The emirate, one of the first destinations to reopen to tourism last year, became a magnet for visitors escaping dreary winter weather and harsh Covid-19 restrictions.
But the open-door policy has been in the spotlight in recent weeks as some 500,000 tourists flocked to its luxury resorts and sunny beaches over the end-of-year holiday period, triggering a sharp spike in cases.
While the UAE, of which Dubai is a member, doesn’t give a breakdown for each of its seven emirates, the Gulf nation has recorded more than 128,000 coronavirus cases since the beginning of 2021, compared to just 52,000 in the last 40 days of 2020.
The number of deaths has also jumped, with 125 in the past 10 days, out of 974 since the crisis began.
Despite having some 80 major healthcare facilities in the city of 3.4 million, the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) has had to increase its medical capacity, its deputy director general Alawi Alsheikh-Ali said in an interview this week.
“Recently when the numbers started to rise again… the health system has managed to surge its capacity to stay ahead of the curve and make sure that every patient today in Dubai… who needs care, gets it without any interruption,” he said.
At the start of the pandemic, Dubai’s sprawling World Trade Centre was converted to a 3,000-bed field hospital to treat coronavirus patients.
Authorities have said the pop-up facility can be “reactivated within hours” if needed.
“The capacity in Dubai now is ahead of the surge, and has been able to absorb the rise in numbers appropriately,” Alsheikh-Ali said, dismissing suggestions that the medical system was straining to cope.
‘Keep life going’
International flights, tourism and investment are vital to the wealthy desert emirate, where people come for leisure but also for business opportunities and employment prospects.
After a months-long lockdown last year that decimated the economy, many in the city were eager to return to normality, although some restrictions have been reimposed in recent weeks.
The Gulf city, which has invested tens of billions of dollars in its leisure sector, is seen by some as an example of how certain economies are seeking to find a balance.
Alsheikh-Ali described it as “what we need to do to control the pandemic, and also what we need to do to keep life going”.
As infections soared since the New Year period, Dubai had to scrap its famous party scene in luxury hotels, close its bars, ban music in restaurants, and limit the numbers of visitors to entertainment venues.
Hospitals were told to suspend non-essential surgery, and the DHA started a recruitment campaign for three-month contracts for nurses — many of whom come from Asian nations, including the Philippines and India.
“We’ve been very active trying to make sure we’ve recruited, and make sure that we have enough manpower to take care of any further increase in numbers” while racing to vaccinate everyone, Alsheikh-Ali said.
The UAE, home to a population of around 10 million, has administered some 4.6 million doses of vaccine, making it the second-fastest per capita delivery in the world, after Israel.
Shortages in supplies, which have hit many countries, have forced authorities to postpone the rollout after residents swamped vaccination centres.
“We have a very aggressive plan to make sure that we make it available to 100 percent of all eligible people,” Alsheikh-Ali said. “The timeline is as soon as possible.”