UAE Covid restrictions 1 year on: How travel has changed
UAE is one of the few countries in the world open to tourism.
At the end of March 2020, the UAE woke up to a new normal. A country-wide month-long movement restriction launched on March 31 last year, was enforced restricting citizens and residents’ movement.
The UAE implemented the National Sterilisation Programme to disinfect bustling streets and public facilities. The curfew on movement continued between 8 pm and 6 am. Furthermore, Dubai closed down entrances and exit to Al Ras and Naif districts in Deira for mass testing and an intense disinfection programme.
Authorities also launched a nationwide drive to disinfect the metro, buses, taxis and airports while shopping malls and restaurants remained closed. The Dubai International Airport, the world’s busiest in terms of international passenger traffic, stopped all passenger air travel arrangements. Similarly, authorities completely shut down international passenger flights at the Abu Dhabi International Airport and Sharjah International Airport.
While people slowly got used to the new normal of wearing masks, gloves, and social distancing while venturing outside, overnight, an unseen virus had upended countries’ social and economic activities across the world.
‘Bustling highways wore a deserted look in 2020’
Except for a few sectors, a majority of industries crumbled under the Covid-19-triggered movement restrictions. Streets and bustling highways wore an utterly deserted look, and the country turned online to communicate with friends and loved ones.
Overnight, only those with travel permits and working in vital sectors were allowed to venture outside after 8 pm in the UAE. While essential services such as supermarkets, pharmacies, and food outlets remained open 24/7, Covid-19 triggered job losses that resulted in several families losing their livelihoods. To ensure no one in UAE went hungry, the UAE leadership launched campaigns to provide 10 million meals to those in need.
Inspired by this example, social workers and community groups such as Dar Al Ber and the Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre, with support from UAE police forces, supplied food and other necessities to thousands of those in need.
Stranded international travellers: What became of them?
As the scientific and medical community deliberated the safest way to continue movement, governments worldwide decided to discontinue all air travel temporarily. The sudden lockdown announced March-end meant that thousands of UAE residents who had travelled outside the country found themselves stranded, and several others on tourist visas were stuck in the UAE. Fortunately, the government extended visa validity for those stuck in the UAE and provided all those with travel difficulties the opportunity to regularise their status.
For months, families stayed separated, and Khaleej Times highlighted the struggles faced by UAE residents and visitors through countless stories. After several appeals, India’s government specifically launched the Vande Bharat Mission to repatriate stranded Indians from around the world, specifically from the Gulf. To date, the mission has brought back 6.7 million Indians.
The new normal in UAE today
Today, UAE is one of the few countries in the world open to tourism. While vaccination rollouts are underway worldwide, pre and post-travel PCR testing, approvals from immigration authorities, and quarantine continue to remain mandatory.
Furthermore, UAE residents still need to undergo testing to enter Abu Dhabi. Experts have said vaccine and testing records are likely to become mandatory in a post-Covid-19 world.
A growing number of health applications, touchless technology, and IATA’s Covid-19 pass is under trial by many airlines and airports, including the UAE. However, be it for business or leisure, one thing is sure – people prefer physical proximity.
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