Coronavirus panic leaves travellers and expats trapped overseas

Published:  25 May at 6 PM
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Out of all the stories about people trapped where they didn’t want to be due to the pandemic, this illustrates the worldwide chaos caused by governments’ uncoordinated reactions.

On the sixth of March in Dubai, a pair of expat lovers held their much anticipated wedding and jetted off for their honeymoon in Mexico’s Cancun resort without a care in the world. The epidemic had broken out, but had yet to spread all over the world. As a result, they avoided crowds, but the though of travel restrictions simply didn’t occur.

Unfortunately, by the time they were due to return to Dubai, the virus had been declared a pandemic by the WHO, with affected countries’ governments introducing panic measures without a thought of pan-world cooperation. Checking the internet on the plane home, they discovered Dubai had banned expats from entering the UAE, no matter where they’d arrived from. The bad news quickly became worse as they approached Istanbul and were told they could not board their connected flight.

No plans had been made at the airport to deal with stranded travellers, all of whom were forbidden to leave the complex and find accommodation in the city. They spent two full days in the airport, forbidden to collect their luggage and unable to purchase fresh clothes and toiletries as they didn’t have boarding passes. Desperate to leave, the couple searched online for a destination which allowed entry without visas, soon finding their only option as the Maldives, one of the planet’s loveliest places.

After they’d arrived, they found a hotel and considered their situation. They hadn’t packed their laptops so couldn’t work online, with their financial situation getting worse by the day and a move to another hotel having to be made when their original safe haven shut down. After having to transfer to another island in the archipelago, the same thing happened and they’re now stuck in a government isolation facility set up at a resort on the island of Olhuveli. They’re paying a reduced rate, along with 70 other trapped travellers, and some 300 tourists still remain on the island.

The couple are now working online, but getting back to their Dubai home is impossible as they’re not Emirati citizens and no non-repatriation flights are available. There’s no doubt the tale of their extended honeymoon will be a fascinating story when they tell it to their as yet unborn children, but they’re just two of a huge number of travellers whose lives are being turned upside down by a total lack of coordinated planning taking in account the majority of those affected.

Many tourists and expats are in far worse situations, especially if they’ve lost their jobs due to the chaos but, in this internet age, surely it should have been possible for countries to work with each other to ensure a smooth transition to staying safe whilst ensuring everyone could return home, no matter where they live.
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