Live updates: follow the latest news on Covid-19 variant Omicron
UAE residents are cancelling winter travel plans amid concerns over the spread of the new Covid-19 variant, Omicron.
The new strain, which was first detected in South Africa, has spread around the world, with cases in countries such as Germany, Australia, the UK, Israel and Italy.
Several nations have moved to impose travel restrictions and have stepped up their own domestic safety measures in efforts to contain the spread.
The World Health Organisation, which classified Omicron a 'variant of concern', said on Monday the strain posed a high global risk due to its "unprecedented number of spike mutations".
Residents said they were worried about becoming infected by the new strain and wary of potential travel restrictions that may leave them stranded abroad.
'A risk we are not willing to take'
Javairia Hassan, 30, a Pakistani doctor in Dubai, has cancelled a trip to the UK her with her family. They were planning a month-long trip for December.
“I have a newborn baby and that is not a risk we are willing to take. We are worried about becoming infected and then not having access to proper medical care," she said.
“Then, there’s also the worry of not being able to come back. What if there are new travel restrictions? How will this affect our jobs? We just can’t risk it right now.”
Fernanda Troy, 37 a Brazilian Pilates studio manager in Dubai, said she cancelled their family trip to Brazil for the winter holidays.
Ms Troy said she missed her relatives back home and was hoping to visit, but is not going to risk it.
“We won’t be travelling this winter, as UAE is the only place we feel safe and secure that our government will do everything necessary to keep its population safe.
“We miss our family a lot but we won’t take the risk of possibly transmitting anything to them."
Someone close died recently and the family is devastated, she said.
“The ‘what if’ question comes to our mind all the time. What if we travel and get sick where there aren’t enough hospitals? What if countries close their borders? What if we lose someone just because we cannot be a bit more patient and wait until the world is safe again?” Ms Troy said.
Simon Bach, a Dubai resident from New Zealand, has scrapped a family skiing trip to Georgia.
He said he had the entire holiday planned, but decided not to travel after news emerged of how fast the new variant was spreading.
“It has a similar map to Delta. People ignored it and then it spread very quickly. I do have faith in the vaccines, but I am not going to travel around the world and risk myself and other people,” said Mr Bach, who runs a sports construction business.
Mother weighing up options
Zaibab Roker, an Indian teacher at Dubai’s Pristine Private School, has already paid about Dh10,000 for a 10-day trip to Georgia with her husband and daughter, 5, but is considering a cancellation.
The 35-year-old said she is feeling anxious over the increasing number of countries placing travel restrictions and does not want to get stranded abroad.
“We’re probably going to cancel the trip, depending on what news comes in the days ahead,” she said.
“We have never been infected with the virus, but we’ve seen our extended family go through it. So, to travel when there’s a new variant is such a big risk.
“We also don’t want to get stuck in another country. We don’t know what the situation could turn into and if there’ll be more travel restrictions placed. There could be problems at work.”
Wedding worries for couple
One Dubai resident is worried she will have to postpone her wedding for the fifth time, as a result of the latest developments with the Omicron variant.
“I’ve already planned and cancelled our wedding four times,” said Gemma Sinclair, an HR director from the UK.
“We were due to give notice of marriage in the UK at Christmas and see my mum for the first time in two years.
“Our wedding is in February 2022. So now it’s looking unlikely again.”
Ms Sinclair, 38, said she was still determined to travel but would follow the advice laid out by authorities.
“We are worried the decision won’t be in our hands,” she said.
“We’ve cancelled every other time because of government imposed lockdowns, or travel restrictions, or mandatory quarantine.
“This just feels like déjà vu.”
Another Dubai resident said she is due to fly to Manchester in the coming days and is worried she will not be able to travel if restrictions are expanded to tackle the new variant.
“I am getting nervous I won't get back,” said Fiona Deeb, 64, who owns a desert safari company in the UAE.
“I am not being foolish about travelling, I am going to see my terminally ill mother.”
A teacher in Dubai said his family was left wondering if they would have to cancel their holiday over Christmas.
“We are due to go to West Africa for three weeks,” said Matt Edwards, 45.
“We are not sure whether to cancel or not.
“We will decide day before I fly as the current situation is in its infancy and things could improve by then.”
A UAE travel agency said travellers were keeping a close eye on developments, but it was too early to give a clear picture of the impact Omicron would have on travel plans.
“Currently we have not seen major changes yet except to the countries recently closed,” Muzzammil Ahussain, executive vice president of travel agency Almosafer, said.
“Customers are inquiring about upcoming changes, as are we, but domestic and regional travel remains very strong.”