Omicron is changing Christmas in the UAE

The winter break will see new restrictions, albeit light ones

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In July 2020, Covid-19 meant the UAE had to erect the first ever border between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, its two biggest emirates. It was a tough moment, one that symbolised the sacrifices the country was prepared to make as cases surged around the world.

Those days are behind us. The border was lifted in September, a major symbol that the country was on the road to recovery. Nonetheless, it was always going to be a long one that required constant vigilance; the world knew the virus would mutate, especially with unequal vaccination rates globally. Today, we are living through what appears to be the most contagious, but not necessarily most lethal, mutation yet: the Omicron variant. It is a threat, a reality check and a test of whether the world is willing to stay disciplined in the fight against Covid-19.

Many countries are buckling under the strain. Recent figures show that new infections in the UK have reached the highest daily level since the beginning of the pandemic, with almost 80,000 reported. In response, France has said it will toughen controls on travellers arriving from Britain, who will now need to produce a negative PCR test taken within 24 hours. The situation in wider Europe is hardly any better; continental vaccination rates are low, and efforts to boost them have resulted in social unrest from the Netherlands to Austria.

In the face of this troubling global picture, the UAE is choosing caution. Abu Dhabi is now bringing in new checks on commuters entering the emirate domestically, with authorities set to use scanners that can identify potential Covid-19 infection at crossing points by measuring changes to the electromagnetic waves given off by those being scanned. Anyone flagged will be sent for a free rapid antigen test that delivers results in around 20 minutes.

New measures also draw on simple common sense, and will come as little surprise to a country that has stuck by social distancing and hygiene measures for almost two years. New protocols approved by the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority require Christmas and New Year celebrations to have capacity limited to 80 per cent. Attendees have to have a green Al Hosn pass and proof of a negative PCR test within 96 hours. People will also be prohibited from hugging or shaking hands at gatherings.

Omicron does, therefore, represent something of a stumbling block. But it is a relatively minor one in the UAE, given the global picture. It also has a few silver linings. Social distancing measures are relatively light, far off the new lockdowns being considered across the globe. And vaccine boosters are being administered to ensure as much protection as possible.

This winter break might not be completely back to normal, but continued vigilance, high vaccination rates matched with a swift booster campaign and medical innovation means that the UAE is still in for a less restrictive time than last year. And, with caution, the country will stay on track in its recovery from the pandemic and all its implications.

Published: December 17, 2021, 3:00 AM
Updated: December 19, 2021, 7:18 AM