Volunteers have delivered thousands of meals to the doorsteps of residents unable to leave their homes in a Dubai neighbourhood under lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The volunteers, who signed up to help through the Day for Dubai app, have been put up in a small hotel away from their families – so they will not be at risk of exposure – as they lend a hand to authorities in Al Ras and Naif.
Dressed in branded blue vests, the volunteers deliver essentials and support medical staff who carry out health checks on once busy streets of old Dubai.
Naseer Vatanappally, a long-time volunteer, who encouraged a team of 30 to sign up with him, has been calling on residents of the two neighbourhoods to visit temporary medical stations, set up by health authorities, to be checked. This week he posted a video on Facebook where he explained the process to put residents at ease.
The stations were set up in Al Ras, which has been barricaded off to visitors for two weeks to prevent the spread of Covid-19, and Naif, where it is understood residents of some buildings have been asked to self-isolate after coming into contact with someone who tested positive for the virus.
“It’s to convince people that the corona is under control,” Mr Vatanappally said in his native Malayalam, spoken by people from southern Indian state of Kerala.
“I tell people to come out of their buildings for tests and not to worry if they have fever because the government and doctors have made very good arrangements.”
The UAE has registered 1,024 cases of coronavirus including 96 recoveries and eight deaths. Once a case is identified, the Ministry of Health and Prevention performs contact tracing to monitor potential infections.
Emiratis and residents have been told to remain home unless absolutely necessary to avoid the spread of the virus but in Al Ras movement has been banned entirely. Volunteers have been delivering 2,000 meals daily to residents in Al Ras and Naif who have been asked not to leave their flats for at least two weeks.
“Police are supplying food, water and juice. We are helping by taking lunch and dinner of rice, curry, chappatis (flat bread) to people,” said Mr Vatanappally, who typically works as a social worker with the Indian consulate.
"We have not seen our wives and children for weeks but that is no issue because we want to save people," he told The National.
Gulam Sarfudeen, a grocery worker who lives in Al Ras, said he was alarmed when he first saw groups of people in white overalls, goggles, masks and gloves outside his shop.
“Then the volunteers told us they were doctors and nurses come to protect us,” said Mr Sarfudeen, from Bangladesh.
“Some people want to remain in their room even if they are sick. They are too scared to come out because they are worried what will happen when they are taken to hospital. They worry that if they have corona they will be sent back [to their home country].”
He said that, at a medical station inside a building lobby, nurses and doctors took his temperature and asked him several questions, including if he had contact with someone who has coronavirus.
If someone has symptoms of the virus, they are taken to hospital, he said.
For Donga Chaman, who lives in a flat overlooking the creek and runs a travel business in the Gold Souk, it has been jarring to see the neighbourhood under lockdown.
“Everything is empty, the ships and the streets. There are only police everywhere,” he said.
“It’s the same in the whole world. We just hope that after the lockdown we will all be safe again.”
Outside on the deserted streets, volunteers cheer healthcare workers who have collected hundreds of samples for testing.
Long-time volunteer Mr Vadanapally said he has heard from 50 more people who want to sign up to help.
Last month, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, invited Emiratis and residents to volunteer in a campaign to help the emirate called Your City Needs You.
People can sign up through the Day for Dubai app, which connects them to opportunities offered by the Dubai Health Authority or the Watani Al Emarat Foundation.
“I can’t ask everybody to volunteer for this work,” said Mr Vadanapally.
“I ask people to volunteer if don’t have elderly parents or people at home with diabetes or heart problems. Those who have interest in their heart will come forward.”