The lockdown-free UAE opened the UK journey hall within the midst of the Covid spike

Women sunbathers sit on a beach in the Gulf emirate of Dubai on July 24, 2020, while the Burj al-Arab Hotel can be seen behind it. After a painful four-month hiatus in tourism that ended in early July, Dubai is paying off as a safe travel destination with the resources to ward off coronaviruses.

KARIM SAHIB | AFP via Getty Images

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – While much of the world suffered full or partial coronavirus lockdowns this winter, the Middle East leisure and commercial hub in Dubai welcomed tourists who longed for a semblance of normal beaches and reopened restaurants, shopping malls , Amusement parks and hotels.

But the Gulf emirate with around 3.4 million inhabitants may see clouds on the horizon after a long journey with low Covid-19 cases. Britain, one of Dubai’s largest tourist sources, removed the United Arab Emirates from its “safe travel corridor” within two weeks from late December after the country’s daily Covid cases nearly tripled. That means travelers returning to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland from the UAE will have to self-isolate for 10 days from Tuesday.

“The LATEST data shows that we need to remove the #UAE from the # TRAVELCORRIDOR list immediately,” tweeted UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps late Monday evening. “As of 4:00 am, Tuesday January 12th, anyone arriving from the UAE must self-isolate.”

To date, the UAE has recorded around 233,000 Covid cases and 711 deaths since the pandemic began. The last case count average for the past week was 2,607.

The UK, one of the worst-hit countries in Europe by the virus and the fifth highest in the world in terms of cases and deaths, has recorded 3.12 million cases and more than 82,000 deaths.

A bubble of relative normality

After one of the strictest bans in the world was imposed in March and April 2020, Dubai’s economy gradually began to re-open, although the neighboring and capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, remained largely closed. Tourists have been welcoming again since July 7, and in recent months the tourism sector, which typically accounts for around 12% of Dubai’s GDP, has seen a relatively healthy recovery.

By introducing a remote work visa program, the company also benefited from its openness and “Safe Travel” certification. The signing of the Abrahamic Agreement in August has attracted a growing flow of first-time visitors from Israel. The rental and hotel prices have risen in the winter months. Dubai’s restaurants and bars were bustling and the authorities allowed private gatherings for up to 30 people during the New Year celebrations.

The irony of the British move is not lost for some Dubai residents. The British flooded the resorts in Dubai to escape the harsh winter lockdown in Great Britain. This was triggered by the discovery of a rapidly spreading new strain of coronavirus that is 70% more transmissible than its predecessor.

“The cases are ridiculous”

British social media influencers and celebrities flocked to Dubai’s famous nightclubs and beaches, posting bikini selfies on Instagram as dozens of countries banned British travelers for fear of the new variant of the virus.

“They sent all of their Covid cases to us and now they are telling their citizens that it is unsafe to travel to the UAE! You must be kidding,” a Dubai resident told CNBC.

“Good relief, the cases are ridiculous,” said another Dubai resident of the British visitors.

The UAE State Department declined to respond to a CNBC request for comment. The UK Department of Transport did not respond to a CNBC comment request at the time of writing.

Dubai has demonstrated its efforts to adhere to Covid’s best security practices. Masks are required in all public places, workers can be seen constantly cleaning up public areas, and markings indicating safe distances are ubiquitous. Negative coronavirus tests are required for entry from some countries before boarding, while other travelers – such as those from the UK – were allowed to receive PCR tests upon arrival at Dubai Airport.

The UAE also benefits from a predominantly young population as the 90% expat population, on which much of its economy depends, cannot retire in the country. This explains why the virus death rate is so low.

Coronavirus tests are readily available, and the country is running its vaccination campaign swiftly, offering both Pfizer BioNTech vaccine and Chinese Sinopharm vaccine free to all residents. Moderna’s vaccine will soon be on that list. Experts say the speed of the vaccination campaign is second only to Israel’s.

With the visitor boom and the new strain of the virus spread in more than 40 countries to date, many in the United Arab Emirates believe that it was only a matter of time before Dubai’s Covid-safe bubble burst.

In contrast, the UK has not required a health certificate or a negative Covid test result for arrivals since the pandemic began. Travelers to the country describe not even asking or taking their temperature when they arrived at UK airports.

Starting January 15, negative tests will be required for the first time for international arrivals that take place within 72 hours of departure, the UK Department of Transport said this week.

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