What it’s like to visit Dubai after Covid

elebrity explorer Levison Wood is paragliding over the desert, Love Island’s Molly-Mae Hague is posing in front of the Burj Al Arab and I’m knocking back an enormous gin and tonic with the twinkling lights of the Burj Khalifa as my backdrop. Had I been an influencer, I’d have said that anyone who is anyone is in Dubai this month.

It’s no surprise really. With the UAE now on the quarantine-free list, and international travel restrictions easing across much of the UK, the promise of winter sun has turned into an irresistible siren song. Covid testing requirements have also recently been eased for Dubai: instead of getting a PCR swab test within 96 hours of departure, you can now get one on arrival as an alternative – as long as you’re happy to quarantine until your test results (hopefully) come back negative.

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Still, I must admit to hesitating, briefly. It’s seven hours there and eight hours back, which is far longer than I’d like to spend on a flight in the middle of a pandemic. And on the ground, the promise of a balmy 30C isn’t quite so enticing when you also have to keep your mask on whenever you’re outside your hotel room – I may be a connoisseur of terrible tan lines, but this particularly distinguishing contour isn’t one I want to add to my collection.

My worries are allayed as soon as I board the Emirates flight, though – its Covid-era amenity kit is packed with single-use gloves, sanitising wipes, hand gel and surgical masks and I’m no longer the only one doing a Naomi Campbell-style wipe down.

Things are even more Covid-secure in Dubai, which is reassuring. Almost every venue requires temperature tests on arrival; once outside your hotel room, masks are mandatory until you sit down for food or drink; hand sanitisers are installed in every corner; free wifi is everywhere so you can download digital menus in restaurants and bars; and social distancing is this season’s buzzword. Inside my room at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, which overlooks the Burj Al Arab, hand sanitisers, masks and wipes have replaced the minibar – not that I hadn’t already stuffed my suitcase full of supplies “just in case”.

The real joy of travelling now, though, is that you can tick off all the best-known tourist spots without the crowds, especially if you pick your timing right.

Dubai Frame, which captures downtown skyscrapers on one side and the coral stone houses of old Dubai on the other, would ordinarily mandate a queue of two or more hours – but now you might even find that there are more staff than visitors. The Palm Fountain, recently crowned by Guinness World Records as the largest in the world, has virtually zero foot traffic, save for the handful dining al fresco in the many restaurants along its promenade. Even at SAL, the newish beach club at the foot of Burj Al Arab, there’s barely anyone posing at the edge of the infinity pool. As for the souks in the old town, well, enthusiastic haggling is now tentative negotiations from afar.

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Thanks to the capacity restrictions, the most ordinary of tourist activities have become more exclusive too.

Take Arabian Adventures’ evening desert safari, for example. Normally their 4X4s have room for seven, but right now they’re taking just two adults per car. It means once you’re in the sand dunes, there’s no one around for miles. So if you need to whip off your mask for a quick selfie…

It’s a similar story on board Seawings’ scenic flights, where three of the nine passenger seats are now left empty. Everyone had a window seat before, but now there’s even less competition for unobstructed views of the Dubai Palms.

As for me, I’m happiest at the dinner table or by the sea and both are in abundance here. Between days sprawling on the never-busy sun loungers and nights sampling the delights and sights at the likes of French Riviera or Ce La Vie, it’s not hard to reclaim normality for a moment.

There is one glaring downside to visiting Dubai right now, though. With local lockdown restrictions lifted, the construction companies are going at it with gusto.

There’s a new hotel featuring what looks like overwater cabanas being carved out of the beach next to my room. At the edge of the financial district, the Museum of the Future is fast shedding its cranes and shaping into a torus. Oh, and there’s an even taller tower on the horizon.

Still, I guess it means bigger, better things to discover the next time you, or I, are in town.

Travel essentials

Travelbag offers seven nights in Dubai staying at Jumeirah Beach Hotel from £1,639 per person on a half-board basis on selected travel dates between 31 January 2021 and 8 February 2021, including direct return flights from London Heathrow with Emirates.

For more information, see visitdubai.com

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