The manager of a hotel that was placed under 14-day quarantine because of the coronavirus has spoken about the challenges of keeping more than 1,400 people under lockdown.
W Hotel in Yas Island was quickly placed in quarantine, along with the nearby Crowne Plaza, when two support staff on the UAE Tour tested positive for Covid-19 in February.
The National took an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour as staff at the hotel worked around the clock to disinfect and clean the property as it prepared to reopen.
General manager Faiek El Saadani said he realised the severity of the situation when he was told the hotel was going into quarantine for 14 days, with more than 1,200 guests and 250 staff members at the property.
“We were taking every precaution but this was a situation we had never faced before,” he said.
“Our first priority was the wellbeing and safety of our guests and staff.”
Authorities ordered the lockdown of both hotels after two Italians tested positive for coronavirus.
The UAE has recorded 140 cases of Covid-19. Of these, 31 have made a full recovery.
The UAE announced the first two deaths in the country on Saturday morning – a 78-year-old Arab man and a 58-year-old Asian man.
The country’s borders have also been closed with only returning Emiratis allowed entry.
On Saturday, the global death toll exceeded the 10,000 mark with four countries reporting more than 1,000 fatalities each. More than 80,000 have recovered.
However, it was a very different climate when the W Hotel had to go into quarantine. At the time, few cities outside of China had considered the possibility of a lockdown.
Mr El Saadani said the first reaction of guests at the hotel was to panic when they were informed about the lockdown.
“It was a busy weekend night when we found out,” he said.
“Hotel occupancy was at 98 per cent and the restaurant was packed.
“There was uncertainty at first as there were a lot of people in the restaurant who weren’t allowed to leave and we had to be firm with some guests to reassure and calm them down so the situation didn’t escalate.”
He said the hotel staff faced an uphill task to talk to anxious guests and inform about what had to happen next without spreading further panic.
“The staff were trained to cope with this situation but at the same time we had never been in a lockdown like this before,” he said.
“We needed to get the right information to guests and make sure everyone stayed calm.”
Over the coming days, staff at the hotel worked closely with members of the health authorities, some of who were camped out in the property to try and test everyone at the hotel.
Once guests tested negative for the virus they were free to go, according to Mr El Saadani.
This meant there were no guests left in the hotel when it officially came out of quarantine.
Mr El Saadani said a bond had grown between members of staff and guests at the property, who were quarantined, as “we were all in it together”.
“Being in lockdown meant there was no flow of people coming in and out, people had to stay in their rooms,” he said.
“This meant breakfast, lunch and dinner was brought up to the rooms and we worked closely with the health authorities to make sure protocols were adhered to.
“Training was reinforced for housekeeping going into the rooms and delivering food.”
He praised the attitude of the guests who were kept under quarantine.
“There was great understanding from guests and the authorities extended their help with a support line for them,” he said.
“We were in constant communication with guests and once it sank in what was in store people relaxed and accepted it.”
He said the hotel received clearance from authorities on Friday that it was fit to reopen.
“Everybody’s exposed to this, you realise that you don’t know who is coming into your property,” he said.
“The good thing is we are lucky enough to be in the UAE because things get implemented quickly here.
“The support from the government has been simply phenomenal.”
He said the hotel was more than ready now if there was another quarantine enforced as the spread of coronavirus continued.
“We are fully equipped now if it happens again,” he said.
“I am fortunate because it’s increased my education and awareness about coronavirus.”
The pandemic was going to have a lasting effect on everyday life beyond shutdowns and fatalities, he added.
“You used to go into a restaurant and the first thing you would get is a menu and some bread and butter,” he said.
“Now the first thing you get is a hand sanitiser on the table before you even get the menu.
“After this everyone will carry hand sanitisers, it’s going to become part of our daily routines.”