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In the midst of a pandemic, Dubai attracts tourists fleeing lockdowns

While other tourist destinations apply heavy restrictions to control the health crisis, the rowdy Gulf Emirate vibrates to the sound of the hubbub of trendy bars and to the rhythm of photos of skyscrapers or desert shared on Instagram.

“I’m not afraid here. Look, everyone is wearing a mask,” remarks Dmitri Melnikov, a 30-year-old Russian tourist.

Since the start of the crisis, the Dubai authorities have boasted of having controlled the pandemic, using new technologies as their weapons and very heavy dissuasive fines against not wearing a mask. Physical distancing is also widely used in public places.

Tourists are required to present a recent negative PCR test on arrival and / or have one at Dubai Airport, where health workers continually push thin swabs into travelers’ noses.

There are no specific statistics on infections in Dubai which, with its approximately 2.9 million inhabitants, is one of the seven principalities forming the United Arab Emirates.

Nationally, the daily number of contaminations, around 3,400, has almost doubled since January 1.

In total, the country, which has embarked on a vast vaccination campaign, has officially recorded more than 253,000 cases, including 745 deaths for a population of around 10 million inhabitants.

“Take the risk”

In the historic district of Al-Fahidi, many visitors throng between small stone buildings on the edge of a canal, a setting of the Dubai of yesteryear. Antiseptics are available everywhere and many signs remind you of the barrier measures.

The protection of the population is a priority, assures Nasser Jomaa ben Suleiman, director of the site. “The number of tourists has been limited to 20 per guide instead of 100 to reduce attendance,” he told ..

“I feel safer here than in the United States because I think people respect the wearing of a mask and physical distancing better,” said Andi Pitman, an American who came to spend five weeks in Dubai with her family.

“We have young children who need to get out and see the world, so we’re willing to take the risk,” she said.

Sophia Amouch, 24, came from France for two weeks of vacation that she decided to extend to spend a full month in the emirate, where “everything is done to avoid contact”.

“The pandemic in Dubai is much better managed than in Paris”, she believes, while France imposes a night curfew and exceptional measures on travelers to try to slow the arrival of new mutations of the coronavirus.

“Keep control”

Tourism is one of the pillars of Dubai’s economy, which welcomed 16 million visitors in 2019 and expected, before the pandemic, to reach 20 million in 2020.

Poor in oil but the most diversified economy in the Gulf, Dubai reopened its doors to tourists last July, after a period of strict containment in the spring.

“Dubai seems to be positioned as the destination of choice for those who want to escape lockdowns,” observes Scott Livermore, chief economist of Oxford Economics Middle East, a British analysis center.

According to him, this “growth strategy”, if it succeeds, will have a positive impact on the organization in the next fall of the World Expo that the emirate, which has spent 8.2 billion dollars (6.8 billion euros) for this event, had to postpone in 2020.

But the bet is risky, believes the specialist, because a second wave of Covid-19 would undermine this strategy. To succeed in its bet, the emirate must remain “open and connected, but above all keep control of the Covid-19”, adds Mr. Livermore.

In the meantime, Dubai’s airline, Emirates, the largest in the Middle East, has resumed much of its service around the world. Dubai Airport saw, according to official statistics, half a million travelers during the first week of January.

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