Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, delivered a message of hope as he declared that the UAE had “overcome the Covid-19 crisis” and called on people to return to normality.
During an in-person Qasr Al Bahr Majlis, Sheikh Mohamed said the country had learnt crucial lessons from its fight against the coronavirus.
He said the UAE was in “good condition”, although he cautioned that some adjustments must be made in the post-pandemic age.
“I am blessed to see your kind faces today. I announce to you that things are good; the health condition in the UAE is good. I would like to affirm to you all that our lives must get back to normal,” Sheikh Mohamed said in video footage from the gathering, released by state news agency Wam.
“Maybe our habits might change a little. We will adjust and make some changes in our habits, such as our work, our children's education or our private lives, such as going out, seeing people and being seen by people.
“We ought to praise and thank God, whatever our condition.
“We thank God that we have overcome this crisis with our well-being, dignity, safety, health and experiences that have cost us but from which we have learnt a lot.
“Praise to Allah and I am blessed to see you.”
Sheikh Mohamed praised the UAE's robust response to the pandemic and pointed to the encouraging decline in infection rates in recent months.
He offered condolences to all who had lost loves ones during the pandemic.
“2020 was difficult and has witnessed great challenges, but the UAE, thanks to God, was able to be one of the first countries to emerge from the crisis at a time when some countries faced great difficulties.
“The number of cases in the country has decreased to less than 500 [per day]. This is promising and indicates that Covid-19 is under control and less dangerous than it was.”
The majlis was attended by a number of senior dignitaries, including Sheikh Tahnoun bin Mohamed, Ruler's Representative in Al Ain; Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed, Ruler's Representative in Al Dhafra; and Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed, vice chairman of Abu Dhabi Executive Council.
The UAE's road to recovery
The UAE recorded its first Covid-19 cases in January last year – involving a Chinese family on holiday in the Emirates – as the virus spread rapidly around the globe.
Daily case numbers peaked at close to 4,000 in February this year. However, rigorous safety measures introduced by the authorities, such as physical distancing and rules on face masks – coupled with extensive testing and vaccination – helped to turn the tide.
Infection rates have dropped significantly since June, hitting a 18-month low of 156 new cases on Wednesday.
More than 85.5 million PCR tests have been conducted, and more than 20.2 million doses of coronavirus vaccine have been administered to the public to date.
In the early months of the pandemic, offices closed and classrooms emptied when employees and pupils worked and studied from home to curb the spread of the virus.
Since then, the UAE has steadily recovered and gradually reopened to boost businesses and restore a sense of normality.
Schools welcome back pupils
Workers have returned to offices in large numbers and most pupils have resumed in-person lessons as part of a carefully considered reopening strategy.
On Sunday, Dubai's private schools ended distance learning, except for those with exemptions.
High vaccination levels among pupils and teaching staff bolstered confidence of those returning to on-site lessons.
The move met with praise from many parents and school leaders.
Abu Dhabi on Tuesday announced plans to allow schools to relax Covid-19 safety measures based on their vaccination rates.
The Blue Schools initiative will be introduced in the second term of the academic year.
It will permit schools with higher vaccination levels to gradually reduce social distancing, ease mask-wearing protocols, increase classroom and school transport capacity, and resume extracurricular activities and field trips.
A colour-coded tier system will be set up. This will determine the extent to which safety procedures can be lifted, based on the percentage of the school population immunised.
A requirement to be PCR tested to enter Abu Dhabi from other emirates was lifted in September.
The UAE has resumed the hosting of large events, in line with safety measures.
Expo 2020 Dubai – which was delayed by one year owing to the pandemic – has enjoyed a successful first week, drawing tens of thousands of visitors from all parts of the world to marvel at the array of attractions.
Next month, Dubai Airshow will take place for the first time since 2019, highlighting the encouraging recovery of a travel industry hit hard by the pandemic.