While most of the world went into lockdown in the spring of 2020, Dubai and Antwerp reopened for business in the summer. Both centers held viewings for goods as clients were unable to travel to remote locations such as - in the case of De Beers clients - Botswana. In 2020, Antwerp hosted nearly 100 rough tenders and the Dubai Diamond Exchange (DDE) 19 rough and polished tenders.
Rapaport reported that this, combined with the short flight distance from India, made Dubai a popular location for rough diamond sales. The city's openness for both business and pleasure has come at a price. Although a Covid-19 test is mandatory upon arrival in the Emirate, infections skyrocketed in January as tourists flocked in for New Years’ celebrations.
In January, Dubai to London was reportedly the world’s busiest flight route, when at the same time a new coronavirus variant, first detected in the UK, was spreading around the world. According to data from Worldometer, daily virus cases in the UAE rose from around 1,200 in late December to nearly 3,700 a month later. “The New Year shenanigans in Dubai were an obvious super-spreader event,” the UK’s Financial Times cited. “After that, cases have gone up quickly, and we have the new variant too.”
Although a strict lockdown or shutting of borders is unlikely, some are concerned that countries like India will follow the UK's example, and start banning flights from the UAE. Tender organizers have said that Around 90% of rough buyers in Dubai are from India. “Dubai tendering relies on Surat travel. If that stops, then it will mean very few attendees,” said Antony Dear, head of sales at Antwerp-based Grib Diamonds.
Should the situation worsen, larger companies are considering remote alternatives. Trans Atlantic Gem Sales (TAGS) is considering using Sarine Technology’s Galaxy reports to allow buyers to inspect single stones without seeing them in-person and aims to make its assortments more consistent. This would help customers buy parcels from afar, but this project could take several months, Mike Aggett, CEO at TAGS explained.