Copy of NAT 200602 Abu Dhabi Road Block CE008-1591686562170
Traffic comes to a standstill near Last Exit on Shaikh Zayed Road heading towards Abu Dhabi as police restrict entry into Abu Dhabi due to the ban on movement entering and exiting the Emirate on 2nd June, 2020 . Photo Clint Egbert/Gulf News Image Credit: Clint Egbert, Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: The extension of movement restrictions in Abu Dhabi is prompting many people who live or work in the emirate to change their working arrangements, Gulf News has learnt.

The restrictions, which first came into force for a week last Tuesday, were last night extended for an additional week so that authorities in Abu Dhabi can test as many people for the coronavirus as possible.

“Since last Tuesday, I have been working from home, and this announcement means that I have to continue in the same vein for seven more days,” F.T., a 40-year-old Bangladeshi admin officer, told Gulf News.

F.T. is employed at an oil and gas firm in Dubai, and normally commutes from the capital city on a daily basis. She said she had attempted to drive to Dubai on the first day of restrictions, but that she had not been allowed to cross the police checkpoint.

“I did not have a movement permit, as I had thought that a letter from my company would suffice. However, the police did not let me through, so I arranged with my managers to complete tasks from home. Now that this will continue for some more time, I will simply try to cherish the opportunity to work while also being surrounded by my husband and children,” she added.

Copy of NAT 200602 Abu Dhabi Road Block CE012-1591686568777
Traffic comes to a standstill near Last Exit on Sheikh Zayed Road Image Credit: Clint Egbert, Gulf News

Movement restrictions

Under the guidelines, people in Abu Dhabi are banned from moving within its three regions – Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Al Dhafrah, just as entry into, and exit from, the emirate is also banned. However, residents are allowed to leave their homes every day between 6am and 10pm. In addition, access to leisure and entertainment venues –including hotel beaches, restaurants, museums and sporting facilities – is permitted until the sterilisation programme comes into effect every night at 10pm.

Those who need to leave or enter Abu Dhabi on an urgent basis can apply for movement permits. However, a number of people reported to Gulf News that their applications have been rejected a number of times.

“I am currently deployed at a hospital in Al Ain, and when the restrictions were first implemented, I had assumed I would not be able to visit my family in Sharjah for a while. Then I heard from a colleague that she was still allowed to commute from Dubai every day, so I decided to come home to Sharjah for the weekend. However, when I tried to get back, I was stopped at the Al Ain’s Al Foah border,” said Dr Rajkumar Ramaswamy, an anaesthetist employed by Al Zahra Hospital in Sharjah.

Few movement permits granted

According to the doctor, his application for a movement permit has been rejected twice.

“The hospital is stretched thin because of the influx of COVID-19 patients, so I hope I will be able to return soon. I have even visited the checkpoint twice, but I was not allowed to enter Al Ain,” he added.

Explaining the aim behind the restrictions, Abdulla Al Hamed, chairman at the Abu Dhabi Department of Health, had said they were designed to improve the reach and effectiveness of the National Screening Programme, a mass testing initiative that aims to screen as many people for COVID-19 as possible.

Copy of NAT 200602 Abu Dhabi Road Block CE010-1591686565773
Traffic comes to a standstill near Last Exit on Sheikh Zayed Road heading towards Abu Dhabi Image Credit: Clint Egbert, Gulf News

Mass testing

“Mass testing is a key pillar of Abu Dhabi’s strategy to contain the spread of COVID-19 With the expansion of the project to include high-density areas [in the emirate], and to ensure that the largest possible number of the emirate’s population are reached, we had to ban the movement between cities and reduce contact as much as possible,” Al Hamed had said.

Initially introduced to screen those who live and work in the capital’s industrial hub of Musaffah, the testing initiative is currently also targeting residents who live in high-density areas of the emirate.

Authorities have said that exemptions to the restrictions are available by special permit for employees in vital sectors, as well as for those with chronic diseases visiting hospitals and those transporting necessary goods. But sources indicate that very few exemptions are granted at the moment.

One doctor who lives in Dubai reported that she had not been able to get to her workplace in Al Ain, although she had initially been allowed to travel when the restrictions first came into force.

Increased screenings

Meanwhile, residents in high-density areas have reported being screened over the last week.

A worker who lives in a shared apartment in downtown Abu Dhabi said he had been taken to a testing centre along with all other tenants in the building.

“One night last week, the authorities arrived at our building on Zayed the First Street after the sterilisation programme kicked off at 10pm. They took us all down to the Al Mena Screening Centre to be tested, and I was happy to learn, within 24 hours, that I have not yet contracted the virus,” M.A. said.

“I am grateful to the government for this screening initiative, especially as it eases the concerns of many,” he added.

Julia Jones, an American teacher, said she has been stranded in Dubai for a week and is desperate to return home.

"I came to Dubai for a visit, and only learnt about the movement restrictions the day they were implemented. I wasn't worried for a week because I still had enough medicines to last me. But now that the restrictions have been extended, I don't know what to do," Jones said.

She has allegedly been by the border checkpoint thrice, but hasn't been allowed through.

"I have also applied for a movement permit seven times but they've all been rejected. I am working from my hotel room for the moment, but I really do need to get back home before the school term winds down," she said.