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UAE pledges mask clampdown as Saudi lifts all Covid restrictions

Heavy fines will be imposed on those not wearing masks in the UAE Creative Commons
Heavy fines will be imposed on those not wearing masks in the UAE
  • Face masks are no longer required for Saudi residents or visitors
  • UAE will be ‘strictly monitoring’ violations of its rules and issuing fines
  • Cases are rising in the emirate, with 1,319 new infections on Monday

Saudi Arabia lifted all its coronavirus restrictions on Monday – just hours before the UAE warned that its face mask rules would be strictly enforced as the emirate grapples with a spike in infections.

The Saudi Press agency reported on Monday that residents and visitors to the kingdom would no longer be required to wear masks indoors, except in the Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina.

In the UAE, by contrast, Dr. Taher Al Ameri, spokesperson for the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority, told a special media briefing that the wearing of face masks indoors and in closed spaces would continue to be enforced.

Those who violate the law will be fined up to AED3,000 ($816).

“We have seen that lately many community members are not wearing masks in the closed places. It is a violation if you don’t.

“You will be paying a fine for this violation [and we] will be monitoring strictly this aspect by the different inspectors,” Al Ameri said, speaking through a translator.

The spokesperson added that some residents who had tested positive for Covid-19 were not quarantining for 10 days, as instructed by the Al Hosn app.

“Any individual who spreads the virus will also be held legally accountable by the relevant authorities,” he said.

The briefing came as the UAE recorded 1,319 new coronavirus cases on Monday. The number of daily infections in the UAE has continued to rise in recent weeks, from 442 on June 1, but still below a high of 3,116 on January 15.

“The number of positive cases has increased substantially and many of us are becoming more concerned as the use of face masks indoors has significantly decreased,” Dr Ruhil Badiani, a family physician at the Cornerstone Clinic in Dubai, told AGBI.

“I very much agree with the news out today. We know face masks and social distancing work in reducing the number of cases and to protect our most vulnerable, we must take steps in decreasing the spread of the disease.”

During the media briefing, the government also announced changes to the green pass system on the Al Hosn app. At present, the app turns green when a user has received a negative PCR test result and remains green for 30 days. Some buildings require users to show a green pass to gain access.

The validity period will be reduced from 30 days to 14 days from Wednesday – or next Monday, June 20, for students sitting exams and their teachers.

Naim Maadad, CEO of Gates Hospitality and a board member of UAE Restaurants Group, welcomed the clampdown on rule-breakers, saying he had noticed that increasing numbers of people were no longer wearing masks.

“Fifty percent of the population is not wearing a mask nowadays and this needs to be enforced by relevant authorities and policed. Obviously it is in place for a reason,” Maadad said. “The message is very clear. Stay vigilant, stay alert, respect all the rules.”

Erika Blazeviciute Doyle, managing director of Drink Dry, which supplies non-alcoholic beverage brands to around 180 outlets in the UAE, said she did not believe the mask requirement would have a major impact on the hospitality sector.

“One of the best things about having a business in the UAE is that the government responds very fast and efficiently to changing situations,” she said.

“In no way does it impact business for our hospitality partners. The consumers are now used to it, they know the drill, they know what to expect. Nobody’s going to be stopping going out just because of these small changes.”

The UAE has had 917,496 confirmed infections and 2,305 deaths since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.

About 98 percent of its population – 9,702,575 people – is fully vaccinated.

The equivalent figures for Saudi Arabia are 777,795 cases and 9,173 deaths, with 71.7 percent of the population (24,960,145 people) fully vaccinated.

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