The coronavirus pandemic is continuing to cause issues for travellers trying to journey home from overseas destinations as lockdowns are put in place and flights pulled from schedules. Reports are now emerging of British passengers being stranded in Dubai, after the United Arab Emirates closed its airports sooner than had been expected.
The Middle Eastern state - whose seven emirates include the popular holiday destinations of Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, as well as Dubai - had announced that all inbound and outbound flights would be grounded as of midnight on March 26 (the early hours of Thursday morning). However, following a rise in the number of coronavirus cases in the country, this mass grounding of aircraft was brought forward by 48 hours (to Tuesday March 24).
The sudden change has caught out travellers who were trying to connect at what is one of the planet’s busiest aviation hubs. This includes Britons Jenny Rose and Rosie Addison - from Kendal in Cumbria - who were en route back to the UK after a holiday in the Philippines, only to arrive in Dubai and find that their onward flight to Heathrow had been cancelled.
As well as sisters, the two women are emergency service workers - Ms Addison is a nurse; Ms Rose is a police officer - and have posted appeals for help on social media.
“We have been trying to get home from the Philippines for the last 10 days,” Jenny Rose wrote on Facebook in the early hours of this morning. “We got the last flight out of Cebu to Dubai, only to find that when we landed in Dubai our flight to London was cancelled.”
“What are the British government going to do to help stranded Brits [reach] home?” she added. “We have no food and no drink in this airport, as nowhere is open.
“My sister and I are key workers and front-line members of the emergency services. We need to get back to the UK to help with this global crisis.”
William McFadden, a friend of the women who lives in Dubai, says that they were finally given a meal and water some 13 hours after they arrived - but that they are confined to the terminal. “They have had their passports taken from them,” he explains. “In addition to being stuck, they obviously not allowed to enter the UAE - due to the lockdown”.
The United Arab Emirates began to close its borders on March 19, declaring that only its own citizens would be permitted to enter the country - and that anyone legally allowed to cross the border would be required to self-isolate for 14 days upon their return.
However, the country’s Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship (ICA) said yesterday that anyone stranded by the lockdown may be granted legal permission to stay. “The ICA is keen to deal with various developments arising from the measures taken at regional and international levels to contain the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19) in a way that will ensure necessary care to all residents of the UAE,” it announced in a statement.
The closing of Emirati borders will have had a significant impact on passengers. As the airlines in the country - notably the national carriers Etihad (Abu Dhabi) and Emirates (Dubai) - have grown in reach, so their home airports have become key transfer-points in the global travel industry. Dubai International is the busiest airport in the world for international passenger traffic (it welcomed 89 million travellers in 2018 - more than 13 million more than second-placed Heathrow), and the planet’s sixth busiest for cargo. Abu Dhabi International is less of a conduit, greeting some 20 million passengers a year - but its departure gates see 29 airlines serve more than 120 destinations in over 60 countries.
Social media sites are awash with updates from travellers caught up in the lockdown. Yesterday, Rajhu Nair, an Indian citizen based in Moscow, reported that “I am basically stuck in no-man’s land” in Dubai International, and expressed his frustration with the stasis. “I am unable to find a solution to get out of this predicament,” he added. “I have relatives in Dubai. I could stay with them if I am given permission to leave the airport.”
In an update on Twitter today, he added: “Another 24 hours have passed with no solution. Dubai airport is closed as of last night. All eateries are shut. With me are 22 other Indians who are stranded with no provisions, and no decision taken as to what will happen to us.”
The Consulate General of Pakistan has stated that more than 100 Pakistani passengers are trapped at Dubai International, but says it has set up a dedicated help desk in the terminal.
Last week (on March 19), Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that between 300,000 and one million British nationals were stranded abroad. An accompanying statement from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office acknowledged the problem, saying “we recognise [that] British tourists abroad are finding it difficult to return to the UK because of the unprecedented international travel and domestic restrictions that are being introduced around the world - often with little or no notice. The FCO is working around the clock to support British travellers in this situation, to allow them to come back to the UK.”
This stance has been queried by passengers on the ground, including the estimated 400 British and Irish citizens who are currently seeking assistance to return from Peru - and are struggling with travel arrangements in a country that has locked down. Kate Harrisson, the British Ambassador to Peru, has been active in posting updates on Twitter - including the news that the first rescue flight should leave Lima for London laster today.
A similar approach may be taken to the situation in Dubai. British citizens currently stranded in the United Arab Emirates are urged to email [email protected] with their name, and passport and contact details.