Future of travel? One country’s draconian new rules for visitors in the age of coronavirus



a large white building with Sheikh Zayed Mosque in the background

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In what could a preview of future international travel, the United Arab Emirates is unveiling some fairly draconian ways of tracking visitors, foreign workers and its own citizens in an effort to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. The U.A.E. is hoping to welcome tourists back by July or September at the latest, but it’s unclear if that will include Americans.

The United Arab Emirates which includes the city-states of Dubai and Abu Dhabi said it was imposing a $13,000 fine on visitors (and residents) who violate strict anti-coronavirus measures. Those measures include tracking “bracelets” and mandatory tracking apps. Violators face steep fines for a variety of violations, and will also be “named and shamed” with their pictures posted in local media. Repeat offenders would be referred for prosecution and face prison. There are lots of other fines too including a fine of $800 for not wearing a mask.

The United Arab Emirates is beginning to ease some strict lockdown measures, but is still not welcoming tourists and a curfew remains in effect. There are some flights between the U.S. and Abu Dhabi. On May 13, Dubai-based Emirates said it was resuming service to nine international destinations including London, Chicago and Melbourne, among other destinations.

The country is back under a mandatory curfew from 8 p.m. until 6 a.m. every day after a resurgence of cases. 

The U.A.E. is made up of seven sheikhdoms, and foreigners make up 90% of the population. It has had more than 29,000 cases and at least 245 deaths. Foreigners who live and work in U.A.E. are being allowed back in, but they need prior authorization from the government and are still required to quarantine upon arrival.

Anyone entering the U.A.E. is required to install a tracking app and wear an electronic bracelet to enable contact tracing in the event of exposure to COVID-19.  An app called ‘Alhosn’ was rolled out in April.  Widespread testing for coronavirus is also being expanded fairly widely. The government says more than one million tests have been administered.

Salem Al Zaabi, acting chief prosecutor of the Emergencies and Disasters Prosecution in the federal public prosecution said, “Anyone, who does not install or register in the COVID-19 tracing app on purpose and anyone who causes damage to the electronic bracelet or causes its malfunction, shall pay a Dh10,000 (US$2,722) fine with the repair costs.”

Shopping malls have reopened with strict new rules on social distancing, but public spaces such as cinemas, schools and sports facilities will stay closed. Some bars and restaurants have opened with strict limits on crowd sizes and following curfews.

Rules vary by region with Abu Dhabi and Dubai having slightly different takes on battling the virus. In fact, Dubai will track peoples’ temperatures and make sure they are maintaining social distances with security cameras. CCTV is widespread in Dubai. Dubai police and the government already have a facial-recognition database from its national ID card system which residents use for fast-track immigration at Dubai International Airport.

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