Qatar emerges as stopover destination for stranded expats

Qatar, which is just an hour-long flight away from the UAE, has recently reopened its borders to vaccinated tourists.

Many UAE residents stranded in their home countries are increasingly looking at Qatar and Ethiopia as quarantine stopover destinations to return to the UAE.

Till now, many stranded UAE residents in the Indian subcontinent and other red-list countries, have been flying to Balkan countries, southern Europe, and Russia to spend 14 days there, before hopping on to a flight to the UAE. Ethiopia, too, has been a favourite lately.

However, since July 12, after Qatar announced changes to its travel and quarantine policy, UAE residents have been increasingly looking at the Doha option.

Travel agents both in India and the UAE maintained that enquiries and bookings for package trips to Dubai via Qatar have surged in the past couple of weeks. “We’ve been flooded with enquiries from people who want to travel to the UAE via Qatar,” said Debashis Dey of Asra Travels, who runs a travel and tour company in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. “Indian nationals who have UAE residency get a 30-day pre-approved visa-on-arrival in Qatar. They have to show proof of a 14-day hotel booking and also need to undergo a PCR test on arrival,” he added.

Qatar, which is just an hour-long flight away from the UAE, has recently reopened its borders to vaccinated tourists.

The new rules stipulate that passengers coming from red-list countries such as India have to undergo a mandatory 10-day quarantine and a repeat PCR test on arrival in a hotel and on the ninth day at the traveller’s expense. He/she can come out of quarantine if the test result is negative. However, a UAE-bound traveller has to wait another four days and undergo another PCR test no less than 48 hours before boarding a flight.

Faisal Puthiyath, senior corporate consultant at musafir.com, said: “Qatar scores on two fronts. First, on shorter travel time from the Indian subcontinent, with the flight time between 3.5 hours to 4 hours from Delhi and Mumbai to Doha in Qatar. From Doha to the UAE is an hour-long flight. Second, some packages are cheaper compared to flying to the UAE via Europe.”

A.R., a Mumbai resident, who works for a bank in Dubai, was one such resident looking at Armenia to return to Dubai. He, however changed his mind because a 14-day package price for Armenia has gone up around Dh10,000, whereas Qatar is much cheaper at Dh2,600 upwards, including flights and accommodation.

A.R., who has been stranded in India since June, settled for the higher end of the spectrum at Dh6,500 because of superior accommodation facilities, and flew off to Doha on Saturday, July 23.

Similarly, R.J., who belongs to Delhi and works for a logistics company in Dubai, flew to Doha on Sunday, July 24, as he found it a “more attractive proposition” compared to off-centre routes such as Ethiopia and Uzbekistan.

“The biggest advantage is that the one-hour flying time between Dubai and Doha is a hop, skip and jump. Once I clear the 14-day quarantine hurdle, Dubai is just round the corner. The anxious wait is almost over, and I should be back in Dubai, no sooner than I thought,” he added.

The UAE had suspended incoming flights from select countries in April and May that had reported an uptick in Covid-19 infection rates, restricting movement of thousands of UAE residents and visitors who have since been exploring alternative routes to reach the UAE. Travelling to the UAE after spending 14 days in a third country has been one of the popular routes.

Things to note before booking a flight to Doha

Travellers to Qatar must mandatorily register on Qatar’s Ehteraz contact-tracing mobile application (app) and upload information, including passport, PCR test result, and hotel booking details at least 12 hours prior to departure of their flights

Visa on arrival is available for Indians for 30 days

The RT-PCR test should be taken 72 hours before arrival at Qatar airport

Qatar allows only vaccinated travellers to enter the country

The four vaccines approved by the Qatar government include Pfizer-BionTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. Sinopharm is under the conditionally-approved vaccine list

Travellers who have taken Sinopharma vaccine need to be quarantined for 10 days in Doha at select hotels which can be booked through Discover Qatar website. On the next day of arrival, travellers have to take an RT-PCR and antibody test. If antibodies are positive, traveller will be exempted from the quarantine hotel and can move to any other hotel. However, if antibodies are negative, travellers will have to continue their stay in a quarantine hotel for the next nine days.

reporters@khaleejtimes.com

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