DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Dubai has handed down its strictest lockdown measures yet as coronavirus cases in the United Arab Emirates tripled in just over a week.
Residents of Dubai, the commercial and tourism hub of the oil-rich Gulf monarchy, have already been in lockdown for two weeks, with all but essential businesses closed and no outdoor activities permitted, including exercise.
Since Sunday, leaving the house for trips deemed "essential" — which only include visits to the grocery store, pharmacy or doctor — now requires a permit issued online by the Dubai Police, with a new permit required for each trip. A mask and gloves are to be worn at all times when outside the house, on penalty of police action. The rules are in effect for two weeks, subject to renewal.
Permit applications are to be made online with the Dubai Police, at which point the applicant is supposed to receive a single-use text message login code. The application then requires you to enter your phone number, address, national ID number, reason for leaving the house, destination, date and time expected to leave and return, and license plate number if driving. Once approved, you have 24 hours to use the one-time permit.
Dubai embarked on a city-wide disinfection campaign last week, with a curfew imposed between 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m., during which time residents needed government-issued permits to leave their houses. Now the rule applies 24 hours a day, as the government tries to stem human movement to curb the spread of the virus in the emirate of 3.3 million. The movement permit requirement does not yet apply in Abu Dhabi or other emirates.
Police checks are routine in many areas and speed cameras have been used to flash any cars on major roads during the curfew times, with fines applied to those who did not pre-register for an essential errand. Individuals stopped by police outside without a permit risk being fined or even prosecuted in court, authorities said.
Like numerous countries around the world, the efforts are aimed at tackling the spread of the coronavirus, which has infected 2,076 people in the UAE and killed 11, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Worldwide, more than 1.3 million people have been sickened and more than 74,000 killed.
While controversial to some, medical experts endorse the strict measures as effective in slowing the disease's spread.
"The fact is, they work," Dr. Dale Fisher, a professor and infectious diseases expert at the National University of Singapore's Department of Medicine, told CNBC. "If you lock everyone in their household and no one is allowed to mix, then obviously the virus can't go from one person to another."
Strict lockdown rules aren't sustainable in the long term, Fisher acknowledged. But he emphasized that they're effective as long as health authorities and governments are implementing measures in the meantime to prevent infections from resurging when things open back up again. That means rigorous testing, isolation of cases, contact tracing and mitigation policies, he said.
"Extensive testing" of densely populated areas will begin "soon," the UAE's Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management confirmed over the weekend.
By cracking down on movement quickly, Dubai may have saved itself a lot of trouble, Fisher said.
"I do think it's better to do it earlier rather than later. Dubai sounds like it went all the way really strictly… Australia and others, for instance, had to let everyone suffer before they agreed to go through with it."
The permit system frustrated many residents, some of whom reported that their applications to leave home are still "pending" more than 24 hours after applying. But a representative of the Dubai Police told CNBC over the phone Monday that the delay in approving applications was intentional, as this would slow the number of people heading into stores for shopping trips at once.
Food and grocery delivery services remain in full service across Dubai, with many residents opting to simply order their groceries online or via phone.
As a Dubai resident, I applied for a permit to go to a nearby grocery store later this week, and my application was approved within 15 minutes.
Dubai residents have expressed concern about the challenge of finding masks and gloves, which are sold out in many of the emirate's stores and pharmacies.
UAE officials expressed awareness of the shortage of these supplies around the country, and recommended people make their own masks at home, much like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has already done.
Farida Al Hosani, the spokeswoman for the government's health sector, urged those who couldn't find masks to "use home-made masks made of cotton or mixed cotton, making sure to rewash them."
"When I wear a mask I'm protecting you and when you wear it, you're protecting me," Al Hosani said, according to UAE daily The National.