The bright side of not travelling during a pandemic

The Emirates have been clear about Covid-19 guidance
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - September 16 2015 - Bir Tamang, a Nepalese lifeguard poses for a photo by the wave pool at Yas WaterWorld. Reporter: Gillian Duncan. Section: Business. (Razan Alzayani for The National)  *** Local Caption ***  RA20150916_YasLifeguard_11.jpg RA20150916_YasLifeguard_11.jpg

The Eid holidays next week should provide an opportunity for most UAE residents to take a break of some sort, whether or not the break involves travel.

I, like many others, find myself unable to fly to places that I perhaps would have visited, had it not been for the pandemic. That’s a pity – an escape for the summer would have been nice.

Over the past few weeks, though, as I have looked to see how other countries are faring with Covid-19, I have not felt encouraged to travel. The evolving situation in some countries is enough to make one change plans.

I am fairly relaxed about my decision to stay in the UAE over the summer

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine was keen to get back to Britain for a few months. He first took a trip to Albania to avoid the need for a 10-day quarantine at London’s Heathrow Airport. He is now in a hurry to rush back to the UAE, as the number of cases in Britain soars and he doesn’t want to get stuck there.

Another friend managed to slip away to Cyprus, where the level of cases isn’t too worrying. Once he returns, however, he will need to quarantine for a few days.

Some of our neighbours have flown home to Lebanon, where the virus is raging, taking urgently needed supplies for their families. Hospitals there are struggling to cope; the electricity supply is haphazard and petrol is in short supply. Right now Lebanon is not really a place to visit for a break, however much we would like to do so.

To reach my other home, in the Channel Island of Jersey, we would first need to pass through the UK, with a 10-day quarantine, and then face further isolation once we got there. Even in Jersey, the number of cases have been soaring over the past few weeks, with the government clearly struggling to cope.

The situation naturally varies from country to country. As cases of Covid-19 rise or fall, so regulations change. My family has not been prepared to take the risk of travelling now when restrictions may suddenly be imposed that would delay a return.

The clincher, in terms of our decision not to travel, has been a lack of clear instructions in some of our desired travel destinations, about what people should and should not be doing. That, to put it mildly, has caused confusion and possibly contributed to a worsening situation for travellers.

In Britain, for example, or rather in England – since the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales make their own rules – it was announced that most restrictions were to be lifted next week –and then that they weren’t. People were told that wearing masks was mandatory – and then that it was simply a matter of advice. Large crowds were suddenly acceptable. To be fair, the football mania of the past week would have made it difficult to prevent crowds from forming.

And yet, if one peruses the official figures and studies the statements from the scientists, it seems probable that "Freedom Day" will simply be a temporary hiccup on the path to more cases.

Perhaps the problem is, in part, the failure of political leaderships in many countries to give clear guidance and to be transparent about their longer term objectives. Take the UK, for example. Is a movement towards "herd immunity" desirable? Is a tough message about vaccination essential? Over the next few weeks, the results of such mixed and weak messaging will become apparent.

That is why, on balance, I am fairly relaxed about my decision to stay in the UAE over the summer. Here, there is a determined campaign by the government to promote vaccination as widely as possible. If the science suggests that a third booster shot might be sensible, we are told that.

Wearing masks can be a bit of a nuisance at times, but it is widely recognised that it is necessary when in close proximity to others and that it is for the benefit of everyone.

I myself feel fortunate to live in the UAE. The messaging here has been clear from the start. It is not one message today and another tomorrow. The rules are explained, and we are frequently reminded of them.

So when it comes to travelling out of the country while the pandemic is still on, take your pick: the UAE, with a clear and consistent policy, on the one hand – or, another country where different messages are given by the politicians and scientists? I know which I prefer. That, perhaps, is fundamentally about clear leadership. On Covid-19, the UAE has it. Clearly, you cannot say the same for some other countries.

Published: July 15th 2021, 9:10 AM
Peter Hellyer

Peter Hellyer

Peter Hellyer is a UAE cultural historian and columnist for The National