Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 27 May 2020

Coronavirus: British mum tells of hotel quarantine on return to UAE

The woman arrived to the UAE on Wednesday, after a brief trip to the UK, and was told she would have to remain in quarantine in a hotel

Leanne Al Mulla and her son Haytham have been placed in quarantine in a hotel on Yas Island. Leanne Al Mulla
Leanne Al Mulla and her son Haytham have been placed in quarantine in a hotel on Yas Island. Leanne Al Mulla

Leanne Al Mulla knows she is one of the lucky ones.

Having been caught outside the country when the borders closed, she was able to fly back to the Emirates on Wednesday because she is married to an Emirati and her two-year-old son is a UAE citizen.

Ms Al Mulla, 36, from England, travelled to the UK from Abu Dhabi on March 17 to see her grandmother, who had not been well, and to plan for her son’s naming ceremony in June.

But within 24 hours, everything changed.

If I knew then what I know now, of course I wouldn’t have travelled, but at the time, it hadn’t really sunk in

Leanne Al Mulla

Lockdowns in Europe had become widespread, and the UAE was bringing in more stringent measures to rein in the spread of coronavirus.

The naming party for her son, Haytham, along with numerous other events across the UK, were cancelled. And, because she had been travelling, she decided it was not safe to see her grandmother.

“If I knew then what I know now, of course I wouldn’t have travelled, but at the time, it hadn’t really sunk in. The flight was full on the way to the UK, so I think a lot of other people had been thinking if I am not ill I will be fine,” she said.

At first, she was unsure whether to stay, but the UAE called its citizens home, and she did not want to be apart from her husband for long.

“We didn’t have travel insurance either, so we decided it wasn’t worth the risk if my son fell sick in the UK. It was best to come back. And there is a lot more testing here. In the UK it’s difficult to get tested.

“My husband said [the ban on flights] initially it was two weeks, but none of us know how long it will all go on for. And he didn’t want Haytham to be stuck in another country.”

So she decided to return to the UAE. After initially being refused permission, as she did not have the required paperwork, immigration in the UAE allowed her to board the flight at London Heathrow on Wednesday. She assumed she would be self-isolating at home once she arrived on the other side, as others before her had. But things quickly changed.

“I signed a declaration to say I would isolate at home so I thought that was that. But we were just standing there not knowing what was going on. Eventually one lady said you won’t be going home.”

The woman told her they would be taken to a hotel on Yas Island instead, along with the rest of the plane full of passengers, to wait out the 14-day incubation period. A spokeswoman for the National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority confirmed some people arriving back in the country are being taken to hotels on Yas Island.

People who return to the UAE are put in mandatory quarantine for at least two weeks in one of the hotels across the country.

Ms Al Mulla was swabbed at the airport, along with the other passengers, and was told to expect to hear in 24 to 48 hours if she tests positive.

“They told me even if I test negative we’re still not allowed out. I have to stay for the 14 days.

“At the start when they didn’t really know what they were dealing with, but people apparently developed symptoms up to 21 days later, so they told us everyone here will be tested every two to three days. There was a team downstairs in hazmat suits and they are going to go around testing everyone who came before me.”

It is hard being in the room alone with no toys to entertain her son.

But she is grateful to be back and knows she will soon be reunited with her husband.

“It’s not been pleasant coming back, but if this is going to go on for a couple of months, it’s safer for us to be here.”

Updated: March 29, 2020 05:35 PM

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