Dubai has consolidated its reputation as festive city during the holiday season, draw party people from around the world. Barely a month later, the Gulf emirate is paying a heavy price as coronavirus cases rise and doctors complain about a lack of beds.
Covid-19 cases have quadrupled since November to nearly 4,000 per day. The last fortnight of record-breaking infections has forced Dubai to introduce new restrictions, such as increasing testing on arrivals and banning live entertainment, even as the UAE’s vaccination ramps up.
“It’s bad luck being the party town of the jet set during a global pandemic,” said Jim Krane, researcher at the Baker Institute at Rice University and author of Dubai: the story of the fastest city in the world.
Doctors in the United Arab Emirates echo this sentiment. “The New Years shenanigans in Dubai were an obvious big-air event. After that the cases increased rapidly and we also have the new variant, ”said an expatriate doctor who did not want his name published.
The festive influx gave an economic boost to the indebted emirate. The occupancy rate of hotels rose to 71% on average in December, the busiest month for the hotel industry since the start of the pandemic. The open door strategy was underpinned by a successful vaccination campaign. The UAE, using Chinese Sinopharm and BioNTech / Pfizer jabs, has delivered more than 2.7 million doses, covering more than a quarter of the population. The goal is to vaccinate half of the 10 million inhabitants during the first quarter.
As stricter quarantine requirements have slowed the rate of arrivals, Dubai continues to welcome tourists who show negative PCR tests before boarding – and bars, beaches and malls remain busy.
But the cost of the economic stimulus is being felt in hospitals, tarnishing Dubai’s position as a secure breech hole against coronaviruses. About 25,000 active coronavirus cases this week compares to less than 2,000 in early November, when the tourist season kicked off. More than 800 people have died from the virus in the emirate since the start of the pandemic.
In Dubai, where tourists far outnumber residents, the challenges of the pandemic, such as new strains, are of particular concern, said Hasnain Malik, an analyst at Tellimer, an emerging markets research house.
“Policymakers have taken the most practical course of action” to manage the outbreak, he said, but “it all comes down to a jerky, stop-start recovery.
The expatriate doctor said the combination of the volume and severity of the cases had “hit government facilities hard,” adding that the state was asking private sector hospitals to ease the burden by taking on sick patients.
A manager on duty at a medium-sized private hospital in an upscale area of Dubai said there were almost no beds available. Another nearby facility had around half of its 40 beds taken with Covid patients, with the rest free for any serious cases in the coming weeks, according to an executive working for the hospital owner.
Another doctor from Dubai, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “Everyone is trying to create some extra space because most places are almost full. There is a great shortage because many [infected people] arrive ”.
She was transferred to the emergency department, one of many medical staff who have moved to frontline positions to replace sick colleagues.
The UAE Ministry of Health, which operates facilities in all seven emirates, is advertising “urgently” for nurses to work in Dubai, Sharjah and Ras al-Khaimah for a monthly salary of $ 2,450 – about a third more than the average salary for these positions.
A person briefed on the Dubai Health Authority’s plans said she was preparing to open an isolation center on the outskirts of the city. Another option was to reopen a closed field hospital at the exhibition center. Sharjah, a neighboring emirate, said this week that a new Covid hospital would be ready within a month.
The DHA, whose director was recently replaced, has banned non-elective surgery as bed shortages and staff bite. “There is no sense of panic yet – the government may still issue more restrictions,” said the person briefed on the authority’s plans.
An official from Dubai said the strong partnership between the public and private sectors has enabled the healthcare system to handle Covid cases while providing regular medical care to the general population.
“Hospitals have been reorganized to further improve reserve capacity for Covid-19 patients,” the official added. “Patients requiring urgent and urgent care continue to receive prompt treatment.”
Rice University’s Mr. Krane added, “The authorities have the tools to solve this problem when they are ready. We have seen Dubai take decisive action before and it has been successful.
However, some people have found it difficult to access medical care. A 39-year-old woman with underlying illnesses died at home last week four days after testing positive, according to two friends.
Despite repeated requests for help when she had difficulty breathing, she was not taken to hospital. “There was too much delay and we should have pushed more on our side. So maybe there would have been a chance, ”said one of them.