The UAE is lifting major Covid-19 restrictions in 2022

A number of health measures have just been dropped, including the mandatory wearing of masks in outdoor public spaces

People no longer have to wear masks outdoors. The National
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In January, Dr Hans Henri Kluge, the WHO's Europe director, issued a statement detailing why 2022 should be the year the world leaves the "emergency phase" of the Covid-19 pandemic. This was not a call for complacency. The past two years have seen almost 6 million deaths from the virus, and 2022 came as the world was trying to manage the emerging Omicron variant, the most contagious strain of Covid-19 yet. Even today, countries from Denmark to Iran are seeing rising deaths. But it was, nonetheless, a statement of hope that after two years, the worst of the pandemic could be over if managed correctly.

Constant erring on the side of caution has put the UAE in a good position to prove so. It has not been easy, and the country by no means escaped tragedy. But today, at least, it is starting to bid farewell, hopefully for the last time, to cornerstone measures in its two-year fight against Covid-19.

Perhaps the biggest visible symbol is dropping the need to wear masks outside. Up until last Saturday, masks had been an unavoidable part of life in the country for two years. The mandate was so strong in the early months of Covid-19 that drivers were required to wear them in private vehicles, even if they were on their own. This was while many parts of the world were still cramming public transport systems and offices at full capacity.

In another important move, Abu Dhabi has announced it will no longer use medical wristbands to track people with Covid-19 and their close contacts. While the requirement to self-isolate for those who catch the virus remains, close contacts no longer need to isolate. At one point, arrivals from abroad were also required to wear them. Now, fully vaccinated visitors to Abu Dhabi do not even need a PCR test.

Gradually lifting these measures is strengthening an important part of the country's economy and identity that has been hampered for too long: global travel, be it in the aviation sector, tourism or international business. Indeed, organisers at Expo 2020 Dubai have said masks are now optional in outdoor areas. As the event – which was delayed for a year by Covid-19 – enters its final month, this announcement is a symbolic marker of how the country is part of a lucky group at the forefront of mapping a safe path to re-opening.

Much still remains in effect. Masks are mandatory inside public spaces and the exact nature of a return to normality for the country's schoolchildren is still being formulated. But in the first two months of 2022, the UAE, which had one of the most cautious Covid-19 responses worldwide, has taken important steps towards a full re-opening. The hope is that throughout the rest of year it will be able to prove Dr Kluge's thesis correct, and use that recovery as a basis to support a world that is less fortunate in many parts.

Published: March 01, 2022, 3:00 AM