Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi at Downing Street on September 16, 2021 in London, England.
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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Roughly a year and half since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, people’s lives must return to normal, the United Arab Emirates’ de facto leader Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed said in a public address Wednesday.
“I announce to you that things are good; the health condition in the UAE is good. I would like to affirm to you all that our lives must get back to normal,” the leader, who is also the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the UAE’s Armed Forces, said in a video published by state news outlet WAM.
The comments come as the UAE sees a dramatic reduction in daily Covid-19 case counts, hitting an 18-month low of 156 new cases on Wednesday. They also come during the first week of the Dubai Expo, a six-month mega-event meant to showcase innovations from all over the world, raise Dubai’s international profile and boost tourism to the Gulf emirate, which saw nearly 9% of its population leave in 2020 due to the pandemic.
“Maybe our habits might change a little. We will adjust and make some changes in our habits such as our work, our children’s education or our private lives such as going out, seeing people and being seen by people,” the crown prince said.
The outlook differs dramatically from other emerging market financial hubs like Singapore, or countries that chose to pursue “zero covid” strategies like New Zealand and Australia, which are still bound by far stricter regulations on travel, business and movement.
The UAE’s coronavirus experience has varied by emirate; Dubai saw a strict lockdown in the spring of 2020, then gradually reopened through the summer, becoming one of the first cities to reopen to tourism the following July. UAE capital Abu Dhabi has been more strict, but recently loosened several restrictions.
The country hit a peak of nearly 4,000 cases a day in February of this year, but also boasted one of the fastest vaccination campaigns in the world, with Dubai residents in particular enjoying relative ease of travel and social mobility compared to much of the rest of the world.
“2020 was difficult and has witnessed great challenges, but the UAE, thanks to God, was able to be one of the first countries to emerge from the crisis at a time when some countries faced great difficulties,” the crown prince said.
“The number of cases in the country has decreased to less than 500 [per day]. This is promising and indicates that Covid-19 is under control and less dangerous than it was.”
A mask-clad Israeli tourist in the historic al-Fahidi neighborhood of Dubai on January 11, 2021. As much of the world tightens lockdowns amid COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Dubai remains open for tourism, branding itself as a sunny, quarantine-free escape — despite a sharp rise in cases.
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Life in Dubai in particular feels closer to “normal” than at any point during the pandemic; groups of up to 10 people can sit at tables in restaurants, businesses have reopened to full capacity, and bars and gyms are bustling and the airport is busy. Masks remain required in most places, however, and activities like dancing in clubs and bars are still not allowed.
The UAE has one of the highest rates of fully vaccinated residents in the world; more than 20.2 million doses of Covid vaccine have been administered to the roughly 10-million-strong population so far, and more than 85.5 million PCR tests have been conducted, according to the country’s health ministry.