Hunger for normality sends Dubai rushing for vaccines

Dubai (AFP) –


Dubai residents are swamping vaccination centres in swanky office blocks and tourist resorts, as a surging caseload and a desire to get back to business sweep away any hesitations over getting anti-coronavirus shots.

International flights, tourism and investment are vital to the wealthy desert emirate, 70 percent of whose 3.3 million residents are expatriates.

Authorities are at pains to avoid another economically devastating lockdown, and residents have enthusiastically embraced one of the world's fastest vaccine rollouts.

At one pop-up vaccination centre in a repurposed downtown office tower surrounded by hipster cafes and food trucks, head medic Hassan Nigim said demand for vaccines had outstripped expectations.

"We were surprised that people were very encouraged, and then (initial vaccination targets) doubled," he said.

Dubai "is a hub for travellers and a tourism magnet," Nigim said. "We must have a proper healthy environment to be able to attract people."

Across the United Arab Emirates, the turbocharged vaccination campaign has administered some 3.4 million doses to a population of about 10 million.

That is the second-fastest per capita delivery in the world, after Israel.

- Race against infections -

But despite the race to vaccinate, Covid-19 infections have spiked in recent weeks.

On Wednesday, the UAE recorded 3,977 new cases, the highest daily figure since the pandemic began.

The health ministry doesn't offer a breakdown for each of the seven emirates, but Dubai has been in the spotlight after tourists flocked to the emirate over the holiday period.

Britain has since imposed severe quarantine measures on its own citizens and an outright entry ban on non-citizens arriving from the UAE, while neighbouring Saudi Arabia barred non-Saudi arrivals from the Emirates and a string of other countries.

Yet while masks and social distancing are mandatory in Dubai, restaurants, malls and hotels have operated much as normal.

Guidelines have however been tightened over recent weeks, with venues closing earlier and hospitals suspending non-essential surgery, even as the vaccine drive picks up.

Recently vaccinated expat Tarek Jaber, who works in real estate, summed up the strategy: "Get vaccinated as quickly as possible, save everyone, save the economy."

- 'Back to normal' -

Some of Dubai's villa compounds have organised mass vaccinations, drawing hundreds of sign-ups within hours.

A video circulating on social media showed hundreds of cars forming a kilometre-long queue outside one vaccination centre on the city's outskirts.

Tania El Moubader, the head of sales at an investment company and resident in the UAE for the past 20 years, said getting the jab was a matter of "adapting".

"We have to go back to normal living. We can't continue just putting masks on," the expat said after receiving the first dose of the AstraZeneca jab.

"Everyone should take the vaccine," she said.