8 UAE residents on the impact Covid-19 had on their home countries

From China to Jordan, some of the UAE's many nationalities tell of sadness and hope

Powered by automated translation

When China imposed the largest lockdown of its kind on the city of Wuhan in January, it sent a warning to the world.

But few predicted the true extent of how Covid-19 would rage around the world in only a few months, killing hundreds of thousands and crippling the global economy.

Quarantines, social distancing and face masks soon became commonplace.

In just a few months the world was turned upside down. Six months in, The National spoke to eight UAE residents about the effect on their home countries and families.

Can Cai, China: 'If the virus comes back, people are ready'

Can Cai, 33, a Chinese resident of Dubai, said early steps taken by Beijing helped to control the virus.

China was the first country affected by Covid-19, with Wuhan locked down in January.

That was a week after China confirmed that human-to-human transmission of the virus had occurred.

"When the virus started, factories were shut and people were told to stay at home," Mr Can said.

"The early steps taken in China telling people to stay at home helped to control the virus."

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 25 AUGUST 2020. UAE residents on how their home countries handled the pandemic. This is part of six case studies of residents of different nationalities. Can Cai, an assistant with a legal firm in Dubai has had his mother, Ying Luo, and five-year-old son, Tiancheng Cai, with him since January. They visited for Chinese New Year and will return to Chengdu city in Sichuan province later this year when more flights open up and cheaper tickets are available. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Ramola Talwar. Section: National.
Can Cai, his mother, Ying Luo, and five-year-old son, Tiancheng Cai, at home in Dubai. Antonie Robertson / The National

China has recorded more than 85,000 cases and 4,600 deaths, although it has been overtaken by many other countries, including the US and India.

"Now people are back at work and in schools – it is almost normal now," said Mr Can, an assistant at a Dubai law firm.

"Even before there were rules to wear masks – our habit to wear masks to protect other people is a good one."

He has enjoyed time at home in International City and at the beach in Dubai with his five-year-old son and mother who came to visit in January and have not yet returned.

There are no direct flights yet from the UAE to the family home in Chengdu city, in south-west Sichuan province.

The family will fly to Shanghai at the end of October, quarantine for two weeks in a hotel and then take a flight home.

"The last time most factories in China were closed because of Chinese New Year so there were not enough masks," he said.

Residents tell us how their home countries are handling the pandemic

Residents tell us how their home countries are handling the pandemic

"It seems the virus likes cold weather. But even if the virus comes back, people are ready, they now have enough masks and sanitisers."

He said as long as people did not gather in offices or parks and observed social distancing, Covid-19 would be kept under control.

"The UAE government and Chinese companies are testing the vaccine. I hope the vaccine will work. I hope the economy becomes normal and people travel more to Dubai."

Kamini Kannan, India: 'Fear has set into people’s minds'

Dubai resident Kamini Kannan, 53, was stuck in India for more than four months when the UAE and India closed their borders.

Strict lockdown measures in Bangalore and much of the rest of the country meant people could leave home only for essential supplies.

"India is a huge country that is densely populated," Ms Kannan said.

“People could only leave home for medicine and groceries in the first months. The deaths and the number of cases would have been higher and the pressure on hospital beds far greater if the lockdown was not implemented early.”

India shut down international and domestic air travel and the railways in March to slow the spread of the virus. The death toll in India – the world's third most infected country – is more than 67,000 with upwards of 3.8 million cases.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , August 24 – 2020 :- Kamini Kannan at her villa in Jumeirah 1 in Dubai. She was stuck in Bangalore, India for more than four months when international borders were shut because of COVID 19. She started a Telegram group with more than 1,200 UAE residents who wanted to return to the Emirates. (Pawan Singh / The National) For News/Online. Story by Ramola
Kamini Kannan, who was stuck in Bangalore for more than four months when the borders were shut. Pawan Singh / The National

She wishes people with families and jobs overseas had been warned so they had sufficient time to leave the country.

She helped set up a Telegram and WhatsApp group that linked more than 1,000 families in India. Questions on the validity of Covid-19 tests, entry approvals and flights were quickly answered. She also organised virtual music programmes.

"We gave each other moral support. It was comforting to know you were not the only one affected," she said.

She returned to her elderly mother, husband and son in Dubai in July. The challenge ahead is living with the virus, she said.

"Fear has set into people’s minds and affected lives. I’m hopeful about a vaccine but until then we must remember everything we were taught about wearing masks, hygiene and cleanliness."

Tiziana Pinto, Italy: 'Once again, we face a critical moment'

Primary school teacher Tiziana Pinto, 40, said her country’s government had handled the crisis well but the recent increase in infections concerned her.

Italy has recorded about 35,500 deaths and 270,000 cases from Covid-19 and cases are on the rise again.

"A few regions have had numbers going up and it’s a little worrying," Ms Tiziana said. "Most of the cases are people coming back from holiday."

The country was a pandemic hot spot in March and April, which Ms Tiziana said could be partially attributed to cost cutting.

Tiziana Pinto at her home. 
(Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National)

Reporter:  Patrick Ryan
Tiziana Pinto said Italy, like many countries, had a health service that as unprepared for the outbreak. Reem Mohammed / The National

"There was less money being invested in health care than other countries, which meant the hospitals and ICUs were not able to cope.

"Of course there was no way you could have predicted something like the pandemic."

She said the government had performed well to get the country’s economy restarted, which made the current rise in numbers all the more alarming.

"They were able to open up the country again, which gave people some hope, [but] the country is once again facing a critical moment."

Andy Fordham, New Zealand: 'Some are trying politicise the pandemic'

Andy Fordham, a New Zealander who lives in Dubai, praised his home country for its handling of the pandemic.

While parts of the country are back in lockdown, including the largest city, Auckland, Mr Fordham felt the government deserved immense credit.

"I think it’s been handled excellently," said Mr Fordham, who organises public sporting events in the UAE.

To date there have only been 22 deaths from Covid-19 in New Zealand, with about 1,700 cases, in a country of almost five million people.

The country went months without recording any new cases before Auckland went into lockdown.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: Patrick Ryan. Coronavirus/Covid-19. Andy Fordham. A story on UAE residents reflecting on how their home country dealt with coronavirus. Wednesday, August 19th, 2020. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Andy Fordham said New Zealand benefitted from having such a professional leader. Chris Whiteoak / The National

But Mr Fordham, 55, said there were people happy to use the recent lockdown to score political points.

"That’s really unfortunate because it should be a case of people being united against the virus," he said.

"You only have to see what’s happened in the United States, where it has been heavily politicised, to see that really doesn’t work."

He was full of praise for the decision by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, to delay elections in New Zealand by a month.

"I like her style. She has never politicised it. As a government they have made mistakes but no government in our history has dealt with the likes of this before."

He said there was a difference between some people in his home country, who are critical of the government because of the recent lockdown, and the international community who are full of praise for the government.

"As a whole, New Zealand can be held up as a leading light in dealing with the pandemic."

Jerry Selayro, Philippines: 'People have become complacent'

Jerry Selayro, a Filipino human resources manager in Dubai, said more policing is needed to control the pandemic.

While authorities acted quickly early on, some of the good work has been undone, he said.

The Philippines has more than 226,500 confirmed cases of the disease – the highest number in South-East Asia.

"The Philippines government acted quickly and implemented a number of safety measures to safeguard its people," Mr Selayro said.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , August 20 – 2020 :- Jerry Selayro from Philippines working as a Human Resources Manager at the Qanawat near Knowledge Village in Dubai.  (Pawan Singh / The National) For News. Story by Kelly
Jerry Selayro believes his government should get strict again. Pawan Singh / The National

"The Philippines introduced a nightly curfew to reduce crowding in public areas and many businesses were closed temporarily," he said.

"That helped to slow local transmission of infection from March until June."

But Mr Selayro said that people had since let their guard down and case numbers have risen in recent weeks.

"But the sole blame cannot be placed on the government. I think the best thing the government could do is get strict again.

"It needs to put more police on the streets and step up its contact tracing to break the chain of transmission. While many complained about the second nightly curfew that was re-introduced in Manila in August, it was necessary given the surge in Covid-19 cases."

Wissam Bani Yassen, Jordan: 'Total lockdown worked'

Wissam Bani Yassen, chairman of the Jordanian Social Club in Ras Al Khaimah, said his government understood early that getting everyone on board was crucial in fighting the pandemic.

Jordan won plaudits for its swift confrontation of the virus and has registered 2,161 cases.

It moved quickly to implement quarantine for travellers, prevent mass gatherings and establish hospitals specifically for Covid-19 patients.

An early lockdown was implemented with the threat of a year in jail for leaving home.

"The government's efforts and people's understanding and social responsibility has resulted in a significant decline in the spread of the virus," said Mr Yassen, who moved to the UAE in 1998.

"Everyone shared the responsibility. The government worked hard on monitoring the situation, while the people implemented it respectfully."

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: Ras Al Khaimah. Coronavirus/Covid-19. Wissam Bani Yassen. A story on UAE residents reflecting on how their home country dealt with coronavirus. Wednesday, August 19th, 2020. Ras Al Khaimah. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Wissam Bani Yassen said Jordan's lockdown - one of the strictest in the world - had helped to save lives and keep cases down. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Mr Yassen said that the precautionary measures included a total curfew at the beginning of the pandemic that clearly contributed to controlling the situation.

He said the government was well aware early on of the need to protect the public from the "economic, social and psychological negative impact caused by the total lockdown".

"Efforts were also made to maintain the work of the border crossings for the purposes of shipping and land transport of food and basic items, which was considered a very important step."

Jenny Todd, UK: 'The government let it get out of control'

Jennifer Todd, 37, from Edinburgh, leaves Dubai next week after six years working in media sales.

She said she was dismayed at the British government's handling of the pandemic. The UK has been one of the countries hit hardest, with almost 340,000 cases and 41,000 dead.

But she said Scotland's devolved government and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who received international recognition for her leadership, had been instrumental in driving down cases.

"Nicola stood up each and every day to address the Scottish people and alleviate their fears as best she could, as well as setting out clear guidelines – something the UK government does not seem capable of," Ms Todd said.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: N/A. News. Covid-19/Coronavirus. Jennifer Todd. How peoples countries have managed the Covid-19 pandemic, and the impact on them. Wednesday, September 2nd, 2020. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Jenny Todd said both she and many friends and family had lost their jobs, but was optimistic for the future. Chris Whiteoak / The National

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was struck down by Covid-19 and spent days in intensive care. Negative public opinion towards his government and its response has led to renewed calls for a second independence vote, which Ms Todd supports. 

Many of her friends and family were hit hard by the economic impact, particularly those in the arts, creative sectors and hospitality.

Edinburgh, the most visited city in the UK after London, lost two million visitors this summer because of restrictions and the cancellation of the world famous festival.

"It has affected so many of my friends and family. Redundancies, stress-related illness, mental-health issues and even suicide," she said.

"Supporting each other through this is the most important thing we can do."

Despite that, she said she was optimistic about the future, returning home to a new job and being closer to family.

"We have to be mentally stronger but we will get through this, humans are very resilient."

Mohammed Musbah, Egypt: 'Tough action was for our own safety'

Mohammed Musbah, a financial manager in Ras Al Khaimah, said strict precautionary measures adopted early limited the spread of the virus.

Many mosques and churches in Cairo reopened last week after about a five-month shutdown.

Cases had been falling in Egypt but crept up to about 180 new cases a day recently. 

"The Egyptian government worked hard on spreading awareness about the virus,” said Mr Musbah, 35, who has been in the UAE since 2012. 

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: Ras Al Khaimah. Coronavirus/Covid-19. Mohammed Musbah. A story on UAE residents reflecting on how their home country dealt with coronavirus. Wednesday, August 19th, 2020. Ras Al Khaimah. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Mohammed urged all Egyptians to band together to fight the virus. Chris Whiteoak / The National

"Fines were imposed on those who did not comply with the preventive measures."

Egypt has recorded almost 100,000 cases and 5,400 deaths. 

"People understand that the strict measures that have been forced are for their own safety and to protect the country from the pandemic consequences,” he said.

"Numbers of confirmed cases have dropped in recent days, which proves that the government is making great efforts.

"I am sure  many people are following the rules to protect their families and themselves."