After opening its doors to party-goers during the New Year, Dubai now faces the economic cost of rising coronavirus cases as flight bans threaten its £ 23 billion tourism sector.
The UK last night imposed a downright travel ban on the party haven in the Middle East, where the New Year celebrations were blamed for a surge in infections.
Denmark also suspended flights last week, while Germany is now demanding negative tests for travelers from the UAE.
Before the pandemic broke out last year, 100,000 British tourists visited Dubai monthly during the winter, typically spending £ 34 million a month staying in their stylish hotels – which are now taking a setback after a December revival.
The reopening of Dubai helped stop the bleeding of its major tourism and hospitality sectors after lockdowns and curfews brought the economy to its knees in 2020.
Hotel occupancy in the city had risen to 71 percent in December, the highest level since the pandemic began after glamorous influencers and reality stars flocked to Dubai from the closed UK – some claimed their trips were essential for work.
British tourists typically make up seven percent of all visitors to Dubai, the third largest group after Indians and Saudis. However, the UK government has suspended flights over fears of importing the dreaded South African strain of the disease.
The Philippines discovered the British variant in a man who has returned from Dubai, while Israel has closed its main airport to almost all flights after more than 900 positive cases were found in people from the emirate.
The UK ban is also irritating long-haul travelers who normally connect in Dubai, where the flagship airline Emirates has suspended flights from the UK to Australia.
The party still took place in Dubai today after a stream of British influencers traveled to the Gulf emirate – but the Middle East party center is now being blamed for infections elsewhere
Joseph Garratt (left) from Love Island and his girlfriend Desiree Schlotz still enjoyed the sun in Dubai today
Instagram influencers posted photos of themselves in Dubai today, despite the UK’s travel ban
While many countries stop traveling from the UK after the British variant was blamed for exponential growth in cases in Kent and elsewhere, Dubai kept its doors open.
But cases have been rising alarmingly for weeks, and deaths have also reached their highest level since spring, forcing some new restrictions on gyms and bars.
“The New Year Shenanigans in Dubai were an obvious super-spreading event,” an expat doctor told the Financial Times.
“After that, cases rose quickly and we have the new variant too,” they said after Britain cited fears of importing the South African strain from the UAE.
The surge in cases raised alarms abroad when the UK first removed the UAE from its list of travel corridors and imposed an outright ban on Thursday.
The UK government said the ban was being imposed to “prevent the spread of the new variant originally identified in South Africa into the UK”.
“International travel should currently only take place if absolutely necessary,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC this week.
‘No parties in Paris or weekends in Dubai. That is not on and in most cases it is against the law. ‘
Dubai Airport advised those who booked flights to arrive in the UK after the ban not to fly to the airport and instead to contact their airline.
But the news was a blow to long-haul travelers who frequently switch planes in the UAE on their way from the UK to destinations like Australia.
The Australian government said it would add more charter flights from the UK if necessary due to cancellations from Emirates and Etihad.
Eran Ben-Avraham, an Australian stranded in the UK due to the limited number of arrivals in Australia, said his ways to get home had been steadily dwindling.
“It’s getting harder and harder to get home every day. The return flights cost about £ 4,000, ”he said.
Dubai to London was the busiest international route in the world in January with 190,365 planned seats a month, said the data provider of the airline OAG.
The UAE infection rate has soared to its highest ever level, and the UK government fears that trips from Dubai could import the South African strain of the coronavirus
Deaths are at their highest level since spring, although the numbers are still low compared to those in Europe. A total of 819 people died
In other European countries like Germany, Italy and Spain, arrivals from the UAE would face various restrictions such as quarantines and mandatory testing.
Denmark suspended flights from Dubai last week amid doubts as to whether the tests received upon leaving the emirate were reliable.
The Danish Transport Minister said at least one citizen had “brought back” the South African variant of the virus from Dubai.
As in the UK, some Danish celebrities traveled to Dubai for the New Year as the second and third waves of the virus continue to rage across Europe.
There are now more than 900 travelers returning from Dubai infected with coronavirus in Israel, according to the military.
The returnees have created a chain of infection with more than 4,000 people, said the Israeli military that is conducting the contact tracing in the country.
Tens of thousands of Israelis had come to the UAE since the two countries normalized their relations in September.
The Israeli Ministry of Health expert, Dr. Sharon Alroy Prize, quoted on Israeli television, complained that traveling a few weeks was more deadly than decades without ties to the Arab nation.
Since the end of December, Israel has required people from the UAE to be quarantined for two weeks.
Israel later closed its main international airport by the end of the month due to rising cases.
The UAE’s neighbors, Saudi Arabia and Oman, have also temporarily closed their borders in recent weeks.
In the Philippines, health authorities have reportedly discovered a British tribe who have infected a Filipino who was on a business trip to Dubai on December 27th.
He returned to the Philippines on Jan. 7 and has tested positive since the Philippine authorities discovered at least 16 other cases of the British variant, including two from Lebanon.
That was the scene at Heathrow’s Terminal 2 this morning as the last flights were returning from Dubai before the UAE was subject to a total travel ban on the UK