Covid-19 in the UAE: seven things that changed our lives in the past 12 months

From Zoom to the Tiger King, banana bread to mRNA – and everything in between

Twelve months have passed since nurseries and schools were closed in the UAE to protect children and teachers from Covid-19.

Shortly afterwards, on March 11, the virus was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organisation.

Dubai went into a full four-week lockdown on April 2, while other emirates imposed various restrictions on movement.

A year on, a significant measure of normal life has now returned but there have been lasting effects – and not least some unusual behavioural trends.

Let's check them out.

We have a whole new vocabulary

The pandemic has provided us with a whole new lexicon of Covid related words. AP Photo / Andy Wong
Women wearing face masks with New Year good fortune messages, in Beijing, China. AP Photo

Twelve months ago, you would get a blank look if someone asked you to go into lockdown, socially distance or self-isolate. Quarantine was a process for importing pets. Disposable masks were worn by considerate cold-sufferers in Japan, and latex gloves were for surgeons and sandwich makers.

'Covidiots", "quaranteams", "doomscrolling", "Zooming", "coronacation" – all brand-new words created to label and occasionally bring levity to our dystopian new reality.

Extreme events like wars often see the genesis of new words. For example, the Second World War saw the introduction of words like "radar" into the popular lexicon. The pandemic was no different, experts at the Oxford English Dictionary noted. They described the speed of word and phrase creation as "unprecedented".

When asked to pick its annual Word of the Year, the OED said it could not, as 2020 was “a year which cannot be neatly accommodated in one single word”. The rival Collins Dictionary chose "lockdown".

We greet each other differently

There was once a time when the biggest social agony of meeting a person was whether to hug, handshake or kiss on the cheek.

Now greeting is a bizarre dance of fist bumping, elbow knocking and polite kicking. The traditional polite Emirati greeting of placing your right hand over your heart has been more widely adopted.

The rest of the time we have to stay two metres apart, unless seated at a table for food.

The Japanese trend of bowing suddenly seems utterly logical. Remember hugging? No, neither do we.

We watch a lot more TV

The TV show Tiger King was one of the most popular Netflix shows of 2020. AFP / Netflix
'Tiger King' was one of the most popular Netflix shows of 2020. AFP

First it was Tiger King, then Love is Blind. The stars of the first Arab soap opera Inheritance suddenly become household names.

Universities offered free degrees and fitness coaches uploaded free content, but after a day of home schooling and working from home, most of us just sat on our couches, ate comfort food and plugged into another world.

Video-streaming reigned supreme, with local services picking up thousands of new subscribers.

Starzplay added 600,000 new users – a 70 per cent increase year-on-year – and Netflix more than doubled its subscribers worldwide. It had just over 300,000 subscribers in the UAE by June 2020, according to consumer website Comparitech.

We were also watching for longer; Netflix saw a 26 per cent increase in subscriber viewing time in March, according to figures from the UAE's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority.

We started cooking

For weeks, food become the centre of our world. There was quite literally nothing else to do, but go to the supermarket, buy food, cook it and eat it.

There was even a phrase for it, "fattening the curve" – wordplay on the need to "flatten the curve" of rising Covid-19 cases.

Baking became a lifestyle, and yeast a commodity, one which sold out in US supermarkets.

Locked down UAE residents suddenly had time to prepare meals from scratch, and packaged cooking ingredient sales increased by 5 per cent to Dh3 billion ($812 million) year-on-year, according to Euromonitor and the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Spinneys supermarket saw a marked increase in the sales of rice, pulses and canned tomatoes – all indicators that people were cooking at home.

Social media became social life

Social media became our social life during lockdown. Dado Ruvic / Reuters
Social media became our social life during lockdown. Reuters

Zoom became a lifeline for solo UAE residents, and online parties proliferated.

Girls’ nights, pub quizzes and kids’ football classes all went virtual, with varying degrees of success – not that it mattered, because there was no alternative.

Social media platforms also saw a massive increase in popularity in March 2020, with Twitter up 22 per cent, Facebook 17 per cent, YouTube 16 per cent and Instagram 12 per cent, according to the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority.

This despite the fact that no one really had anything to post about.

We are cleaner (and healthier)

Early in the pandemic, it emerged that effective hand-washing was a key factor in preventing the spread of Covid-19.

Diagrams appeared online, and we were encouraged to sing Happy Birthday twice while rubbing our thumbs and nail beds with soap.

Hand sanitiser become a ubiquitous offering on restaurant tables, as well as malls, offices, cinemas, schools, shops, playgrounds – in short, everywhere.

Masks become mandatory, with strict fines imposed on anyone disobeying the rules.

Such was the success of this campaign that influenza was pretty much wiped out in one year, with cases falling to virtually zero, according to UAE doctors.

Plus, masks become fashion items. Another item to match or clash, according to your taste. Except in the US, where they became a political statement.

We've all become medical experts

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. MAY 2020. A nurse checks on a covid 19 patient at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City. (Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National) Reporter: Section:
Everyone became a medical 'expert' during the pandemic. Reem Mohammed / The National

Within days of Covid-19 first appearing in the UAE we all became epidemiologists; ready to discuss the current R number of coronavirus and how it should impact lockdown.

Immunology followed shortly afterwards, as we read up on the different types of vaccine, and parried facts about spike proteins with info on mRNA.

Strong opinions were expressed on the efficacy of different jabs, and the testing regimes in foreign countries.

Many were furious the Chinese did not released their data on the Sinopharm vaccine.

How many non-medics would be able to understand the complex statistical report remains a moot point.

The National's photographers capture curfew in Dubai

Updated: April 5, 2021 11:18 AM

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