Coronavirus: Residents flown back to UAE offer advice for travellers

UAE residents among the first to return to the country say there is nothing to fear as preventive measures are in place

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The first group of UAE residents to return to the Emirates have shed light on some of the preventive measures in place when travelling amid the coronavirus outbreak and offered tips to those flying in soon.

Dozens of residents, who became stuck abroad after the UAE closed its borders on March 19, began flying back to the country on Monday - with many more flights planned.

Their journeys involved rigorous checks and measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 among passengers and plane staff.

Rakshita Rustagi, 19, a second-year economics student at Ohio State University in the United States undertook a 26-hour-long journey to travel from San Francisco to Dubai, with a six-hour transit in Chicago.

She landed in Dubai on Monday night, arriving to her home in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday morning. Ms Rustagi had been scheduled to return to the Emirates on March 21 but her flight was cancelled when borders closed.

She said announcements were made constantly at San Francisco and Chicago airport to remind people to maintain physical distancing and the floors were marked with stickers as a prompt for travellers. She said toilets were covered in plastic and passengers were given hygiene kits were on the flight from Chicago to Dubai.

There is nothing to be nervous about as safety procedure are being implemented

"At Chicago airport, everything seemed normal but the crowd was less than usual. On the flight from San Francisco to Chicago, passengers were separated," said Ms Rustagi.

Her father booked the flight a few hours before it was due to depart and ended up paying around $5,400 for the ticket, roughly five times the usual cost.

“When I was in the United States, I was unsure about when I would be able to get home and there was a lot of uncertainty. I was scared as people were not staying home or maintaining distance as much as they should be," she said.

"I wanted to just come back home as I was by myself and it was getting lonely and stressful. I will feel better when I am able to hug my parents."

The student, who must now self-isolate at home for the next 14 days, said she was impressed by the preventative steps being taken at Dubai airport.

Marianne Bagui photo essay on being repatriated from the UK to Dubai, empty terminal
Marianne Bagui photo essay on being repatriated from the UK to Dubai, empty terminal

On arrival, passengers had to first submit a form detailing their travel and medical history. They then have their temperature taken and are tested for Covid-19 using a nasal swab.

"Everyone had to stand at a distance from each other which was not the case at the US airports. In the US, I barely saw anyone wearing gloves and many travellers were not even wearing masks," she said.

Travellers are given a code number to check the results of their coronavirus test online.

"I had to spend hours waiting but then each passenger was put in a separate taxi and we were sent to Abu Dhabi airport as we are residents of this emirate," she said.

"At Abu Dhabi Airport we were asked to fill a form and told we had to quarantine ourselves at home for 14 days. I am glad I can be at home."

Ms Rustagi advised passengers flying to the UAE to keep food on hand as restaurants may be closed and hot meals were rarely available, though flights are providing meals.

"When we landed, we just get water and many of the passengers were hungry. When we found a vending machine everybody went crazy," she said.

She also advised travellers familiarise themselves with the new hand baggage allowances so they do not end up having to pay extra.

"Emirates is allowing one small hand bag and everything else has to be checked in," she said.

Vilma Bagui with Marianne Bagui, who is stuck in the UK and will be coming back to the UAE on a repatriation flight tomorrow. Courtesy: Vilma Bagui
Marianne Bagui (R) with her mother Vilma. Pictured outside Dubai airport prior to the coronavirus outbreak. Vilma Bagui

Another student travelling into the UAE on Monday was Marianne Bagui, 23, who was studying at Oxford Brookes University in the UK when borders closed.

Ms Bagui travelled from Oxford to London and arrived in Dubai late on Monday night.

"I was glad that there was social distancing on the flight and there were more than two empty seats between passengers," said Ms Bagui.

"Around 20 minutes before boarding we were provided hygiene kits and asked to wear gloves and masks.

"There were only five or six people in the cabin and we were all spread out evenly.”

On arrival in Dubai, after passport control, she had her temperature checked and a swab test taken.

After they received their luggage, they were taken to a hotel where they must remain for up to two weeks.

"I was able to see my mother as she was at the airport and waved to me. My parents were so excited and my mom took pictures of me,” she said.

"I am just happy I am back in Dubai now."

At the hotel, Ms Bagui was given a document with some information and was told she would be in isolation for up to 14 days, though she may be able to go home sooner depending on her test result.

She is not allowed to leave the room but will have three meals delivered each day.

Ms Bagui advised passengers to carry their own sanitisers, masks, and, gloves and arrive at the airport ahead of time.

She said authorities at Heathrow Airport were giving away masks but not gloves.

"We were given meals on the flight but these were not plated the same way as before," she said.

"There is nothing to be nervous about as safety procedure are being implemented."

In the next two weeks, while she is in her hotel room, Ms Bagui plans to complete some of her courses and enjoy virtual meetings with friends and family.

"Once I am home I can't wait to see my three siblings," she said.