UAE drops Covid mask requirements after 2.5 years

A masked Israeli tourist in Dubai’s historic al-Fahidi district on January 11, 2021. As much of the world tightens lockdowns amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Dubai remains open to tourism, presenting like a sunny, quarantine-free escape – despite a sharp rise in cases.

KARIM SAHIB | AFP via Getty Images

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates is scrapping its mandatory mask requirements in almost all public indoor spaces after 2.5 years.

The National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA) announced the change in a televised statement, saying it would come into effect on September 28. The long-standing mask rule was a mainstay of the UAE’s measures against Covid-19, as well as nearly universal vaccinations and rapidly available PCR tests.

The decision only officially applies to the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, but the other six emirates in the country, including Dubai, are expected to follow suit. Masks will now only be required in hospitals, public transport and places of worship, NCEMA said.

Abu Dhabi was one of the strictest emirates in the UAE in terms of requiring and enforcing mask-wearing. In Dubai, wearing a mask was compulsory in public indoor spaces, but it could be removed while sitting, eating, drinking and exercising.

During the summer months, law enforcement in many other emirates had eased and it was common to see people in public places not wearing masks.

An Emirati man, wearing a protective mask, walks at al-Barsha health center in the Gulf emirate of Dubai on December 24, 2020.

GIUSEPPE CACACE | AFP via Getty Images

The UAE will also stop publishing its daily tally of Covid-19 cases, which it started publishing in March 2020.

Several other changes have been announced – schools will not require teachers or students to wear masks, the country’s airlines can decide for themselves to mandate mask wearing, social distancing is no longer required in places of worship and only people who have tested positive for Covid-19 will have to isolate, not those who have been in contact with them.

Quarantine for positive cases has been reduced from 10 days to five.

In addition, vaccinated Abu Dhabi residents – who previously had to provide proof, via the local Al Hosn app, of a negative PCR test every 14 days to enter public facilities – will instead have to present this proof. every 30 days. Those who are not vaccinated must still provide a negative test every seven days. This rule does not apply in other emirates.

Dubai has received praise over the past two years for its handling of the pandemic, which has seen strict mask-wearing rules and early access to vaccines allow it to reopen for businesses and visitors a few months after its lockdown period. initial lockdown from March to April 2020. The following years saw a few spikes in cases, but real estate in Dubai boomed as many expatriate workers flocked to the emirate for some semblance of normal life.

Covid-19 cases have steadily declined in recent months to an average of between 300 and 400 per day, according to NCEMA, which cites the total number of cases in the UAE since the start of the pandemic at more than one million, with 2,343 deaths.