Although the pandemic has seemed like a ‘one step forward, two steps back’ situation wherever you are, the perspective is generally much more positive today than even a few months ago.
Travelling from Oman to the United Kingdom last month was, however, very much an eye-opener in respect of the different effects of the pandemic, the attitudes to it, and some of the consequences of something that has probably wrought more havoc, socially and economically, than any other, since the Second World War of 1939-45.
The first noticeable effect, in Oman, was the absolute dearth of traffic on the new highway from Muscat to Wajaaja, on the border with the United Arab Emirates. Once we cleared the environs of Muscat, say beyond Mussanah, there was an almost total absence of vehicular traffic. Not to say that’s a bad thing, but it was very noticeable. It did mean however, that we were able to cruise along under no pressure at all, and Ali, our driver was able to point out several landmarks of interest.
Of course, the border posts were quiet too, so the formalities were quickly taken care of on the Omani side, while on the Emirates side, we gave the border officers something to do. Maybe they hadn’t had many people travelling with luggage recently, and they enjoyed the opportunity to do something meaningful, so our bags got a genuine forensic examination. Nah, I’m only joking, but it was an extended stop. Impressively, the Covid compliance and precautions were 100 per cent on the mark.
The drive down into Dubai was ‘back to the future-ish,’ as the locals, ubiquitous in their Lamborghinis and Brabus’s with ‘special’ number plates, tend to keep drivers around the Emirates on their toes with their tailgating, lights-flashing, undertaking, and all-round reckless driving. You aren’t even safe in a slow lane either... but I digress, don’t I? There were definitely no less vehicles on the roads of Dubai, so it appears that the ‘work-from-home’ option was sparsely utilised.
Interestingly, because Ali dropped us at our hotel and returned to Oman, we used taxis and the metro extensively to move around the city. Our taxi drivers, across the 12-day stay, were adamant that our difficulties in hailing taxis were down to a 50 per cent reduction in taxi drivers, and therefore a matching on-the-road presence. It was concerning that the taxi drivers appeared reluctant to wear their masks effectively, or provide sanitisers, so we stayed masked, and carried our own sanitisers.
The overall mask compliance on the streets was diverse, and we were in Deira, where there is significant foot-traffic, and probably was about 50/50. In shops and businesses too the application of Covid procedures was mixed. In fact, in an exchange on Rigga Street I had an altercation with a security guard who insisted upon trying to push customers close together, in contravention of the signage advising 2-metre spaces. We had a vigorous ‘discussion’ on the topic!
Dubai, and particularly Deira, is certainly showing the sign of the economic consequences of restrained retailing, with so many closed shops and restaurants, lighter foot-traffic numbers, and, to be honest, a depressing ‘feeling’ on the streets. The hotels too appear badly affected, with a number of closures, and hospitality management and staff report reporting ‘sinking lid’ recruitment and retention policies affecting their in-house compliance. They are still smiling, but honestly... you can see the smiles aren’t reaching their eyes, and it’s easy to feel sympathy for them. Airports and flying, on the other hand, demonstrated 100 per cent compliance, understanding, and compassion, in a number of situations where the Covid compliance and distancing were absolute.
So why do I feel we are on the way back? Because Oman has demonstrated that even if the majority don’t understand Covid, or don’t care, there are enough who do! The silent majority, herd immunity, these are the keys to winning this particular world war... and we will.