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Indian expat Aditi Babel Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: The first batch of students who flew back to the UAE on the cusp of coronavirus flight suspensions were reunited with their families this week after two weeks in quarantine.

One such example was Indian expat Aditi Babel, who grew up in the UAE with her parents, who still reside here, but then moved to the UK in 2014 to study medicine at the University of Sheffield.

“Our university took time to make the decision,” she said of dorm and lecture hall closures. “They eventually asked students to go back to their home countries. Immediately when I heard that, I wanted to come home,” she said in reference to the UAE.

It was the next day on March 19 when Babel was about to travel back to the UAE that she heard about the UAE’s flight and visa suspensions as a precautionary measure against COVID-19 and subsequently wasn’t able to board.

“I immediately contacted the UAE embassy in London. I explained my situation and that my exams hadn’t been cancelled up until that day so I couldn’t come back earlier. It was important to me that they understood why I had waited, I was just waiting for my university’s decision,” she explained. “The embassy was really kind and helpful. They empathised with my situation and assisted me in getting back home.”

Dubai Airport also contributed in ensuring Babel and others travelling back to their families were comfortable during this stressful time, she added.

“In Dubai Airport people were so helpful, they took us to a lounge where they provided us with food and blankets. Many of us were returning students so they made us feel comfortable because most of us were young and didn’t have our families.”

Babel estimates that there were about 10 such students in the same situation as her but that they were later joined by more whom she didn’t see because everyone was separated into their own room at an airport hotel.

Upon arrival, nationals and residents were placed in quarantine for 14 days to monitor their health in efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Having completed the two-week quarantine in a Dubai-based hotel, Babel recalls the experience to be much more comfortable that she had expected.

“I’ve been hearing about people being quarantined all around the world but the way we were treated in the UAE was great,” she said. “We were given excellent food, the rooms were spacious and we received daily calls to ask about our needs and health that day and if we were comfortable. They were constantly asking us if we needed anything from outside and families were allowed to drop things off. My parents for example, brought me a lot of food and specific textbooks that I needed to study. Even though it was 14 days away from home and I was alone, it was very comfortable overall. They really took good care of us,” she added.

Babel is currently back with her family in Dubai and is continuing her education remotely. She is grateful that at a time like this she’s able to be surrounded by loved ones.

“I wanted to share my story because I wanted to say thank you to the UAE authorities, Dubai Airport and Emirates airline for the great way that they treated us. I completely understand the difficult situation and I’m grateful that they made it really easy and comfortable. The UAE is my home, and it’s really nice to be back here with family.”