In Dubai's COVID vaccine scramble, Sikhs serve doses to all

The coronavirus pandemic is surging to new heights in the United Arab Emirates and residents are scrambling to get vaccines

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- In normal times, crowds of young Southeast Asian residents would gather outside the Sikh temple in Dubai to pray, or wait for a hot meal.

A core tenet of the world’s fifth-largest organized religion with over 50,000 adherents in the United Arab Emirates is the act of providing free, home-cooked vegetarian food to anyone in need, Sikh or otherwise. It's a deeply spiritual practice that can also be a lifeline in Dubai, where millions of low-paid workers from Asia, Africa and elsewhere power the service-heavy economy.

“We found a lot of people who wanted to take this vaccine and they’re having difficulty,” Surender Singh Kandhari, the temple’s chairman, said.

Kandhari said many front-line medical workers who failed to get vaccinated elsewhere due to shortages and new age restrictions were lining up for shots Monday in the temple’s parking garage. “This is the only way we can serve the community,” he said.

Dubai, which swung open its doors to travelers fleeing tough lockdowns back home, is banking on widespread COVID-19 immunity to salvage its stagnating economy. The worsening outbreak has infected more than 329,000 people and killed 930.

But like elsewhere in the world, logistical problems caught up with the nation’s campaign. Amid a shortage of the Pfizer's vaccine and skyrocketing virus cases, the government announced Sunday that it would temporarily limit vaccinations to residents and citizens over the age of 60 or those with chronic health conditions. Scores of expats across the country learned that their appointments had been abruptly canceled.

On Monday, there was a palpable sense of relief as men and women streamed out of the golden temple into the bright winter sun.

“It's much better to think positive and get the vaccine, whichever one you can get," said Suleman Yakoob Gangad, a 51-year-old driver in Dubai, recalling the fear he felt when his roommate tested positive in his dormitory-style housing where four workers live packed to a room. “We need to think like that to keep ourselves as well as others safe.”