After Covid-19, ‘normal’ is a welcome sight for the UAE

The country's leaders have said the it has 'overcome the Covid-19 crisis'

Few Emirati traditions are older than that of the majlis, as regular gatherings between the country's rulers and their people are known. Whether they are held in tents or palaces, the ritual and significance remain the same: people are greeted with warm hugs, serious ideas are discussed and important announcements are made.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the intimacy of the majlis was, like so many other traditions, disrupted by social distancing. But on Wednesday, a particularly consequential majlis was held in Abu Dhabi's Sea Palace, in person and indoors. By the time it ended, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, had declared that the UAE had “overcome the Covid-19 crisis”, and called for a return to a life that is largely normal, albeit adjusted for the fact that the pandemic remains a global challenge.

Some of those in attendance, while maintaining a social distance, were not wearing masks, a remarkable development for which Sheikh Mohamed praised God. "Thank God for everything and for seeing you all... I am blessed to see your kind faces today", he said.

The message extended to all UAE residents. "I announce to you that things are good; the health condition in the UAE is good", he said. The evidence in this regard is clear: infection rates have been dropping consistently since June, hitting an 18-month low of 156 new cases on Wednesday. More than 85.5 million PCR tests have been carried out and more than 20.2m doses of vaccine have been administered. Economically, even the most-affected industries in the country are talking about recovery. On Tuesday, the president of Dubai-based Emirates, the world's biggest long-haul airline, said that he expects his company to return to profitability as early as the 2022-2023 fiscal year.

Sheikh Mohamed extended his condolences to those who lost loved ones to the virus. There were still calls for caution, and an acknowledgement that "habits" might have to change. But the overall message was that 19 months on from when countries around the world started locking down, the UAE can have the confidence to continue daily life without fear.

In many areas, it is already busy doing so. Expo2020 Dubai, among the best known global events around, has been underway for a week. It brings together people from almost 200 countries – just below the number that attend the Olympics – something that would simply not be possible if the health situation was not secure.

Wednesday's majlis will be one that goes down in the country's history. It stands in stark contrast with the one held as the pandemic began, when Sheikh Mohamed, at a distance via video technology, called on people to stand together and face the great unknown of Covid-19. In hindsight, it is easy to forget quite how uncertain the future seemed at that point. Today, the country is celebrating the fact that just a year and a half later, this uncertainty is gone. Now, life can get back to normal, even if certain measures need to be kept to maintain the advances we have made.

Published: October 8th 2021, 3:00 AM