Zoom Christmas: how the pandemic affected plans for these families

2020 was a torrid year, but many residents say it brought them closer to friends and family

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , December 16 – 2020 :- Karen Hammond with her daughter Lydia Hammond (13 years old) and son Isaac Hammond (19 years old) at her villa in Al Reem 2, Arabian Ranches in Dubai. She is from UK and will be in Dubai for Christmas due to pandemic and travel restrictions. ( Pawan Singh / The National ) For News/Online. Story by Gill

As the English rock band Mud once sang, it will be lonely this Christmas.

The coronavirus situation means the holiday season will be very different for UAE residents this year, with travel plans dropped by many in recent days and celebrations kept low key.

But in true 2020-style, people are using video conferencing to celebrate the big day with loved ones abroad instead.

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This year in general I have been in touch with my friends more than I would have been before. In a way it's brought us closer

Some say they are using technology to spend time with people they would not otherwise have seen.

That includes Thomas Smith, 25, a Dubai resident from the UK. He said he has seen friends more than ever during the start of the outbreak since moving to the UAE in April 2019.

“I rang maybe one of my friends last Christmas as I was quite busy,” he said.

“This year in general I have been in touch with my friends more than I would have been before. It’s sort of making the effort to see people virtually, because you know they’re not necessarily going out.

“In a weird way I’m kind of glad it’s happened because it’s brought us closer.”

He had always planned to spend Christmas here, but has arranged a special Zoom meeting on Monday evening, with 10 of his friends, for a festive quiz and catch-up, “just to keep the spirits alive”.

“Some of my friends are struggling a little bit because they can’t really go out,” he said.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , December 16 – 2020 :- Thomas Smith, Marketing Executive with the Christmas tree at his office in the Biz group at Dubai Production City in Dubai. Thomas Smith is going to spend Christmas in Dubai and having a virtual Christmas drinks party with friends over Zoom due to pandemic and travel restrictions. ( Pawan Singh / The National ) For News/Online. Story by Gill

He will spend the big day itself with UAE friends. There are more of them around this year because fewer have chosen to travel.

Dubai resident Karen Hammond and her family were supposed to be travelling back to the UK for Christmas, but decided against it to avoid putting elderly relatives at risk.

So her son, Isaac, 19, who studies at Durham University, travelled back to Dubai to join his parents and 13 year-old sister on December 10.

"We're complete again as a family of four," said Ms Hammond, who is from Newcastle.

“I don’t like the idea of my mum being by herself, but it’s just too complicated to travel. The new restrictions would have made it difficult.

“We will have a video chat with her in the morning.”

It will be Kate Richards’ family’s final Christmas here, after her husband was made redundant during the pandemic.

The Dubai residents plan to return to the UK in January.

"We are heading back to Bedfordshire while we look for a house to rent as John, my husband, was offered a new job there yesterday," she said.

“We would have gone home to the UK for Christmas, but seeing as we are going home in January, we are going to have one last party brunch with our friends here and then head back over to the UK."

“You have to just get on with it and make the best of it.”

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