Bloomberg— The lunchtime bustle in Dubai’s financial hub is a clear reflection of how the city is coping with the coronavirus pandemic: businessmen are back, many restaurants must be reserved in advance, and luxury sports cars are crowding the entrances to five-star hotels in the area. It’s a far cry from the empty parking lots and deserted offices of last year.
If pre-pandemic normalcy exists in 2021, Dubai is keen to show it. International tourism resumed more than a year ago, and the city has relatively lenient rules to combat the spread of Covid-19. This is due to the fact The United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is a part, is one of the most vaccinated countries in the world. According to Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker (Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker in Spanish), approximately 75% of the adult population is fully vaccinated.
Now it is open to millions of visitors for the Universal Exhibition, which will take place on the outskirts of the city from October 1 to March 31, 2022, after the exhibition was delayed for a year by the pandemic. Dubai expects to attract 25 million visits, both virtual and face-to-face.
The figure is less striking if we take into account the scale of the Expo. The area is as large as 600 football stadiums, filled with architectural spectacles from some 190 countries. The one in the United Arab Emirates is designed by Santiago Calatrava and will have the shape of a falcon in flight; The Canada Pavilion is an imposing ring made of wooden latticework with a “360 degree theatre” at its center; and the Netherlands built a cone-shaped vertical truss.
To prevent a large spread Covid-19 event from occurring, visitors will need to follow rules similar to those that apply when entering the country: they can show vaccination cards or PCR tests negatives made within 72 hours. (When crossing the border, all vaccinated must also present a negative result, and stricter provisions apply to those coming from certain countries, including tests that are only valid for 48 hours and the obligation to stay in quarantine until a second sample, taken at the airport, is negative).
The hope is that Dubai can maintain its good record – the whole of the United Arab Emirates is currently registering less than 500 new infections a day – even if the crowds at Expo are as astronomical as the city hopes. At the end, the exhibition is just one of the ways Dubai is betting on tourism. Public health measures and low case numbers are also attracting business travellers, conference attendees and tourists. After registering nearly 17 million international arrivals in 2019, Dubai expects 27 million people to pass through the city in 2021, a target still far from being achieved, with some 3 million visitors in the seven first months of the year and more than 50 million in 2022.
The food scene
Dubai’s food scene has weathered the pandemic very well. Apart from a complete shutdown in April 2020, the city’s culinary venues have kept their doors open, but with social distancing and mask mandates. Many fine dining restaurants have also gotten into the delivery game, offering visitors eight-course meals delivered by motorbike.
Today, vaccination cards are only required if you’re sitting in a bar, and the government has limited restaurant tables to groups of 10 people. Authorities are known to levy hefty fines on establishments that break the rules, so enforcement has been reliable in all cases.
However, These rules are subject to periodic change, as is the case everywhere. The latest updates allow restaurants and cafes to open until 3 a.m. (the time they closed before the coronavirus) and reduce the social distancing requirement to 1.5 meters from the 2 meters they had established.
As Dubai emerges from its sweltering summer months, beach gems like Folly by Nick & Scott and Tasca are becoming more enjoyable. The latter is Michelin-starred chef José Avillez’s first international opening, with seating around the sixth-floor pool of the Mandarin Oriental hotel, overlooking the Burj Khalifa, and a magnificent menu of Portuguese tapas (order the prawn ceviche, served in hollow files). Amazonian, in Dubai’s elegant financial hub, has a tiered outdoor terrace that resembles a jungle, an appropriate setting for dishes that take inspiration from Peruvian Amazon cuisine and Japanese Nikkei cuisine (think passion fruit hamachi tiradito).
A new reason to venture inland: Puerto 99, a friendly Mexican restaurant located on Dubai’s new man-made island, Bluewaters. Trying not to dance to their mariachi performances is a losing battle.
The return of culture
Tourism is experiencing a big restart in Dubai, resulting in many options across the spectrum of Covid-19 care.
If you’re worried about Covid-19: a walk through the residential Karama district allows visitors to see the fusion of old and new Dubai, with streets lined with murals and old-fashioned cafes. At night, a stroll along the canal promenade from Business Bay to Jumeirah offers stunning views of the city skyline with far less traffic than downtown Dubai. Many tour operators offer night cruises and desert tourstwo more relaxing ways to enjoy the surrounding view without ever setting foot inside.
If you need a smooth ride back: the historic Al Fahidi district offers first-timers a taste of old Dubai; its lanes show off the stone and palm wood architecture that existed here long before skyscrapers took over. From the neighborhood’s zouks to markets across Dubai Creek, visitors can haggle for gold, spices and carpets.
The vibe is decidedly more modern along Alserkal Avenue, where there are art galleries and trendy cafes. Most of the day can be spent exploring this hotbed of contemporary culture, with stops at the Akil Cinema for open-air independent films and at A4 Space, a sustainability-focused concept store and community hangout.
If you want to pretend the pandemic never happened: Bla Bla, the sprawling beach club at Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach residence, has drawn hundreds (and sometimes even thousands) of people to its weekend parties, with themed rooms, DJs and live bands. Here, the masks are virtually out of sight, though staff keep an eye out for rowdy dancing.
And of course, there’s the Dubai Expo, a multi-million dollar project that literally aims to “bring the world together”. Opening day, October 1, will become one of the biggest face-to-face events since the start of the pandemic, with onlookers flocking to hundreds of pavilions that represent the themes of sustainability, mobility and opportunity. It promises to be a spectacle. The Egyptian pavilion will feature original statues of ancient pharaohs, while the “mobility district” will allow visitors to test drive self-driving vehicles and see what aeronautical engineers are working on for the next generation of planes.
How to get around
For most of the year, Dubai is not a city that can be explored on foot, due to temperatures reaching 49 degrees Celsius. (120 degrees Fahrenheit).
But whether using the bus, taxi, metro or car, the government has ensured that passengers and drivers follow strict rules. Taxis and road transport services require all occupants of the vehicle to wear a mask, and a maximum of three people are allowed per trip.
The once common plexiglass taxi barriers have mostly disappeared; most vehicles now follow a simple mask mandate. Disinfectant products are also present in all public transport vehicles.
In the metro, business continues as usual and, in fact, ridership is increasing, as the service will be extended to the outskirts of the city on October 1, to help visitors get to the Expo area. . Getting there from Dubai Marina station takes about 15 minutes.
Download the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) app if you plan to take the metro. It allows you to add cash to the cards you insert at each station, minimizing touchpoints along the way.
The persistent label linked to Covid-19
Wear a mask. Around town, everyone wears one in all public spaces, indoors and out, including malls, hotels, and restaurants. (There are exceptions for eating, drinking and exercising outdoors.) Fines for breaking the mask rule can run into the thousands and, to avoid confusion, public places are required to post signs indicating where to pick it up.
Almost two years after the pandemic, people choose to bump fists or greet each other verbally. Everyone agrees that human contact in Dubai is probably a thing of the past for now.
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Check out the Bloomberg Line COVID-19 Monitor