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Christmas is Closed

Borders are closed and flights are canceled. The Middle East is close to lockdown mode as the world moves into a saddened and subdued Christmas and New Year.

The Grinch, AKA the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, is very much stealing Christmas around the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia, Oman, Israel and Kuwait have just closed their borders in reaction to the new and more contagious variant strain of the novel coronavirus that has spread quickly in the UK and South Africa and is now rolling its way through humanity. The United Arab Emirates, however, continues to welcome travelers.

Jordan is also closed to tourism, though it closed its borders this past spring, only opening them sporadically and for those with special exemptions.

“This is a very subdued Christmas, the churches are not very full, there is no pageantry, no procession,” commented Simon Joseph, a travel agent at Guiding Start Ltd, a travel group with offices in Jerusalem and Amman. He has not been able to visit his office in Amman since March.

“Even the Latin Patriarch, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Jerusalem, had the coronavirus last month and was in isolation,” Joseph told The Media Line.

Travel to Egypt, which opened its borders in July, is happening.

Said Joseph, “I understand that very, very few are coming to Egypt. Those that are, are mostly from Russia or the Far East.”

He did, though, share one ray of light, regarding vaccinations in the Middle East.

“The Chinese vaccine is in the Arab world. So yes, they are ahead of the West on this. The Arab world might open soon.”

In Dubai, the situation is difficult but manageable, if you test well.

Asim Rehman, owner of Saifco Travel and Tourism, an Emirati destination management company, told The Media Line that entry required showing negative test results for the coronavirus.

“I flew back from Pakistan yesterday. I was required to have a PCR coronavirus test 96 hours before I got on the plane to Dubai and it had to be negative,” he said, referring to a polymerase chain reaction test that detects the virus’ genetic information in people who are actively infected. “When I landed here, I took another PCR coronavirus test at the airport. I received the results from this test within 24 hours.”

Back in the office, Rehman spoke of a woman who arrived two days ago from the UK. “She quarantined until her PCR test came back negative,” he said.

In Israel, there are no more international flights flying non-Israelis. An exemption exists for diplomats but not for journalists.

“Nothing is happening this Christmas, no non-Israeli is allowed in and now we are going into a third national lockdown,” said Tova Wald, owner of Tova Wald Boutique Travel and Events.

“A few weeks ago, we thought we could have people come to Israel. There was a window of opportunity and we even looked at placing them in boutique hotels or B&Bs [bed & breakfast inns] near Jerusalem. We had people from Frankfurt and Berlin, but within days, they canceled,” Wald told The Media Line.

Yet, even with the coronavirus plunging through the world, NORAD, the US Air Force’s North American Aerospace Defense Command, is tracking the progress of Santa’s flight across the globe.

Some things, it seems, cannot be stopped.

Here are the latest COVID-19 numbers for the Middle East and North Africa as of 2 pm Greenwich Mean Time (UTC±0) on Thursday.

CountryConfirmed casesDeathsRecoveredActive Cases
Palestinian Territories129,0801243105,23322,604
Saudi Arabia361,7256,159352,6082,958
United Arab Emirates198,435647174,47923,309