For over a year, the travel industry has been disrupted in an unprecedented manner, hurting families and businesses all over the world. Two old friends, the UAE and the UK, have had to live with some of the most constraining travel restrictions since the start of their relationship. More than 120,000 British citizens live in the UAE. In 2019, there were 7.7 million visits between the two countries. In the last quarter of 2020, arrivals from London to Dubai dropped by almost 70 per cent.
In an exclusive interview with The National, British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that this unhappy era is on the mend, confirming that the UK will lift restrictions on vaccinated travellers from the UAE shortly, following the resolution of a "technical issue" that prevented UK systems from reading the UAE's vaccine certificates on the country's Al Hosn app. The matter has now been resolved, which should facilitate more travel.
Mr Shapps stressed the importance of maintaining ties between the two countries: “I love the UAE. I'm looking forward to coming on the 22nd of November for Expo. The UK and the UAE are tremendous friends.”
Residents, tourists and businesspeople will be welcoming the most explicit UK government statement yet on its determination to get things back to normal. Throughout the past few months, The National has been reporting on the work of the Chief Executive of Dubai Airports, Paul Griffiths, to ease restrictions between the two countries. Speaking in April, Mr Griffiths petitioned the British government to review its restrictive hotel quarantine policy for UAE arrivals, saying "there are countries on the green list that, we believe, haven't taken the kind of care and number of measures like we have in Dubai to keep everyone safe".
These measures include some of the most intense airport hygiene protocols on the planet, apps to check vaccine status and a vast, swift testing regimen, and the broader fact that the UAE has had a particularly efficient response to the pandemic.
Mr Shapps said that, in keeping with the closeness of UAE-UK relations, he had "probably spoken to my UAE counterpart as much or more than 90 per cent of ministers around the world. We've been in very, very good contact throughout this".
It is good to hear both sides have been working to get things back to normal for their residents. But this achievement has wider, global benefits. The UK and the UAE are among the biggest international transit hubs on the planet, often the stopover on journeys to and from major economies such as the US and India.
The British government has been wary of mass transit throughout the pandemic. Mr Shapps explained that the UAE had been on the UK's red list not because of "concerns about the UAE per se, but about transit and the amount of traffic". His government has now overcome these difficulties by simplifying rules and, crucially, sharing data with partners to reopen travel safely.
It was natural that the UAE would be one of the first countries to participate in this new arrangement. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the UAE has been collecting vast amounts of data, be it in its testing regimen – at present, Abu Dhabi is the leading jurisdiction in the world in terms of number of tests per person – or in its vaccine drive.
Tech is proving to be the bridge that connects two old friends in difficult times. Hundreds of thousands of residents can now make the journeys they have missed for so long. Even more can go all over the world.