The International Media’s Response to COVID-19 in Dubai (is Bollocks)

As things got slightly under control with the number of active COVID cases in Dubai, the severity of symptoms amongst those affected and the mortality rate, the governmant eased restrictions and businesses slowly started opening up. By so doing, the local population were able to see what the new normal would look like- a bit like the old normal but with a face mask on and not in each other’s faces all the time, i.e., socially distant.

When the restrictions started to ease, it was a gradual step back into normality. Dubai didn’t just dive into normal life, it waded in through the shallow end first. Offices opened up at 50% capacity so that half the people still worked from home. If you were blessed with my company’s ethical way of life, you would have been encouraged not to come into the office if you can help it, stay home wherever possible and take care of yourself and your family. Only come to the office if you absolutely need to. A similar gradual opening up of malls was executed- they only opened at 70% capacity so that businesses could open up but with less face to face interaction.

When it seemed like this was working and cases weren’t rising as a result of restrictions easing, the government waded in a bit more to test slightly deeper waters and capacity came back to 100%. While live entertainment was still banned, bars and pubs were starting to welcome guests back in at reduced capacity with a limit of upto six guests at one table. There was no surge in the number of active cases, the percentage of people dying from the disease remained reasonably low and live entertainment slowly came back into action as well.

Thus it was that Christmas and NYE passed by in a breeze with most of the city back to normal, while the UK struggled with the new strain of Coronavirus (say ‘Coronavirus’ the way Cardi B says it if you want to feel a bit more terrified). As British influencers poured into the UAE to avoid Tier 4 regulation, so too did the new strain and the number of new cases started increasing everyday- doubling in a week. The international media was quick to report this. A quick google search of ‘Dubai COVID new strain’ would give you multiple results from renowned publications (charot).

From CNBC- ‘Is Dubai’s party over? Record cases spark fears of new lockdown

From USA Today- ‘Dubai Didn’t Close its Borders over Holidays: Now the Party Haven Faces its Biggest COVID-19 Surge Yet’

From the Daily Mail- ‘Dubai Refuses to Stop Party: Economic Crisis Forces Social Media Influencers’ Haven to Keep its Hotels and Restaurants Open even as Virus Cases TREBLE’

‘What has happened in Dubai did not need to happen’- an immunologist was quoted by CNBC.

What has really happened?

A mutant strain which was 70% more contagious entered the UAE and spread quicker than any of the previous strains. When it was identified in the UK, the government acted and locked everything down. When it was identified in the UAE, the government acted and locked everything down whilst pushing its vaccination drive. So is the immunologist’s blame game really necessary in the dialogue about how governments have handled the health crisis? I would think not.

Yes, the number of cases are rising in the UAE and yes, it is terrifying but I would still rather be in Dubai than any other place. Under the noble leadership of Trump, the US spent most of 2020 debating whether or not the virus was even real, and under the ridiculoulsy vague guidelines set by the British government, the lockdown they entered never truly eased and people have effectlively lost a year of their lives. Dubai enforced mask wearing and put into place permits that need to be applied for 48 hours prior to your ‘essential activity’ and the meaning of ‘essential’ was clearly described in an addendum. Within two months, people were able to leave their homes, albeit in a limited capacity, but some interaction was starting to happen and a semblance of sanity was being restored. I would definitely rather be in Dubai than anywhere else.

People say that restrictions were lifted too quickly. It wasn’t that quick though, was it? It was gradual. It started off with not requiring permits to get out of the house anymore, to a 9pm curfew, to an 11pm curfew, to no curfew, to reviving live entertainment. It was a strategically planned exit from lockdown and not the haphazard, ill-thought revival of Dubai’s night life that the international media is making it out to be. It has been based on two very important aspects of Dubai’s COVID situation- 1) that most of the population is under the age of 65 and hence symptoms have been moderate at most for most people, and 2) that as a result of this young population, the percentage of people dying out of the total diagnosed cases continues to remain low.

Some argue that the UAE is desperately clinging to tourism as revenue and hence kept the borders open during the holidays- did any country really close their borders when it was time for the holidays? Sure, tourism is an important part of Dubai’s revenue- and if tourism is booming and bringing money into the country, keeping the economy afloat and lifting the citizens and residents out of an economic downturn, what is wrong with bringing tourism back on the table? Is it not true that all economies are holding on to the facets that can bring in some semblance of business in society? Citizens and residents have been given clear guidelines on masks and social distancing, so now it is upto people to use their best judgement and keep out of people’s faces instead of giving each other hugs and kisses as if we belong to a Greek tragedy.

And where do British and American publications even get the audacity to comment on how the UAE is handling the COVID situation? Nobody in the UAE felt their human rights were being violated by being asked to wear a mask. Our leader didn’t suggest drinking bleach to cure the virus, neither did he call it the Kung Flu virus. No, this was in the US. When our government laid out rules, they established clear guidelines so that nobody was ever confused about whether or not they can leave the house- unlike the policies laid out by a certain BoJo’s cabinet. They say the UAE welcomed tourists from the UK when they knew they were harbouring a new, more infectious strain. Perhaps if the UK guidelines had clearly stated ‘stay home, full stop’, nobody would have gone anywhere.

What the international media isn’t publishing scintillating headlines about is the extensive vaccination campaign. The largely service, luxury, leisure and travel based economy of the UAE cannot thrive on a lockdown and so vaccination is the way forward- and that’s where the government has put in maximum effort and is on track for half the population to be vaccinated by March. Haters will argue that the UAE has a small population so why take even this long? It’s because we do have in our midst great thinkers who don’t want to get vaccinated for various reasons. Convincing them to either get vaccinated or stay home is a mission on its own. To counter these Kens and Karens, the government is considering putting forth a provision stating that those who are not vaccinated need to provide a negative PCR test result every 14 days to their employers. The choice now rests with the people- vaccination free of charge or pay AED 150 every 14 days.

At this stage we should really be past the blame game. It almost sounds like local journalists from these publications have run out of scintillating material and are now looking for a new scandal from abroad to report and Dubai seemed like an easy target. With every setback that Dubai has had since 1971, it has always come back stronger and there is no reason to doubt that it will come out of this too, stronger than before. What we need at this stage is to stick to government regulation and use one’s own mental faculties to assess what is best for their health.

I would like to quote Graham Norton- ‘just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.’ Just because you can go to a bar, doesn’t mean you have to flock there. Of course, Graham Norton said it in the context of a Romanian singer’s bit on the 2013 Eurovision context, but I think it fits here.