Coronavirus: Dubai health officials warn public over flouting mask and distancing rules

From crowds of walkers and joggers in Dubai Marina to family gatherings at Eid, senior medic appeals to public

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 12 MAY 2020. Dubai residents exercise along the promenade in Dubai Marina (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: None. Section: National.
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UAE residents flouting social distancing rules and wearing masks around their necks are putting lives at risk, health officials have warned.

Walkers and joggers with masks pulled down around their necks and groups packed together have become a common sight in Dubai Marina, among other places.

Dr Hend Al Awadhi, a public health specialist at Dubai Health Authority, appealed to residents to stick to the rules ahead of Eid celebrations.

We are still far from being back to normal. It is a big concern people are gathering to socialise in larger numbers during the holy month

"The restrictions may have eased but that does not mean coronavirus is no longer there and the pandemic is over," she told The National.

“We are still far from being back to normal.

“It is a big concern people are gathering to socialise in larger numbers during the holy month.

“There will be people who do not know they have the virus and are passing it on to others.”

Pre-symptomatic carriers of the virus pose the biggest threat to a spike in coronavirus cases, particularly if they are not following rules on social distancing.

So far, about 1.5 million people have been tested for the virus but Dr Al Awadhi said those with chronic health conditions and the elderly remain the most likely to suffer complications.

“As many families are planning for Eid, the public message remains very clear,” she said.

“Please do not go out unless necessary and try to minimise any social interaction to close family members.

“It is not wise to go in a big group to greet someone who may be more vulnerable to coronavirus.

“Big families should schedule visits to each other to reduce the risk and they should all be wearing masks and maintain social distancing.

“It will be difficult, but greeting people in the old way with a hug and kiss should not be encouraged, this is very important.

Eid Al Fitr 2020: Here's what you need to know

Eid Al Fitr 2020: Here's what you need to know

“Everybody has a responsibility to protect each other.”

Dr Mohayem Abdelghany, chief executive of Al Zahra Hospital in Dubai, said the public must understand their actions can have a bearing on whether the outbreak slows or grows.

“Restrictions are easing, but this should not be taken lightly,” he said.

“These special measures have been recommended to halt the spread of this pandemic. There should be no reason not to be at least two metres apart when outside in a large space.

“Physical distancing is crucial in slowing down the virus.

“Ignoring this will only place more pressure on our health systems that are already facing a great strain.

“All the nation’s frontline workers are doing a noble job helping patients while exposing themselves to great risk.

"People should respect this.”

Some new cases recorded in recent days have been attributed to four families who broke social distancing rules to gather for taraweeh prayers.

The number of new coronavirus cases was 783 on Tuesday and 781 on Monday, with the country's total now approaching 20,000.

While the rise in cases follows more nationwide testing, the figure is more than 200 the daily average seen less than two weeks ago when 24-hour restrictions were in place.

Dubai authorities relaxed restrictions on trade and travel last month, allowing people to move freely without a permit between 6am and 10pm and allowing malls and restaurants to reopen.

But residents were told to wear masks and only gather in groups of no more than three when exercising outside. Friends should not meet and no more than five people should be in one place together.

Dubai Marina has proven a hotspot for large gatherings after sundown.

While the hours of 7am to 9am appear to be peak time for runners, it is after dark when the crowds come out before the 10pm restriction is enforced.

Although most are wearing masks, many refuse to do so properly and ignore the two metre distance rule from others.

Groups of people have regularly been seen outside the Carrefour and Spinneys supermarkets that have become regular meet-up points.

Security guards in golf-carts are reminding people in the area of their responsibilities but face an uphill challenge, particularly with so many people out socialising after 5pm.

Anyone found not wearing a face mask in public can be hit with a police fine of Dh1,000.

Public parks and hotel beaches in Dubai began reopening on Wednesday under new rules governing the relaxation of movement restrictions. Further changes to how shops and businesses operate are due to come into effect after Ramadan.