Coronavirus: meet 20 heroes in UAE's frontline fight against Covid-19

An army of dedicated professionals is leading the country's efforts to overcome the deadly pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic sweeping across the globe has led to seismic changes in the everyday lives of millions of people here in the UAE.

Classrooms and lecture halls are empty, once bustling malls and packed restaurants are closed and offices that were once hives of industry are silent as staff work from home.

But not every worker has the chance to protect themselves and their loved ones by simply staying indoors – away from a deadly disease that does not discriminate and about which we still have much to learn.

Everyone is going the extra mile, which is very heart-warming. It makes your fatigue diminish when you see everyone carrying the weight

Dr Fatima Al Kaabi, Sheikh Khalifa Medical City

A crucial army of dedicated workers is tackling the virus head-on, providing health care, faithfully staffing chemist and supermarket counters, ensuring public transport runs smoothly for those who need it and even offering acts of kindness in troubling times.

While healthcare professionals are rightly lauded and cheered from balconies and front doors, they are not alone in putting the safety of others above their own.

The National has shone a light on a select few of these hardy workers battling to keep the UAE up and running while the majority must isolate at home.

The hospital doctor clocking up 18 hours a day to save lives

Fatima Al Kaabi knows only too well the risks posed by the highly contagious virus.

The department head of oncology and haematology at Seha’s Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi has twice had to be tested for Covid-19 due to her exposure to people carrying the virus.

“There are two aspects of life: the personal life, which doesn’t exist now and the professional life that has taken over the personal life,” she said.

“Before, I used to work from 8am to 5pm daily but since Covid-19 started we basically work 12 to 18 hours a day and are on call and alert 24/7. I will tell you why: it is because we have a very good team.

"Everyone is going the extra mile, which is very heart-warming. It makes your fatigue diminish when you see everyone carrying the weight.”

Dr Fatima Al Kaabi is exposing herself to the risk of infection on a daily basis in order to help others. Victor Besa/The National    
Dr Fatima Al Kaabi has to keep a distance from her family after working closely with Covid-19 patients. Victor Besa / The National

Dr Al Kaabi maintains a distance from her family when at home.

“All of my work clothes are put in a bag and dealt with separately. I am the only one who goes out to work and I come home late at night and keep my interactions with my family to a minimum.

"I’ll get tested before I come home to make sure everyone is kept safe,” she said.

However, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

“I see hope not because I want to see hope but because what is happening around us. If you see Wuhan, South Korea, Singapore, the curve is flattening, the death rate has gone down, and the new cases have diminished. So, this is coming to the UAE.

"We are just hopefully getting to the peak and flattening [the curve] soon, but even if the worst is yet to come we are ready to face it and that is the most important thing.”

Faisal Kamil from Sudan, a father of three, is a quality control manager at City Transport in Abu Dhabi. Victor Besa/The National
Faisal Kamil from Sudan, a father of three, is a quality control manager at City Transport in Abu Dhabi. Victor Besa/The National

The transport worker keeping the UAE on the move

Faisal Kamil from Sudan believes that people like him are at a greater risk of contracting the virus than most.

The quality control employee at City Transport – Abu Dhabi's public bus service operator – must be constantly on his guard against infection due to the nature of the job.

It is a weighty responsibility for a man with three children at home.

“We deal with hundreds of different people each day. You don’t know who is sick and who is not, unlike doctors for example, who know who is sick and who isn’t,” he said.

“I sanitise my hands. We sanitise the buses after each use, the seats, ourselves – everything is sanitised around the clock.”

In the darkest of hours for many, however, he is making the most of moments of joy.

“Life has been beautiful during self-quarantine. It is as if I just discovered who my children are. We have never spent so much time together before and we have formed stronger bonds with each other,” he said.

Although Mr Kamil and his family have been brought closer to together by the pandemic – others must stay apart from their loved ones to protect them.

Emirati Aysha Al Blooshi is an advanced paramedic, and her colleague Marwan Al Mansoori, from Yemen, is an emergency responder for the Dubai Ambulance Corporation. Leslie Pableo for The National
Emirati Aysha Al Blooshi and colleague Marwan Al Mansoori, from Yemen, wait for emergency calls to come in their Dubai ambulance. Leslie Pableo for The National

The emergency worker forced to isolate from his family

Marwan Al Mansoori, an emergency responder with Dubai Ambulance Corporation, has not seen his three-year-old daughter for three weeks.

He moved out of the house to keep his family safe and will remain in his accommodation until the crisis is under control.

“The first thing I’ll do after this ends, is go home and give her a big hug,” he said.

Although he speaks to his daughter and his family on daily video calls, he said it is not enough.

“I can’t wait to lift her up and see her face light up. I will get her everything and anything she wants,” Mr Al Mansoori said.

At home he said they have told his daughter, Maryam, that he has travelled away for work.

“It is the only excuse we could give her because she couldn’t understand why I am not home to take her out which is what she is used to.”

He supports a large family and cannot risk returning home each night.

“While we are given full protective gear, there are 16 people living in my house: my elderly parents; my siblings and their children," he said

"I am the only person in the medical field and who goes out. The rest all have administrative jobs and are working from home right now. Right now, my job and the UAE needs me more than ever,” he said.

The Emirati paramedic fighting to save lives

His colleague, advanced paramedic Aysha Al Blooshi, has three children. Her youngest is five months old.

“We work 12 hours, four days on and four days off but now we work six days a week followed by two days off," she said.

"After each day, I take off all my work gear and shoes and leave it outside the house. Then before I even come close to my children, I take a shower.

"It is hard and everyone is tense but it is a necessity. I never expected or suspected anything like this would happen but thankfully, here in the UAE we take care of everyone. We treat everyone the same. Everyone will get the same care regardless of nationality."

Muhammad Asif from Pakistan is a security guard at a residential building. He cares for the elderly residents by stopping any visitors who are not wearing gloves and a face mask. He also takes all deliveries and packages to his residents personally. Pawan Singh / The National
Muhammad Asif cares for elderly residents, ensures visitors have gloves and a face mask, and takes deliveries and packages to his residents' doors. Pawan Singh / The National

The security guard looking out for the vulnerable

Muhammed Asif, a security guard at Movenpick Ibn Battuta Gate hotel residence in Dubai, is concerned about his elderly residents.

He does not allow anyone who is not wearing a mask and gloves into the building and he personally handles all packages and deliveries.

“I ask the delivery men to leave the packages outside and I bring it in. I cannot take any risks. We have many long-staying occupants and a great number of them are elderly,” the father of one from Pakistan said.

“I always wear a mask and gloves and have hand sanitiser on my desk.”

The chemist rising to the challenge

Chemist Leen Fares admits life has "changed drastically" since the outbreak.

The Dubai resident said demand for services has doubled in recent weeks as concern about the virus continues to grow.

"My private life has completely changed in that movement has become restricted and fear has taken over," she said.

"Work has also changed drastically. We now have double the amount of customers come in every day and less staff on hand. The new regulations are that there should only be one pharmacist at the pharmacy."

Afra Al Dhaheri is a vet and owns the Cloud 9 Pet Hotel in Abu Dhabi. She is treating the pets of medics fighting Covid-19 for free. Victor Besa / The National
Afra Al Dhaheri owns Cloud 9 Pet Hotel in Abu Dhabi. She is treating the pets of medics fighting Covid-19 for free. Victor Besa / The National

The animal lover sheltering abandoned pets

Afra Al Dhaheri, a vet and owner of the Cloud 9 Pet Hotel in Abu Dhabi, made it her mission to shelter animals dumped by fearful owners who mistakenly believed they could contract Covid-19 from their pet.

“It is unbelievable how many we have rescued after Covid-19. So many have been dumped and it is so sad," she said. "Sometimes it is not the pet owners, it is the parents. I try to accept as many as I can."

“It makes me angry but I try to focus my energy on the pets. Some of them understand that they have been dumped.”

This is not her only act of generosity.

Ms Al Dhaheri offers free boarding and services for pets belonging to the doctors and nurses caring for patients.

“Anyone involved in helping Covid-19 patients, we are there for them. I know many of them work long hours in the hospital and do not have time for their pets – even if it is a turtle. We can care for them until the crisis is done.”

Updated: April 14, 2020 11:14 AM


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