“We were very happy to hear the news after three months of closure,” Nuno Costa, co-owner of Crank Fit gym, told Al-Monitor.
Yet the reopenings come with a list of conditions. Businesses can return at 50% of their normal capacity, and gym-goers will be required to wear masks at all times during light or moderate physical activity. Masks can be lowered for strenuous physical exercise, according to a government circular.
In Crank Fit’s ever-popular spin classes, Costa said, “There are two meters between bikes with clear plexiglass dividers.” In a pre-COVID-19 class there would be 43 riders; now there will be only 18. “Also, the disinfecting procedures at the gym are in full compliance with the government rules,” Costa added.
The openings follow one of the most stringent government pandemic policies around the world that included two weeks of curfew during a city-wide disinfection campaign in which residents needed government-issued permits to leave their homes any time of day or night.
The easing of the citywide lockdown came in stages. First at the end of April, at the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, residents were allowed out for essential grocery and medicine purchases. Then at the end of Ramadan, a curfew was in place from 8 p.m. till 6 a.m. Today, residents are allowed out from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m.
Restaurants have been slowly opening over the past two weeks with reduced hours and limited capacity and many if not most are open all over the city. However, visitors must adhere to the UAE’s strict health and safety rules.
As of May 24, licensed restaurants were able to provide drink services to tables and not in bar areas.
“The Dubai economy needs to be kickstarted and [food and beverage] is a huge part of this,” food writer Samantha Wood told Al-Monitor.
“What is great about this most recent announcement is that the 30% capacity restriction has been lifted. However, the two-meter safe distancing is still applicable, which means restaurants cannot run at 100% occupancy. So that means they are running at a reduced capacity. The other option they have is to install divider screens, but I expect less will do that as this requires a redesign in the restaurant. The other restrictions are that customers can only stay three hours, maximum. The crucial issue is [that] children under 12 and adults over 60 are not allowed, so families are restricted in terms of going out for a meal,” added Wood.
She added, “This will impact restaurants as well, but overall this is a step in the right direction and many restaurants are hoping that this [will be] the start of further easing of restrictions.”
Wood, who set up her business in Dubai nine years ago with her restaurant review website FooDiva, went on, “Some restaurants had to close down due to restrictions, [and] some are not necessarily going to reopen. I would have expected 25% of restaurants in Dubai to shut down irrespective of COVID-19. The virus would have accelerated that. I also expect to see another 25% to close down by September 2020.”
“While some restaurants are suffering due to high rents, others are benefiting from government assistance,” Wood said. “Some restaurants have been given rent relief whether that’s malls or hotels or independent businesses. For example, the Dubai International Financial Centre has given three months of free base rent to their food outlets, as an example.” Others have not been so lucky.
Salons and beauty centers are ready to thrive, too. These services were closed for four weeks with a gradual easing. At first, only haircuts and nail services were allowed. Now, full services are available, said Shabana Karim, founder and owner of the Nail Spa and Marquee. “The next few months will certainly be different from the summer months we had expected pre-crisis, but we’re confident that our customers will be reassured with the safety measures we’re taking and will gradually return in increasing numbers over the summer period and beyond.”
Karim, who has more than 23 outlets throughout the United Arab Emirates, told Al-Monitor, “During the lockdown, when spas were closed, it was a challenging time. We have more than 500 employees between the Nail Spa and Marquee, so navigating a time of great uncertainty for the business as well as the health of our team and customers was of course difficult. However, we are feeling more positive as restrictions are eased, and believe they were worthwhile and necessary for the sake of public health.”