Denmark has become the latest country in Europe to impose a temporary ban on incoming flights from the United Arab Emirates – leaving many influencers stranded and complaining they can’t get home.
Influencers have flocked to Dubai in recent weeks, as a form of luxury escapism, because of relaxed restrictions compared to Europe, with restaurants, beaches, and hotels open, and many attractions to choose from for those looking for a good time.
With European countries banning leisure travel to stop the spread of the coronavirus, many have questioned claims by influencers that their travel is for work-related purposes.
The Danish foreign ministry says it has already denied two-dozen requests from Danes in Dubai asking for help to return because travellers could still plan their return through alternate routes.
The restrictions came just days after Denmark recorded its first case of the South African COVID-19 variant, found in a person who had recently returned home after travelling in Dubai. Travellers from Dubai to Denmark are now forced to transit in countries that allow travel from the Emirates and offer reliable testing.
Though the move has been interpreted by many as a jab at influencers, and to deter others from heading to Dubai in the future, the government has denied the measures were a direct response to the debate. Instead, they cited concerns with testing practices in the UAE.
“I have received several inquiries that confirm to me that it was the right decision to temporarily restrict flights from Dubai,” the minister of transportation, Benny Engelbrecht, said in a statement, adding that the UAE was in close contact with the Danish authorities to find a solution.
“Until there is a final clarification of the process, we’re wearing both belts and braces to stop more infected people from coming into Denmark, in a time where we as a society are making a huge effort to keep infection rates down,” he added.
Among those stranded is former professional football player Nicklas Bendtner, who travelled to Dubai weeks ago on what he, like many others, would later describe as a “work-related trip.” He excused himself by claiming he did not know about the new COVID-19 variants when he left for Dubai in early January.
In an Instagram story that quickly went viral, the reality TV star said he was “doing everything we can to get home, and we’ve tried to find a responsible solution for a while now.”
One image that has been floated on Danish social media, showing a group of ten men, among them several celebrities including Bendtner, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder and mask-less at a restaurant table, has sparked outrage among everyday Danes.
But not everyone is as apologetic as the former Arsenal striker. Actress and Instagram user Alva Madsen, currently in Dubai from where she posts daily, has called critics “envious.” She told VICE World News that she did not buy the Danish government’s explanation as to why it issued the ban, but argued they were doing it to score cheap political points with angry voters.
“I had seen it coming, but that doesn’t mean I find it less stupid,” Madsen said. “It’s clear to me that it’s a political decision, and that it’s about making a show of power. It is not about looking after everyone’s health, because it just means that, when I go home, I will travel to another country, and get on another plane with more people. It just means I’m at a higher risk of being infected and infecting others.”
“We can always come home, they’re just making it more inconvenient, and with a bigger risk of infection.”
In fact, she said, she felt safer in Dubai, where official infection rates are lower and, in her view, local law enforcement are better at enforcing restrictions. Madsen also said the Danish government’s accusations of testing malpractice were nonsense, and that she felt very trusting of the UAE’ health authorities. For this reason, she could not sympathise with people’s concerns with influencers bringing home new variants of the coronavirus.
There is a lot of anger in Denmark towards these travelling influencers. Abusive comments on Madsen’s social media accounts have called her a “selfish, fat whore” she said. While she understood why some people felt offended, she attributed it to “ignorance” and “the Law of Jante” — a Scandinavian cultural tradition that dictates that no one should feel “special” or “better than others.”
“It’s this way of thinking that there can’t be anyone who’s at home, where everything is grey and closed, while there are other people who go here instead — who just want to eat at restaurants, with the sun out and beaches all over. I’m not hurting anyone. If I did, I wouldn’t have travelled,” Madsen said. “The media have stirred up outrage, and people are like ‘oh my god, how could they?’ — but if you look into things ... well. I’ve been very surprised by the ignorance of people, and how they can behave.”
Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, in a televised debate last week, joked about the trend: “I should probably impose some restrictions on myself before I speak out about this.”
“There’s a reason the world has gone into the reds, and that we advise people not to travel out of the country. There’s a reason that we, to everyone, including Danish businesses, which we live by in this country, really request that we don’t travel,” she continued.
And more average Danes, too, are having none of it. Regular citizens and experts alike have called the trend “selfish”, “amoral” and “poor judgment”. Many, following the influencers while stuck at home, consider it a show of extreme privilege that they are able to travel with seemingly no concern about the consequences for public health that could follow.
Pia Friis Mikkelsen, a social worker and vocal critic of the influencers on social media, found it “wrong” that the influencers could “just travel” while others were confined to the four walls of their homes, and were forced “to think about everyone else than ourselves.”
“I don’t think it’s okay,” she told VICE World News. “Just because they think it’s hard to live in this, and just because they’re these famous people, then they do it because they ‘just had to get away.’ I can’t just do that — I’ll get fired if I do. Us normal people, we have to think of everyone else. I’m tired of it.”
Mikkelsen worried that the influencers may cause an outbreak of the South African variant in Denmark, leading to further extensions of the lockdown and longer prospects of a return to normal. “We can’t be equal, all of us, but we have to stick together about this for now, or we’ll never get rid of it. Other people also need to get their lives back, not just them.”
She was just happy that she lived in the countryside, Mikkelsen concluded, where she was at no risk of running into any influencers.