in Dubai.

As I go about my daily life, I cannot even begin to list the things I take for granted. Forget the evergreen privileges of safety and security, unmatched roads or uninterrupted power and WiFi; what tops my list right now is the fact that even at the height of the pandemic last year, I didn’t have to queue up at a supermarket to buy anything I wanted or wait beyond a few minutes to get attended to during a medical emergency.

Fast forward to January 2021, and I have never felt more reassured than now as the COVID-19 vaccination drive gets underway and I have a choice of vaccines to pick from.

So what is it that makes all of this possible? The answer is obvious.

The feeling of reassurance stems from an unshakeable confidence in the system and an implicit faith in the authorities that they will do the best that needs to be done. The well thought-out macro decisions and painstaking efforts at the micro level ensure little or no disruption to my life. And while I may take that for granted, I could not be more thankful.

I count my residency in Dubai as my biggest blessing — pandemic or no pandemic. I know the authorities have done whatever it takes — and more — to win the global war against COVID-19. At the same time, I realise I share the responsibility. It is for me to do my bit to keep myself and the community around me safe.

Our World in Data
Image Credit: Our World in Data

How Dubai is winning the battle against the coronavirus

Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor

Dubai’s back on its feet. The celebrations to usher in the New Year have signalled the city’s return to the global spotlight from the shadow of coronavirus. Malls, restaurants, hotels, cinemas and parks are open, and the tourists are thronging the hot spots. A clear proof that the city is winning the battle against the coronavirus.

How did that happen? Awareness of COVID-19 safety protocols ensures that citizens and residents take their health seriously. And there’s the zero tolerance towards any breach of guidelines. Regular and widespread inspections ensure compliance and any violation attracts huge fines. That makes for a safe and secure ambience for people. So, it wasn’t surprising when Dubai was awarded the Safe Travels stamp by the World Travel and Tourism Council, reinforcing its status as one of the world’s safest destinations. Little wonder Dubai is bustling with tourists.

The early robust response was critical

The first case of coronavirus in the UAE was reported on January 29, 2020, and by then, several measures were in place to contain the contagion. Perhaps, the most crucial was the awareness campaigns on safety measures, which helped slow the spread of the virus. Face masks became ubiquitous; residents understood the need to sanitise their hands and keep a distance from others.

As the cases grew, field hospitals sprung up, medical expertise was imported, schools and colleges were closed, public facilities were shuttered, offices moved into a work-from-home mode, and public transport services were suspended. A lockdown was avoided, but travel restrictions helped launch the disinfection drive in March.

An all-night sterilisation campaign launched on March 26 continued for several weeks. Hotspots like Naif and Al Ras in Deira were sealed off for complete disinfection, which helped these communities and the city. It allowed the economy reopen.

When business resumed, the landscape had changed. Everyone knew it. A life wrapped in safety protocols came with restrictions. Dubai residents were fine with it. At least they had a life. They knew its fragility. The adherence to safety measures and the dwindling number of infections gave Dubai the courage to move to Phase 2.

Restaurants, shopping malls and movie halls reopened, but with restrictions. Employees started to trickle back into office. Traffic returned to the roads. The city started throbbing again.

It was just a matter of time before Dubai powered away. And it happened in a matter of months. Field hospitals were no longer required, and travel picked up. People arrived in droves. Some businessmen came to work out of Dubai. Even a new strain of the virus in the United Kingdom failed to stem the tide of tourists.

How vaccines drive normalcy

Life has returned to normal. Almost normal. Masks are everywhere. People understand their necessity. It’s mandatory too. Hefty fines ensure that the masks stay on people’s faces.

The arrival of vaccines has given a further fillip. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine powers Dubai Health Authority’s inoculation drive, while the federal ministry of health dispenses Sinopharm vaccine throughout the country. It helped the UAE lead the vaccination race as 20 per cent of the population has already been inoculated against COVID-19.

The rest of the world may be locking down. But life in Dubai has returned close to normality. The city is winning the battle against the virus.

Dubai's Response to Covid-19
Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal / Jay Hilotin / Gulf News / Dubai Media Office

What the tourists have to say

Anjana Kumar, Senior Reporter

Anirudh Chauhan and Kriti Datta
Anirudh Chauhan and Kriti Datta celebrated their first wedding anniversary in Dubai. Image Credit: Supplied

A wedding anniversary in Dubai

Indian couple Anirudh Chauhan and Kriti Datta celebrated their first wedding anniversary in Dubai on January 17. Chauhan, 28, told Gulf News ahead of his flight back to New Delhi that the seven-day stay was their best holiday ever.

“It was an easy decision as to where we would head off for our first anniversary. Dubai is close to home, and the city has attracted many Indian visitors. Besides, we wanted to be part of the Dubai Shopping Festival.”

Anirudh said the strict efforts taken by the UAE government to maintain social distancing had done much to build confidence in Indian tourists.

“We had an amazing time,” said Anirudh, who works as a human resource manager for a firm in India. His wife Kriti Datta, 27, too agreed.

“We felt safe holidaying here with respect to the pandemic situation. There were social distancing measures followed everywhere we went; it was incredible to see the government’s efforts. What is more, people adhered to the rules and that is commendable,” Chauhan added.

Javier Plecel
Israeli tourist Javier Plecel fulfilled a long-cherished dream of visiting Dubai. Image Credit: Supplied

Great interest among Israelis

Israeli tourist Javier Plecel, 55, said he always wanted to visit Dubai and the UAE. Plecel is in Dubai with his family said he has enjoyed every bit of his stay in the UAE. “I did the desert safari, some shopping and more. I am completely reassured of the safety measures undertaken by the UAE government.”

He said there is a great interest among Israelis to visit the UAE. “There is a large group of people who want to come here. It is a country we have not been before, and the multi-cultural aspect is very attractive.”

Antonia Yosifova
Bulgarian visitor Antonia Yosifova from Sofia has visited Dubai eight times in two years. Image Credit: Supplied

Eight visits in two years

Bulgarian visitor Antonia Yosifova from Sofia has visited Dubai eight times in two years. That is how much she loves Dubai. “I am returning in March,” she told Gulf News.

“My heart is taken. I love Dubai, the Arab world, the food, the mix of traditional Arabic culture and the urban landscape is so attractive. I think the UAE is one of the safest places in the world.”

Kishore Kalpana
Kishore Kumar gifted a Dubai holiday to his wife Kalpana. Image Credit: Supplied

Holiday surprise

“Dubai has been my wife’s favourite city since we got married and she always wanted to visit the place. Our daughters got married last year, so I wanted to give a surprise to my wife, and this was it,” said Kishore Kumar, 56, who is in Dubai with his wife Kalpana, 55.

“After landing in Dubai, we took our COVID tests. We have visited many countries, but Dubai is very tourist-friendly. Since we got the test results in less than 24 hours, it was very easy for us to start our tour of the city.”

Kishore and Kalpana took a cruise ride too. “The next day, we went on a desert safari, and we were blown away by the sand dunes.”

The couple also managed some shopping. “The malls, the restaurants, the food. Dubai has everything a tourist desires. People in Dubai are friendlier than we expected. They were all so courteous.”

Health community hails UAE’s role in managing COVID-19

Suchitra Bajpai Chaudhary, Chief Reporter

The health community hailed the UAE’s proactive role in managing the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr Adel Al Yassin Al Sissi, Chief Medical Officer at Prime Health Care who has spearheaded the COVID taskforce at the hospital and managed all critical care and emergency cases, said the UAE government has set precedents in health care when tackling the pandemic.

Dr Adel Al Yassin Al Sissi, Chief Medical Officer at Prime Health Care

“The UAE has been leading in many indexes worldwide. We have the lowest fatality rate due to COVID-19 of 0.3 per cent and a near 90 per cent recovery rate, which has been a benchmark for the management of COVID-19 worldwide,” Al Sissi said.

“From setting up a central crisis centre and COVID-19 task force, the country forged some of the most constructive public-private partnerships in the health sector and community collaborations to battle this effectively,” he said, adding that the country had set an example in many areas of managing the pandemic.

“Access to best medicines and treatment was provided to all during the crisis. In community spaces, movements to malls and restaurants and public places were closely monitored. Those in the age group of 60 and above were prohibited from being in closed community spaces where community transmission could have been high.

“The UAE government has been proactive on all fronts, keeping abreast of the global changes during this pandemic and implementing the same.”

He said, “The UAE government started the vaccine trials … and had nearly 33,000 volunteers by the end of August. In the first month of 2021, we have already completed vaccinating 2 million people. This journey has been tough, but the UAE government and the health care sector have taken on the challenge very smartly.”

Commendable continuum of care

Dr Atul Aundhekar, CEO of Avivo Health Care Group, who has been closely following the pandemic globally, said, “One of the litmus tests for any country battling the pandemic is the continuum of preventive care provided in COVID-19 treatment. The UAE Government deserves full marks to the manner in which it has proactively dealt with the crisis. Four most important strategies in containing community transmission that come to my mind are:

  • The nationwide sterilisation drive
  • Free and subsidised mass testing programme
  • Mapping and creation of zones according to the level of infections in an area, isolating red zone areas such as Al Ras and Al Quoz that successfully contained the spread
  • Setting up of field hospitals and quarantine facilities for proper and systematic treatment
  • The implementation of best practices in COVID-19 management.
Dr Atul Aundhekar, CEO of Avivo Health Care Group

The government was in continuous touch with world bodies like WHO and other countries’ health care systems, closely following the new trends, new research, and wasted no time in implementing the best practices.

He said, “One of the most important symbols of pro-activeness was the implementation of vaccine research, trials and the mass vaccination programme. The UAE has set a precedent in this. As its residents, we are obliged to the government for the free-of-charge vaccination programme.

The most important thing for the people is keeping the community completely free of fear-mongering or mass fear syndrome. Even at the peak of the crisis, people were able to get their essential supplies, food, medicines easily and move safely in society. I think the next few months are very critical and we as residents need to fully cooperate with the government in complying with the national vaccination programme so that the country achieves the goal of herd immunity once over 60 per cent of the people receive the SARS COV 2 vaccine.”

The vaccination drive in Dubai

Compiled by Nilanjana Javed, Senior News Editor

How my life in Dubai returned to normal

Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor

Has my life returned to normal? Yes, to a large extent. I have been going to the office every day. Been shopping for groceries every week. There’s been the occasional mall trawling. Have even caught the Dubai Metro and the bus on several occasions. So, my life goes on, uninterrupted.

When much of the world is in lockdown at a time of coronavirus, my freedom is a luxury. A luxury afforded by the strict enforcement of COVID-19 safety protocols in Dubai and the rest of the UAE. The gridlocked roads during peak hours tell me that I’m not the only one out and about. Life in the UAE is close to normal.

What gives me the confidence to walk into a coffee shop or catch public transport. Well, I’ve had COVID-19. But that was eight months ago. Yet I’m not afraid of reinfection. Simply because people around me are following the safety protocols.

I’m always masked when I step out of the home. People all around me are wearing masks. You cannot enter any establishment — business or leisure — without wearing a mask. Which means everyone wears a mask. This is perhaps the main reason why the rate of infections and deaths have remained low.

Vaccination campaigns have been underway for several weeks, and the UAE leads the vaccination race. And people haven’t ditched the masks. All awareness campaigns harp on the need to keep wearing masks until there’s clear evidence that the virus threat has dissipated.

Everyone carries a sanitiser. But that too is not necessary since sanitiser dispensers are everywhere. You just need the inclination to sanitise. And people do. I was curious and watched people sanitise their hands frequently.

Social distancing is generally followed. Only in supermarkets, the compliance is low. And Metro during peak hours is crowded. At the height of the COVID-19 storm, Metro staff used to limit the number of people boarding the trains from each station.

More than a year has passed since the new coronavirus surfaced first in Wuhan, China. After around two million deaths and 80 million infections, we have several vaccines to rein in the plague of our times. The vaccination programmes around the world will take a while to take effect. Till then, we will continue to wear masks. Ignore the sniping doctor in Delhi who tweets about people roaming around Dubai without masks. She doesn’t know.

Or else, the Indian Premier League wouldn’t have left India. Cristiano Ronaldo and other football stars wouldn’t have come. It’s not just the celebs who are making a beeline for Dubai; the job seekers are back too.

The tourists are coming in droves. That’s what the Financial Times says. “Dubai opens up to tourists as rest of world locks down”, the headline proclaims. And it quotes a banker from New York saying that Dubai is the only place he knows where you can live your normal life. I believe him. All you need is a face mask.

Dubai's response to the COVID-19 crisis

  • Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dubai has responded with swift and effective health measures and economic support initiatives that protected lives and livelihoods. This has enabled Dubai to contain the spread of COVID-19 and its impact on the economy.
  • At a very early stage, Dubai set up the COVID-19 Command and Control Centre to develop strategic pandemic response plans, proactively coordinate the efforts of all frontline organisations and develop precautionary protocols to combat COVID-19.
  • Despite the current global situation, Dubai continues to maintain the highest levels of protection against the COVID-19 pandemic with one of the world’s most comprehensive precautionary and preventive protocol regimes.
  • The emirate’s sustained focus on attracting large-scale investments in infrastructure as well as research and development related to healthcare, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment enabled it to mount a robust response to the crisis.
  • Dubai ensured the widespread availability of COVID-19 testing as part of an integrated plan to curb the spread of the virus and offer immediate medical care to infected people at hospitals, accredited facilities and quarantine centres.
  • Dubai saw effective partnerships being forged between the government, the private sector and the community to ensure preventive measures were comprehensively implemented and vulnerable sections of the population were taken care of.
  • The Community Solidarity Fund Against COVID-19 was set up to create effective partnerships between government entities and charity associations to extend humanitarian assistance to people affected by the crisis. The Fund’s assistance to the healthcare sector exceeded Dh144 million in value
  • The quick set up and efficient operations of the 25,000 sq. metre Dubai Field Hospital was another example of the close collaboration between the government and private sectors to combat the pandemic.
  • Currently, the UAE has a COVID-19 recovery rate of nearly 90 per cent — one of the best in the world and much higher than the global average of 71.77 per cent.
  • The UAE also has one of the lowest Covid-19 death rates in the world at less than 0.3 per cent, against a global rate of 2.14 per cent.
  • The International Humanitarian City is a major player in supporting the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) global COVID-19 efforts - the aid shipments dispatched from IHC’s facility in Dubai Industrial City represents approximately 80% of WHO-procured supplies distributed to support its international medical response to the pandemic.
  • Dubai has started a massive free vaccination campaign, with more than 120 vaccination centres set up; several more will be established in the coming weeks.
  • The UAE has so far administered 2 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, covering a fifth of its population; authorities are set to further speed up the vaccination campaign
  • Dubai authorities follow a zero-tolerance policy in enforcing preventive guidelines including mask-wearing, social distancing and food safety in all restaurants, hotels, social gatherings and entertainment outlets
  • Regular and widespread inspections are carried out to ensure stringent adherence to precautionary measures by businesses and public facilities; violators face severe fines.
  • Dubai's Emirates offers the global airline industry’s first comprehensive multi-risk travel insurance coverage and COVID-19 cover for all its customers, which includes out-of-country emergency medical expenses of up to US$500,000

Dubai's economic resilience

  • Dubai’s economy continues to prove its resilience by weathering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic - backed by its financial stability, high levels of diversification, a strong infrastructure, innovation-driven economy and vibrant business communities.
  • Dubai’s wide-ranging support measures through five stimulus packages worth Dh7.1 billion, helped offset the shock and repercussions of COVID-19 and ensured that the short-term impact of the pandemic does not translate into long-term economic challenges that would inflict lasting damage on people and businesses.
  • According to a recent study by Dubai Economy, Dubai’s stimulus packages contributed to reducing the economic impact of the crisis by limiting the expected economic contraction to -6.2% in 2020.
  • Dubai’s robust economic policies have ensured financial stability and prudent debt management; Dubai World recently fully repaid its $8.2 billion debt more than two years ahead of schedule.
  • Dubai was one of the very first cities in the world to gradually reopen its markets and businesses.
  • The emirate is a pioneer in launching initiatives to overcome challenges faced by individuals and businesses, which had a significant positive impact on minimising the economic impact of the pandemic.
  • Dubai was one of the world’s first cities to reopen itself to international tourists after the lifting of worldwide air travel restrictions. The emirate implemented comprehensive precautionary measures and protocols to ensure the highest international standards of health, safety and wellbeing for visitors
  • The continued flow of local and foreign investments, both from the government and private sector, are supporting Dubai’s efforts to restore its high growth momentum. The Cabinet Resolution No. (16) for the year 2020 listing a set of economic sectors and activities in which 100% foreign ownership is allowed, supports efforts to attract FDI into Dubai.
  • The ‘Retire in Dubai’ and ‘Virtual Work Program’ launched last year and the golden visa for long-term residency permits launched in 2019 that allows foreigners to live, work and study in the UAE without the need for an Emirati sponsor and hold 100% ownership of their businesses in the UAE will also stimulate greater investment flows.
  • Dubai expects to see 4% economic growth in 2021, on the back of the growing pace of rebound in many sectors, the continued flow of local and foreign investments, and vast new opportunities that Dubai will come from the Expo scheduled to be held later this year.
  • The 4% annual increase in new licenses issued by the Dubai Economy in 2020, clearly demonstrates the renewed rise of growth opportunities for entrepreneurs
  • Customs transactions recorded by Dubai Customs saw a significant rise of 23% to reach 16 million in 2020, despite the challenging global environment caused by the COVID-19
  • Expo 2020 Dubai is gearing up to help shape a post-pandemic world and a better future for all. The global mega event will run from 1 October 2021 to 31 March 2022.
  • Dubai has served as a global model for crisis preparedness and transition to an online environment. The emirate’s government departments have offered undisrupted services due to its investment in smart infrastructure and digital platforms throughout the pandemic.