Nations all over the world are preparing for a brutal onslaught as the omicron variant spreads like wildfire, forcing them to go into lockdown.
Donna Sese, on the other hand, is bracing herself for a very different kind of surge: a slew of restaurant reservations and meter-long drink bills.
Sese, manager of the Yalumba restaurant at the five-star Le Meridien hotel, said, “We’re back and busy like things used to be.” Devotees of Dubai’s Friday brunch pay $250 for lavish spreads and free-flowing Clicquot Champagne at the restaurant, which is located on the ground floor.
As a result of one of the world’s highest vaccination rates, as well as government efforts to attract businesses and de-escalate tensions with regional rivals, the globalized city-state appears to be in the midst of a boom season.
The return of maskless debauchery to dance floors is a welcome sight. Brunch-goers are indulging in copious amounts of alcohol. An influx of homebuyers is flooding the market. Tourists are snapping up hotel suites at an alarming rate. Expat millionaires are flocking to the emirate in large numbers. Coronavirus infections, though they are making a comeback, are still well below their previous highs.
Responses to requests for comment from the government of Dubai were not received.
Those who remember the flurry of activity in December last year in Dubai, when the city courted tourists and influencers fleeing virus lockdowns and wintry weather, will recognize the scene. The open-door policy allowed revelers to satisfy their long-held desire to go out on New Year’s Eve, but infections quickly rose to unprecedented levels, and hospitals quickly became overcrowded.
After a year, the widespread vaccination has given Dubai the impression that it is out of the woods. The number of virus-related hospitalizations and deaths has been vanishingly low, even as the threat of omicron looms and daily infections surged to more than 660 on Wednesday, up from lows of under 100 for several weeks.
While vaccination rates in many Western countries have plateaued, the United Arab Emirates reports that 99 percent of all those eligible for vaccines — anyone over the age of 12 — have received at least one dose.
Some people have received five stars.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) relied on a vaccine produced by Sinopharm, a Chinese company with government backing, during the global vaccine scramble. The number of infections increased this spring, even as the nation’s vaccination rate rose. There was also increased concern about Sinopharm’s insufficient antibody response.
Sinopharm is no longer an option in Dubai at this time. Many of the emirate’s legions of low-paid foreign laborers, who have opted for double vaccination with Pfizer-BioNTech, have also opted for double vaccination with the pharmaceutical company. All adults are eligible for Pfizer boosters, which are provided by the government.
Months of trepidation have given way to a sense of unbridled anticipation. Because of widespread vaccination as well as historically low mortgage rates, more properties were sold in Dubai during November than any other month in the previous eight years, according to the property search website Property Find.
Sales prices have risen above levels seen prior to the pandemic. Until June, prices were rising at a rate of 2.5 percent per month on average, with particularly rapid increases in the luxury segment.
A halt in villa construction and an influx of Western European, Chinese, and Indian financiers attracted to glittering Dubai by its open offices, high vaccination rates, and low tax rates have been attributed to the hot streak, according to market analysts.
According to real estate agents, a massive cryptocurrency conference held in October drew dozens of young millionaires who paid cash up front for beach villas in the Bahamas.
“You have the option of going to restaurants. There is no debate about the benefits of remote working. This is not the case in Europe, where the market is still “locking down,” according to Christophe De Rassenfosse, the chief product officer of Property Finder, who explained why he and his family relocated from Brussels to Dubai in October. When it comes to elderly people, “you don’t necessarily have a large percentage of them occupying hospitals.”
The government has promoted plans to make the sheikhdom more appealing to foreign investors and visitors, including the introduction of new 10-year visas, retirement and freelance options, as well as changes to the country’s Islamic legal code.
The United Arab Emirates will change its work week from Sunday to Thursday to Monday to Friday in order to better align itself with the rest of the world, as competition with neighboring Saudi Arabia heats up.
The city’s full hotels, congested roads, and raucous nightclubs are evidence of the city’s resurgence.
According to the data firm STR, hotel occupancy in Dubai reached 90 percent in the middle of the month of November. Over 1.1 million passengers were expected to squeeze through Emirates’ Dubai terminal ahead of the holidays, according to the airline.
According to TomTom, the company that provides navigation services, traffic during the first week of December exceeded levels seen in 2019. Taxis have been noticeably absent from many street corners, with fleet owners who downsized operations during the pandemic citing shortages due to “unprecedented” demand as a reason for the absence.
According to market research firm Euromonitor, overall volume sales of alcoholic beverages in the United Arab Emirates reached 117.5 million liters (31 million gallons) this year, representing a 7.8 percent increase over the previous year.
Increasingly, the UAE’s long-standing competitors — Turkey and Iran — are benefiting from this expansion.
In previous years, trade between the two economic behemoths had been poisoned by politics. Recent diplomatic activity across the Middle East, however, has included meetings between UAE’s de facto leader and Turkey’s president in Ankara and a visit to Tehran by an Emirati national security advisor at the highest level.
According to Iranian government figures, Iran’s imports from the United Arab Emirates increased by 70% between March and September 2021, totaling $5.4 billion. By the end of the year, Emirati imports will have reached levels not seen since the United States imposed crippling sanctions on Iran in 2018.
In addition, trade between the United Arab Emirates and Turkey increased by more than 100% to $7.2 billion during the first half of this year, according to the official Emirati WAM news agency.
The detente, according to Iranian and Turkish business leaders in Dubai, has made it easier for them to obtain licenses and visas.
Fatma Nilgun Emrem of Tamimi Consulting, a Turkish business consultant, has been inundated with inquiries from Turkish beauty salons, retailers, and restaurants interested in establishing a presence in the United Arab Emirates.
“The policies and perspectives of the United Arab Emirates are shifting,” she explained.
Hossein Asrar Haghighi, a member of the Iran-UAE Business Council’s board of directors, described “a relaxing” of trade regulations affecting Iranians as well as an increase in the number of Iranian businessmen who have obtained UAE golden visas valid for 10 years.
It’s a “pretty good environment,” according to Gregory Gause, a scholar of the Middle East and North Africa at Texas A&M University. “Dubai getting out of COVID, reduction of regional tensions, and new moves to attract businesses” make up the combination. “However, Dubai has no control over what happens in its immediate vicinity.”
The failure of the current round of talks in Vienna to resurrect Iran’s nuclear deal could exacerbate tensions in the Middle East. Industries may suffer from overcapacity when the World Expo closes its doors in Dubai next year, according to James Swanston, an economist at Capital Economics.
Furthermore, the rapid spread of omicron may soon derail Dubai’s celebrations.
However, for the time being, there is reason to be optimistic.
In Dubai’s creek, Saeed Zakari, a captain who sails the Persian Gulf in a dhow loaded with appliances bound for Iran, said, “The money has been returned.”