Residents in the United Arab Emirates say they have mixed feelings about traveling ahead of the Christmas season as the new COVID-19 variant Omicron disrupts international travel.
Fallout from the new, potentially riskier COVID-19 variant first detected in southern Africa is adding fresh frustrations for travelers, just as they were glimpsing a return to normalcy.
The US, European Union members, Canada, and Hong Kong are among the countries restricting travel from several nations in southern Africa.
The UK also halted flights, placing six African countries on its travel red list and will require arriving travelers to quarantine in hotels in an attempt to quash the spread of the B.1.1.529 variant — to which the World Health Organization has assigned the Greek letter Omicron.
It has also resumed extra restrictions such as requiring the use of face masks in public.
Some countries have gone one step further, with Japan and Israel both shutting their borders to international travelers.
In the UAE, some residents are nervous about pressing ahead with travel plans, while others say the new variant – and travel restrictions – will not stop them going home this Christmas
Kathy Scheepmaker, a manager at the Royal Atlantis Resort and Residences, spoke to Al Arabiya English from the airport.
She is flying from Dubai to the UK and hope that there will be no further disruptions.
“I am flying to see my daughter; I haven’t seen her in months and am concerned about what is happening and if other countries are going to close. But I cannot not see her.
“I have had a PCR test and am double-vaccinated and will do a test on day two in the UK and a PCR test to come back, but I really need to see my daughter.”
Another resident, of Dubai, who asked not to be named, plans to continue with her plans to the UK.
“The exact same thing happened last year and I cut my trip home short due to all of the scaremongering that the UAE was going to close its borders to the UK,” she told Al Arabiya English. “I won’t be falling prey to this again and I will be definitely enjoying ten days at home with my family.”
Another resident told Al Arabiya English that he, however, has concerns about his planned trip to Asia and the UK.
“I have been putting my annual leave off for Christmas and the New Year in the UK,” he said. “That is definitely on ice now.
“The unknowns are so many. Flights, travel bans, and a lack of information. The risks include being stuck on a country for months one end and employers saying travel at your own risk. Who is going to risk their job for a week’s holiday?”
Another resident, who asked not to be named, said she was planning to press ahead with plans regardless of the new virus variant.
“It has been two-and-a-half years,” she said. “I am going back home.”
A South African man working in the construction industry in Dubai cancelled his family’s planned Christmas trip home. He told Al Arabiya English that the five-week holiday was costing 50,000 Dirhams with international and domestic flights accounting for over 50 percent of the total amount.
Noting that he booked flexi-flights some of the outlay could be recouped, but he believes it will be difficult to reclaim accommodation bills.
One UK national based in Dubai is flying to England tomorrow morning to visit his grown-up children. The media professional said that he is not concerned about the new variant.
“I haven’t seen the kids in 14 months, and I’m not worried, and I’m not cancelling the trip,” he said.
Saudi Arabians also expressed similar concerns regarding air travel as news of the spread of the new coronavirus variant Omicron worries some.
“Flying in general is terrifying for me, and with the news of the new [COVID-19] variant emerging, I am still very anxious and cautious about traveling,” Aseel al-Bassam, a 27-year-old Saudi told Al Arabiya English.
Al-Bassam’s job requires her to travel frequently between Dubai and Riyadh, she said.
Al Anoud Bin Juma, a Riyadh-based interior design student said she doesn’t feel anxious about traveling during the winter season due to COVID-19.
“I had been eager to travel, and I don’t let coronavirus news affect my plans,” she said.
Bin Juma said she is planning to travel in December, adding that she takes precautionary measures seriously but doesn’t “stress too much” about COVID-19 fears.
Al Arabiya English’s Reem Krimly contributed to this report.
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