After opening itself to New Year’s revelers, Dubai is now being blamed by several countries for spreading the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) abroad, even as questions swirl about the city-state’s ability to handle reported record spikes in virus cases.
The government’s Dubai Media Office said the sheikhdom is doing all it can to handle the Covid-19 pandemic.
“After a year of managing the pandemic, we can confidently say the current situation is under control and we have our plans to surge any capacity in the health care system should a need rise,” it said.
However, Nasser al-Shaikh, Dubai’s former finance chief, offered a different assessment Thursday on Twitter and asked authorities to take control of a spiraling caseload.
“The leadership bases its decisions on recommendations from the team, the wrong recommendations which put human souls in danger and negatively affect our society,” he wrote, adding that “our economy requires accountability.”
Dubai, known for its long-haul carrier Emirates, the world’s tallest building and its beaches and bars, in July became one of the first travel destinations to describe itself as open for business. The move staunched the bleeding of its crucial tourism and real estate sectors after lockdowns and curfews cratered its economy.
As tourism restarted, daily reported coronavirus case numbers slowly grew but mostly remained stable through the fall.
But then came New Year’s Eve — a major draw for travelers from countries otherwise shut down over the virus who partied without face banks in bars and yachts. For the last 17 days, the United Arab Emirates as a whole has reported record daily Covid-19 case numbers as lines at Dubai testing facilities grow.
In Israel, more than 900 travelers returning from Dubai have been infected with the coronavirus, according to the military, which conducts contact tracing. The returnees created a chain of infections numbering more than 4,000 people, the Israeli military told a media outlet.
In the United Kingdom, tabloids have splashed shots of bikini-clad British influencers partying in Dubai while the country struggled through lockdowns trying to control the virus. Britain in mid-January closed a travel corridor to Dubai that had allowed travelers to skip quarantine over what was described as a significant acceleration in the number of imported cases from the UAE.
“International travel, right now, should not be happening unless it’s 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’s against the law.”
Meanwhile, mutated strains of the coronavirus have been linked back to Dubai. The UK instituted a travel ban Friday barring direct flights to the UAE over the spread of a South African variant of the coronavirus.
Denmark already discovered one traveler coming from Dubai who tested positive for the South African variant, the first such discovery there.
In the Philippines, health authorities discovered a British strain infecting a Filipino who made a business trip to Dubai on Dec. 27. He returned to the Philippines on Jan. 7 and tested positive for the UK variant that is more infectious.