DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Masks off the minute you step inside. Bars packed and pulsing like it’s 2019. Social media stars waving bottles of champagne. DJs spinning party tunes through multi-hour brunches.
Since becoming one of the world’s first destinations to open up for tourism, Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, has promoted itself as the ideal pandemic vacation spot. It cannot afford otherwise, analysts say, as the virus shakes the foundations of the city-state’s economy.
With its cavernous malls, frenetic construction and legions of foreign workers, Dubai was built on the promise of globalization, drawing largely from the aviation, hospitality and retail sectors — all hard hit by the virus.
Now reality is catching up to the big-dreaming emirate. With peak tourism season in full swing, coronavirus infections are surging to unprecedented heights. Daily case counts have nearly tripled in the past month, forcing Britain to slam shut its travel corridor with Dubai last week. But in the face of a growing economic crisis, the city won’t lock down.
“Dubai’s economy is a house of cards,” said Matthew Page, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Its competitive advantage is being a place where rules don’t apply.”
While most countries banned tourists from the U.K. over fears of the fast-spreading virus variant found there, Dubai, home to some 240,000 British expats, kept its doors open for the holidays. Emirates flew five daily flights to London’s Heathrow Airport.
Within days, the new virus strain had arrived in the emirates, but that didn’t stop reality TV and soccer stars from fleeing Britain’s lockdown and wintry weather for Dubai’s bars and beaches — without taking a coronavirus test before boarding. Scenes of pre-pandemic revelry were splattered across British tabloids. Facing backlash, Instagram influencers spotted at raucous yacht parties were quick to proclaim their travel “essential.”
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