Abu Dhabi: With winter just around the corner in the UAE, the pleasant weather feels like an invitation to the outdoors. This year, having stayed home for the most part since March, residents are raring to head out to the parks and camping grounds across the country.
However, recent weeks have also seen a spike in the number of COVID-19 infections in the country, with the authorities handing out fines to those failing to follow safety precautions. Amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, and with the upcoming flu season, it is imperative that residents follow precautions to stay safe and healthy. Gulf News spoke to Dr Samar Ali, general practitioner at Al Zahra Hospital, Sharjah, and Dr Muhammed Aslam, specialist pulmonologist at International Modern Hospital, Dubai, and also checked official announcements, to compile a set of guidelines that you can follow to stay safe and healthy while savouring the winter in the UAE.
General safety measures
These guidelines apply to both, indoor as well as outdoor venues.
Wear a mask at all times when outside the house. Ensure that the mask fits well and covers your nose and mouth. Keep additional masks at hand in case one is damaged or lost.
Dispose of masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment in closed bins and wash up immediately.
Maintain a two-metre distance from those outside your household.
Wash your hands regularly with soap or use a hand sanitiser when soap and water are not available.
Avoid touching your face.
Stay away from crowds and crowded places.
Get your flu shot. Winter is the time when there is a spike in the number of cases of flu and there are a lot of similarities in the symptoms between seasonal Influenza and COVID-19. Infection with flu viruses will reduce your overall immunity, making you prone to contracting COVID-19. Getting a flu vaccine is an essential part of protecting your health and your family’s health this season.
If you are an at-risk individual — adults aged 55 years or older, those on immunosuppressant medication, pregnant women, very young children and residents with chronic conditions such as diabetes, continue avoiding outdoor activities as much as possible.
If you are a COVID-19 survivor, remember to exercise extra caution. After recovering from COVID-19, you may feel tired and fatigued for a long time. Your lung health may not return to normal levels for a prolonged period and there is a high chance you may get infected with other viruses or bacteria easily. In addition, it is possible to get re-infected with new strains of COVID-19. So avoid crowded places at all times, and be vigilant about wearing a mask and handwashing.
At the playground or amusement park:
Be aware of the risks. In communities that have experienced spread of COVID-19, playgrounds can be risky places to be at because it can be difficult to keep surfaces clean and disinfected. Coronavirus can spread when young children touch contaminated objects and then their eyes, nose or mouth.
If you choose to visit a playground, visit parks and recreation areas that are close to your home. Travelling long distances to visit a park may contribute to the spread of COVID-19.
Don’t visit crowded parks.
Wear a mask.
Accept masks from the authorities if you lose or damage yours. Abu Dhabi Municipality is continuing to distribute face masks to visitors across its facilities, for example.
Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after returning home from the park. If it is difficult to wash up while at the park, use a hand sanitiser frequently.
Carefully consider the use of playgrounds and play equipment and help children follow the guidelines.
Stay two metres away from people you do not live with.
If possible, sanitise play surfaces before allowing children to use them.
Don’t share items with people from outside your household.
If visiting a mosque, don’t forget to take a prayer mat along with you.
While camping and during barbecues:
Camp and barbeque with people in your household.
Keep at least two metres away from others at the campsite, on trails and in other areas of the park.
If you choose to camp or hike with people outside your household, try to camp in separate tents spaced out by at least two metres, and avoid sharing camping supplies.
Avoid sharing as much as possible. There is no evidence that food or food packaging plays a significant role in spreading the virus, but avoid sharing items such as serving utensils, multi-serving beverage containers and condiment bottles with people from outside your household.
Pack plenty of hand soap, hand sanitisers containing at least 60 per cent alcohol, and supplies to clean and disinfect frequently-touched surfaces. Remember that restroom facilities without running water, such as portable toilets and vault toilets, may not be stocked with hand hygiene products.
Continue good hand hygiene practises after touching surfaces such as doors and handles, including those within the bathroom and shower rooms, as well as water fountains or spigots, laundry facilities, ice machines, trash and recycling cans and bins, payment stations, vending machines and other camping amenities.
Ensure that barbecuing is allowed at the designated site. For instance, Abu Dhabi Municipality has not yet opened up barbecuing stations at its public parks and engaging in a cook-out at these venues will invite a penalty.
If visiting a mosque, don’t forget to take a prayer mat along with you.
At beaches and water parks:
There is no evidence that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can spread to people through the water in oceans, lakes, swimming pools, water playgrounds or hot tubs. But general precautionary measure are still the order of the day.
Maintain social distancing in and out of the water. Stay two metres away from people who are not part of your household.
Avoid crowded swim areas, beaches, pools, water playgrounds and hot tubs where you cannot maintain adequate social distancing.
Wear a mask when not in the water. These are especially important when physical distancing is hard to maintain. At the same time, do not place a mask on children younger than two years old or on any one who has trouble breathing or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without help.
Accept masks from the authorities if you lose or damage yours.
Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially before eating or drinking, and when you arrive and leave the swim area. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitiser with at least 60 per cent alcohol and rub until your hands are dry.
Remember that hand sanitisers are not as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy, so wipe sand or dirt off before applying.
Avoid sharing items such as equipment, toys and supplies with people who don’t live with you.
If you are not wearing a mask, make sure to cover your face with a tissue or the inside of your elbow while coughing or sneezing, throw the tissue in the trash bin and wash your hands immediately. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitiser.
When meeting people from outside the household:
It is best to meet people at an outdoor venue, but the standard precautions such as social distancing and wearing of a mask must be followed.
Limit the duration of the meet-up. Gatherings that last longer pose more risk than shorter gatherings.
Ensure that you do not exceed the maximum number of people allowed per gathering. This is currently limited to ten family members at weddings and up to four people in eateries.
Try to meet people who live close to you. Meeting with people who are travelling from different places poses a higher risk than meeting those who live in the same area.
Meet only those who follow strict precautionary measures. Mingling with attendees who do not adhere to social distancing, wearing of masks, hand-washing and other precautionary measures pose a higher risk than those who follow preventative measures.
Do not shake hands, bump elbows or give hugs. Instead, wave and verbally greet one another.
Avoid sharing items, including cutlery and equipment.
As a host, you may even request attendees to get screened for COVID-19. In fact, authorities recommend testing for COVID-19 about 24 hours before attending a wedding or funeral and this practise can be encouraged even when you are choosing to socialise outdoors with people who do not belong to your household.