British residents in the UAE should consider “staying put” in the Emirates this summer to avoid exposure to coronavirus back home, a doctor has said.
Dr Ravi Arora, a specialist in internal medicine at NMC Speciality Hospital, cautioned that it could be unsafe to return to the country if infection rates remained high.
Thousands of British families typically head back to the UK over the summer school holidays to catch up with friends and relatives.
But this year could see a marked change in the habit, with Britain and parts of Europe fast-becoming the front line in the battle against Covid-19.
“There would be a high risk of contracting the virus if the local population is not maintaining social distancing during the peak of epidemic,” said Dr Arora.
“In addition, quarantine measures may be enforced [in the UAE] during return from the UK.
“So it is best to stay put where you are, rather than run the risk of getting quarantined as well, so the family gets separated.
“Even two weeks can have a huge impact on the mindset of a young kid.”
In the last 24-hours, Boris Johnson, the UK’s prime minister, has told the public to work from home where possible and to stay away from pubs and restaurants.
He has also said that if any one person in a household is suffering from a cough or fever, the entire family should remain at home for 14 days.
To date, the UK has recorded more than 1,500 cases of coronavirus, resulting in 55 deaths.
By comparison, the UAE has so far recorded 98 cases and has enacted a raft of measures to slow infection rates.
On Monday, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, said the Emirates was “faring well” in its efforts to curb the virus.
In a statement on Wam, the government news agency, he said early containment precautions were proving effective.
“In the UAE, we have adopted rational and early advanced precautionary measures before other countries around us to stand up to the challenge," he said.
“Therefore, the infection tally in the UAE is less thanks to our early response to contain the virus at its onset.”
This week, a number of British families in the Emirates said they were now planning to forgo their usual summer trip home to reduce the risk of exposure to coronavirus.
They said seasonal high temperatures in the UAE over July and August made the decision hard, but that staying healthy was paramount.
“It’s a reality I didn’t want to face but I have to,” said Tabby Nawaz, who lives in Abu Dhabi with her husband and two young children.
“At least this country is managing [the outbreak] and therefore allowing us to be safe with our families.
“So if it’s a choice between being in the baking heat, yet healthy, then so be it.”
Although most people who contract Covid-19 only suffer a mild, flu-like symptoms, some 20 per cent can develop serious complications.
The World Health Organisation currently estimates the mortality rate to be 3.4 per cent but experts have warned this figure could still rise.
Bec McLean, an Abu Dhabi resident who was planning to move back to the UK permanently over the summer, said she and her family had now decided to go to Australia, where she is from, for two months first.
“To add to our fun, we now have to self-isolate in Australia for two weeks on arrival and we have no idea if we’ll actually be able to go to the UK," she said.
"So we’ve packed up six suitcases and that’s all we have for the kids for who knows how long. It’s worrying.”
Kelly Bartlett Al Muhairi, a British citizen who is married to an Emirati, said she was still considering her options.
“I'm playing it by ear for now,” she said. “The risk of infecting others back home is another factor British residents are considering when thinking about their summer plans, as airports and planes are high-risk areas, according to experts.
“I also stay with my mum and she's not 100 per cent healthy and I wouldn't want to give her anything.”
Others discussing the issue on social media also said they were watching and waiting, but were prepared to cancel their trips.
“We have a booking already to fly back in July,” wrote one member of the British Expats Dubai Facebook page.
“If things are as bad as they are expected to get, I would probably look at postponing my flight until later in the year.”
A recent briefing for senior NHS officials in Britain, prepared by Public Health England and seen by The Guardian, claimed that the UK government's strategy of 'herd immunity' could see as many as 80 per cent of the population becoming infected with coronavirus over the next 12 months.
That translates to up to 7.9 million people potentially being hospitalised across the country over the same period.
“What a lot of people don’t realise is if you have a patient on a ventilator in intensive care, one patient can take about two weeks to recover,” said Dr Arora.
“So a bed is likely to be occupied for 10 to 15 days. That’s an intensive care bed,”
“No country in the world has that kind of beds. You need to create an entire city for Covid-19 beds.”