Published 2021-05-18 14:54:25
Vaccinations are at full throttle in most countries of the gulf region and the holy month of Ramadan was recently concluded by the celebration of Eid. Some countries saw a further lifting of restrictions while others saw a definite spike in the number of Covid-19 cases.
Normally both Ramadan and Eid are celebrated with family and friends but the pandemic has forced families to adjust old customs and traditions to suit the pandemic and local Covid restrictions.
Some of the changes that people had to adjust to
- Eid prayers are when people wake up early, get dressed in their finest new clothes and go to their local mosque for special prayers. This year people were advised to pray at home within their own designated “bubbles''. Some gulf countries allowed very limited numbers in certain mosques but they were heavily regulated and closed immediately if there was any contravention to the strict Covid rules and restrictions. Mosques remained closed in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
- Eid celebrations were also actively discouraged with hefty fines imposed if you were caught hosting an unlawful gathering to celebrate the end of the fasting month. In the past, families and friends would gather together in large groups to mark the Eid holiday.
- Traditionally, the children in a family are given money in the form of cash by the adults as a gift for the Eid celebrations. This was heavily discouraged to limit the transmission of the Covid virus through the handling of cash. But tech-savvy kids would've still had their “wallets” bursting at the seams with all the cashless apps available today to transact digitally.
- Charity, which forms one of the pillars of Islam, is practiced widely over this period. Customarily, people would hand out cash to needy families. The pandemic has changed this landscape to a virtual one. People were encouraged to contribute digitally to a list of approved charities.
- People also commonly treat themselves to new clothes, fresh grooming like haircuts and manicures over this time. Barbers and salons are open in most gulf countries but have to follow strict Covid guidelines. These are some of the guidelines but they may vary depending on the individual country: staff being fully vaccinated, clients have to be fully vaccinated, only some treatments are allowed, businesses have to facilitate physical distancing, masks have to be worn, etc. Places like hair salons and barbers are heavily regulated and any small contravention can lead to closure.
Bahrain & Saudi Arabia
Bahrain eagerly awaited the land border reopening on the 17th of May 2021 between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain since the closure which took place in March 2020. Saudis and Bahrainis, both citizens and residents, were allowed to cross the borders under certain strict conditions.
Indoor dining, gyms, salons, movies, etc. are all open for business provided patrons are fully vaccinated, masked and have the proof on their official Covid app. Customers must produce this green shield certificate prior to entry.
The financial ramifications were huge for both countries with Bahrain expecting a financial surge in many industries, particularly hospitality and retail.
New Conditions to travel to Bahrain:
- Passengers arriving from other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries to Bahrain required no mandatory Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test if they were fully vaccinated or fully recovered from infection.
The GCC is made up of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and the UAE.
Passengers have to produce a valid certificate showing their status which is on an official government app on their smartphone.
- All passengers have to be older than 18 (hence vaccinated) or younger than 6 years of age (kids between 6-18 are still not permitted entry into Bahrain from Saudi Arabia unless they get special permission).
- Passengers who were vaccinated in other countries are also exempt from PCR testing if their vaccine certificate is from countries that have a mutual recognition of vaccine certificate. However, they require official proof of the vaccination.
- Passengers who are vaccinated in the US, UK, EU and Canada with approved vaccines will be issued with vaccine certificates in Bahrain but they still have to do PCR testing, isolate until a negative result and do further tests on days five and ten after arriving.
- Passengers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal have to show a negative PCR test that is equipped with a QR code, and which is not older than 48 hours at the time of departure. They have to isolate until a negative test and do further testing on days five and ten of their stay.
- Bahrain residents and citizens require no PCR testing when arriving in Bahrain if they have a green shield on their official Covid-19 app.
New Saudi Arabia travel rules:
The Saudi border opening also coincided with that of Bahrain. Saudi removed all travel restrictions and opened their borders fully on the 17th of May 2021.
- Adult passengers must be fully vaccinated, or have a single dose at least 14 days before they travel, or be fully recovered from infection in the last six months.
- These restrictions are not applicable to travellers under 18.
- Official proof must be shown via the Saudi government app called Tawakkalna.
- Passengers coming into Saudi Arabia who have been vaccinated do not require isolation. Vaccines that are being recognised are: Pfizer-BioNtech, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
- GCC passengers can normally travel using their national ID card within the GCC but now they have to use their passports to travel.
- Passengers to Saudi Arabia must have adequate health cover, in case they contract Covid-19 while in the country.
- Oman imposed a curfew in the final days of Ramadan in an effort to curtail the transmission of Covid-19.
- Gatherings for Ramadan and Eid were also actively discouraged.
- Only essential retail outlets were open during the day such as grocery stores and pharmacies during Ramadan.
- The Eid holidays coincided with the lifting of the lockdown that was imposed for almost two months.
- Kuwait also suspended all passenger flights from the hard-hit Asian countries of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.
Despite all the various Covid restrictions and measures taken by GCC countries, the month of Ramadan and the Eid holidays brought a spike in new Covid cases across the region. Hopefully, the numbers of new infections will decrease steadily over the next few weeks, and by summer we can see life that somewhat resembles what we remember pre-Covid
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