Covid-19 in UAE: Residents say it feels strange to step outside without masks after 2 years

'I feel the pandemic is almost over, thanks to UAE's proactive measures to contain it'



File photo
File photo

By Sherouk Zakaria, Ashwani Kumar, SM Ayaz Zakir

Published: Sat 26 Feb 2022, 5:46 PM

Last updated: Sun 27 Feb 2022, 10:41 AM

Life has changed for UAE residents — overnight — and for the better! Khaleej Times saw the welcome change on a balmy Saturday morning at Expo 2020. Instead of the usual message warning entrants to wear masks and stay masked, this time visitors were welcome with the phrase ‘Hayyakum’. Nothing else.

It was the most telling sign of the easing in Covid restrictions. In line with the National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority (NCEMA), the Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management in Dubai has updated several of its Covid-19 regulations. While wearing of masks outdoors is optional, it continues to be mandatory in all public indoor venues such as shopping malls, supermarkets, etc.

Many residents told Khaleej Times that the pandemic was nearing its end and commended the UAE authority for it all. “Finally, we can heave a sigh of relief, said Mariam Khalifa, an Emirati citizen and a social worker. “I feel the pandemic is almost over. With authorities relaxing rules, one can be sure that we are safe without masks in Dubai.”

A few visitors were seen without masks at the Expo, but they said that would adhere to the rules by wearing masks in indoor spaces such as pavilions and restaurants.

While all welcomed the move, many said it will take time to get used to life without a mask after two years of Covid-19.

Some said it felt ‘weird’ to be out and about without a mask, while others said they were so used to wearing a mask that it felt ‘naked’ to be without one!

Anurag, a visitor to Expo 2020, said that it’s been two years that he’s been wearing masks and feels odd to be without one. “I will take some time to accept that masks are no more mandatory in Dubai, but for now, due to my habit and safety, I will be continuing to wear it,” Many visitors to the world fair were seen with their guards up and said it will take time for the idea of life without a mask to sink in. “Keep in mind that the authorities have not completely removed the need for a mask. For our own safety we can keep wearing masks outdoors,” said Naveen. “We have managed to come so far only because the UAE has done a commendable job in handling the pandemic,” he added.

An air of caution prevails among Sharjah residents

An air of caution prevailed among Sharjah residents who were spotted around major landmarks with their masks on despite the recent ease of Covid-19 restrictions across the UAE.

On a quiet Saturday afternoon, groups of friends and family members walked around masked in the vast open and empty spaces, even when no other stranger was around. On Al Buhaira Corniche, individuals walking alone by the lake refused to let go of their masks despite the absence of any weekend crowd. Others walked around outside, keeping their masks hanging on their chins.

"I think we are so used to it by now," laughs Joy Handumon, a Filipina national based in Sharjah. “Over the years, it has become a part of us.” For others, it was an act of caution. Masks were a key precaution that brought safety to hundreds of people for the last two years of uncertainty and confusion caused by the pandemic.

In their different shapes and colours, masks have provided guidance from the first month of the Covid-19 outbreak when the nature of the virus was still vague. "I don't think I'm letting go of my mask any time soon whether indoor or outdoor," said Yousef Mohammed, who was spending the weekend with a group of friends at Al Majaz Waterfront.

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"Even when cases are down across the country, masks make me feel generally safer, even against other diseases," he said. Mohammed noted that ever since he wore the mask regularly, the regular flu became a rarity even in the winter seasons. The National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority's announcement of the ease of COVID-19 restrictions has, however, signalled a closer end to the fears of the pandemic and bright signs that the danger zone is over. It told people that the UAE has, once again, defied the pandemic successfully.

Masks come off in Abu Dhabi

Some Abu Dhabi residents rejoiced at the freedom of not wearing masks in open areas, which has become almost a luxury in the new normal world.

While most residents were seen wearing masks during the morning hours but as the day progressed and the news spread about the implementation of relaxations on masks, some people were seen sheepishly and cautiously removing them to enjoy the fresh air and expressions on their faces of others.

Confusion still reigned supreme on people’s faces as they stared and frowned at those individuals who were removing masks in open areas. Indian expat Ramesh S., a long-time resident, was one of the many who were unaware of the overnight rule change.

“I went for a morning walk and found many people not wearing masks. It was normal as you don’t necessarily need to wear masks while jogging. But later I found many without masks in open areas and then I learnt about the rule change. This is great. Who doesn’t want to breathe easily in the open air? This is a great indication of things actually returning to normalcy.”

Kris Ann, a Filipina resident, felt a sense of relief after taking a few steps in the open air without masks – an act she longed for two years. “I hope this is the new normal now. It is very good news as we can move freely without wearing masks. We can see each other’s faces. I am very happy. But we must continue to be cautious. Also, I am greatly relieved by the relaxation announced for travelling. I couldn’t go home because of Covid-19 restrictions and quarantine requirements. Now there is hope. I hope things remain this way,” Ann hoped.

Wai Moe Kyaw, who is a new resident from Myanmar, said that not seeing masks in public places itself boosts a person’s psychology. “Not wearing them in open spaces gives you an impression that the pandemic is finally getting over. So, it helps you psychologically. Masks will continue to be important in protecting against the virus. So, we must follow rules set by the government.”

reporters@khaleejtimes.com


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