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Dubai seemed to have the coronavirus licked. Then it flung open its doors.

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  • Dubai seemed to have the coronavirus licked. Then it flung open its doors.


    Dubai seemed to have the coronavirus licked. Then it flung open its doors.
    Katie McQue, The Washington Post
    Jan. 26, 2021
    Updated: Jan. 26, 2021 10:27 a.m.

    DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - After a 12-hour shift in the Old Souk one day last week, Yousaf Khan had not made a single sale at his shop where he sells colored glass lamps and other trinkets popular with tourists.

    "There are no customers. There is just no business," said Khan, a 21-year-old from Afghanistan.

    It was the same story in each of the dozens of shops that line the dark and empty corridors of the traditional Middle Eastern market.

    Yet just one month earlier, it had been bustling.

    Dubai, a glamorous tourism destination in the United Arab Emirates, had flung its doors back open last year after appearing to break the back of the coronavirus outbreak, with daily infections dropping to the hundreds.

    In early November, Britain and the UAE established a "travel corridor" allowing travelers to board flights to Dubai without presenting a certificate confirming they had tested negative for coronavirus, and a previous 14-day self-quarantine requirement was waived. Eager for winter sunshine, tourists flocked to Dubai and hotels here were 71% full in December, back to pre-pandemic rates, according to research firm STR.

    Now, Dubai is paying the price of opening for business at a time when countries elsewhere shut down borders and imposed stricter restrictions to contain the resurgent pandemic.

    In the past two weeks, daily coronavirus cases have tripled with diagnoses now exceeding 3,500 per day, among a population of about 9 million inhabitants.

    Dubai has recently introduced a flurry of public health rules and regulations, including limits on social gatherings and live entertainment. Orders were given that all non-urgent surgical procedures be placed on hold to free up hospital beds. On Sunday evening, it was announced that the director general of the Dubai Health Authority had been ousted.

    And as infection rates surged, Britain removed the United Arab Emirates from the list of travel corridors earlier this month.

    "There can be no conceivable reason why any country in the world at the moment would open its doors to people traveling from the U.K., where we know the virus has not been brought under control since the pandemic began," said Gabriel Scally, a professor in the epidemiology and public health section of the Royal Society of Medicine in London. "It's extraordinary and clearly must be driven by factors other than public health."

    Meantime, the UAE has embarked on an aggressive vaccination campaign, setting itself a target of having 50% of its population vaccinated by the end of March. More than 1.8 million people have already received the Sinopharm vaccine, developed in China, which is available free-of-charge to all citizens and residents, and the UAE now ranks near the very top of the list of countries for per capita inoculation.

    But this may not be enough....