DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The UAE is doing away with its mandatory mask requirements in nearly all public indoor spaces after 2½ years.
The National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA) announced the change in a televised statement, saying that it will come into effect on Sept. 28. The long-held mask rule was a pillar of the UAE’s measures against Covid-19, as well as nearly universal vaccinations and rapidly available PCR testing.
The ruling officially applies to just the UAE capital Abu Dhabi, but the country’s six other emirates, including Dubai, are expected to follow suit. Masks will now only be required in hospitals, on public transport and in places of worship, NCEMA said.
Abu Dhabi was one of the UAE’s strictest emirates in terms of requiring and enforcing mask-wearing. In Dubai, mask-wearing was required in public indoor spaces but permitted to be taken off while sitting, eating, drinking and performing physical exercise.
By the summer months, enforcement in many of the other emirates had relaxed and it was common to see people in public places not wearing masks.
The UAE will also stop publishing its daily tally of Covid-19 cases, which it first began publishing in March 2020.
Several other changes were announced — schools won’t require teachers or students to wear masks, the country’s airlines can decide for themselves whether to mandate mask-wearing, social distancing is no longer required in places of worship, and only people who have tested positive for Covid-19 will have to isolate, not those who have been in contact with them.
Quarantine for positive cases has been reduced from 10 days to five.
Additionally, vaccinated Abu Dhabi residents — who previously had to provide proof, via the local app Al Hosn, of a negative PCR test every 14 days to enter public establishments — will be required to show such proof every 30 days instead. Those who are unvaccinated still have to provide a negative test every seven days. This rule does not apply in other emirates.
Dubai received praise over the last two years for its handling of the pandemic, which saw strict mask-wearing rules and early vaccine access allow it to reopen for business and visitors within a few months of its initial March to April 2020 lockdown period. The subsequent years saw a few periods of cases surging, but real estate in Dubai boomed as many expatriate workers flocked to the emirate for a semblance of normal life.
Covid-19 cases have fallen steadily in recent months to an average of between 300 and 400 per day, according to NCEMA, which cites the UAE’s total case number since the pandemic began at more than a million, with 2,343 deaths.