UAE residents are hopeful that a flight ban on several South Asian countries will be lifted soon, as they wait to be reunited with their families and return to work.
The ban on inbound flights from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka was extended to July 25 by Emirates Airline on Sunday because of the highly infectious Covid-19 Delta variant that is widespread in these countries. Etihad previously extended the ban until July 21.
Many residents travelled to their home countries this year, unaware that an inbound flight ban was going to be placed on India in April and on other South Asian countries in May.
Officials have been reviewing the situation in these countries and have extended the ban several times.
The ban was first imposed on travellers from India in late April, when cases there soared, followed by the others in May.
Since then, the number of new cases in the UAE has steadily started to drop to the current level of around 1,500 cases a day - down 25 per cent.
Mahnoor Rizvi, a Dubai resident for nearly four years, lost her job as an operations co-ordinator at an advertising company because she has been stuck in Pakistan since May 3.
She travelled to Karachi to spend the Eid Al Fitr holidays with her family.
Ms Rizvi is hopeful that the restrictions will be removed on July 25.
“I feel very anxious because it’s not easy to stay away from home for such a long time,” she said.
“It’s affecting my mental health. I'm so confused about when I’m going to be with my husband and family in Dubai again. I was ready to spend the long Eid Al Adha break there and spend quality time with them, but now I am feeling lost.”
Rafia Waseem, another Dubai resident, has been unable to return from Pakistan since February.
She travelled to Karachi with her son for the holidays but had to stay longer because she became ill.
Now she is worried that if they do not return before August 4, their six-month residence visa to re-enter the UAE will expire.
Like many others, Ms Waseem is hopeful that flights will resume by July 25.
“We are very confused about what to do. My son and I are very upset because we’re alone here with my parents and he always asks when we’ll go back home and see his father. I’ve also started to get anxiety attacks,” she said.
Ms Waseem is also concerned about her son’s education, because he will start the coming academic year at a new school.
Many Indian residents have been able to return to the UAE through alternative routes.
Some are spending 14-day layovers in countries that are open to tourists, such as Uzbekistan and Ethiopia, before flying to the UAE.
More recently, Qatar — which is an hour-long flight from the UAE — reopened its borders to vaccinated tourists.
Travel agents said enquiries and bookings for package trips to Dubai via Qatar have surged.
“We are getting so many enquiries from people who want to travel back to the UAE via Qatar,” said Shaheen Mirshad, a travel agent at Smart Travels in Dubai.
“Indian nationals with residency in Dubai are calling to see what the procedures are for travel to Qatar. We have been informing our customers that Indian passengers get a 30-day preapproved visa-on-arrival if they have UAE residency.
“They also have to show proof of hotel booking for the duration of the 14-day stay and do a PCR test on arrival.”
They must register on the Qatari Ehteraz contact tracing app and upload their information, including passport, PCR test result and hotel booking details at least 12 hours before flying.
Vivek Menon, a supervisor at Deira Travel and Tourist Agency in Dubai, said more people now want to travel back to the UAE through Qatar rather than Armenia.
“For the past few months, Armenia has been the destination of choice for many looking to return to their homes and businesses in the UAE,” he said.
“Because of that demand, package prices for Armenia increased to about Dh8,000 to Dh9,000 for a 14-day stay.
“We have recently introduced package deals for Qatar that start at Dh2,600 for 14 days, including flights and accommodation. Depending on the hotel, it can go up to about Dh6,500.”
He said the most popular airlines for travel were Air Arabia, flydubai and Air India.
Although there are some clauses to travel to Qatar from India, Mr Menon said it is an “attractive route and less off the beaten track” than other destinations, such as Ethiopia and Uzbekistan.