After nearly two years of curfews, lockdowns, closures and shutdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic, things have (mostly) returned to normal in Kuwait. Shops and restaurants are operating as usual (with precautionary measures), staff at private firms and government institutions have fully returned to work and COVID cases have fallen drastically.
While everything seems to be hunky-dory, two aspects of daily life are still mired in uncertainties and restrictions – education and travel. Let’s start with education. Schools are still operating on a hybrid model, with students alternating between in-person and remote learning. Many students have decided to remain home and study online due to a variety of reasons, while others are going to school daily because those who chose to study on campus are few in number, thereby negating the need to have two batches of students.
Transport is another issue – initially school buses were not allowed to operate at all. They later got the green light to ferry students, but transport fees have gone up despite students going to school only half the time, due to few students taking the bus. Nevertheless, some schools require all students to come to school for exams, which creates another headache for working parents who haven’t opted for school transport. School fees have also returned to pre-COVID levels after a discount of 25 percent during the pandemic, even as home learning continues.
Now to travel. Despite direct arrivals being banned from a few African countries due to the spread of the Omicron variant, the airport has returned to full capacity and people can travel anywhere they want, COVID protocols permitting. But there’s this niggling issue of PCR tests, which are expensive and can ruin the best laid travel plans.
Imagine if a family travels abroad, and on their return one member of the family tests positive for COVID – surely the family cannot leave that person behind. The entire family may also have to quarantine – most likely at a hotel for which they will have to pay – due to being in close contact with the infected member. All tickets will have to be postponed or cancelled, leading to further financial losses, not to mention the stress and uncertainty of finding alternate tickets, with the risk of another member of the family testing positive ever-present.
Moreover, any delay in returning from vacation may imperil the jobs of the travelers back in Kuwait, resulting in still more misery. There is also the possibility the airport may be closed abruptly without any notice if coronavirus cases explode, leaving residents stranded across the world, similar to what happened last year and this year. All this makes even the thought of travel for most people a stressful one, and many will prefer to stay put in Kuwait and wait till the air clears – literally and figuratively.
On the bright side, there hasn’t been a rush to impose new travel curbs even after the discovery of the Omicron variant in Kuwait, while there are reports that schools will return to full capacity by February. Until then, one can only wait and watch.