Qatar Relaxes COVID Rules in Time for World Cup—but Will Fans Come?

While the estimated 1.2 million attendees heading to the 2022 World Cup will be the tournament’s lowest number of spectators in decades, it is expected to be largest mass gathering since the start of the pandemic.

Lusail Stadium in Doha, Qatar

The 80,000-seat Lusail Stadium, where the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 final will be staged, is expected to be at full capacity.

Photo by Shutterstock

Only weeks before more than 1 million soccer fans are expected to descend on Qatar for the month-long World Cup tournament, the host nation has announced that it has dropped most of its COVID-19 restrictions.

Qatar’s Health Ministry announced that effective November 1, COVID-19 PCR or rapid-antigen test results are not required for those flying into the country, regardless of vaccination status. The ministry also dropped the requirement to register with the country’s Ehteraz contract-tracing app (except those who are going to enter healthcare facilities while in Qatar). Travelers who do test positive while in Qatar will be required to self-isolate for seven days.

Public health experts have said the World Cup, which will take place from November 20 to December 18, will be the biggest mass gathering of spectators since the start of the pandemic. Qatar is expected to see 1.2 million foreign visitors during the course of the tournament—less than half of the 3.03 million spectators who attended the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Observers note that the lower attendance is due in part to the much smaller size of the country. And considering the change to the coronavirus policies came less than a month before the first match, it’s possible the more stringent rules had deterred potential attendees.

It’s expected that roughly a half million nonresidents will descend on the tiny Gulf Arab state, which is slightly smaller than Connecticut, during the height of the games. During the World Cup, 32 international soccer teams will play 64 games in eight stadiums in and around Doha.

Even with fewer attendees than previous World Cup tournaments, there will be some strains on the Qatar’s tourism infrastructure. With limited places to stay in the host nation—the total number of hotel rooms in Qatar is roughly only 29,000—three mega cruise ships will be parked in the harbor to offer up additional accommodation, including the MSC World Europa, which is having its naming ceremony in Doha on November 13 and will take her maiden voyage after the completion of the games. Other attendees will commute in from neighboring states, like Dubai. FlyDubai, a low-cost carrier, plans to have as many as 30 flights each way from Dubai to Qatar during the World Cup (it’s a 45-minute flight).

The 2022 World Cup stadiums will be able to host at full-capacity with no COVID restrictions regarding social distancing or capacity limits—about 3 million tickets were put on sale for the entirety of the tournament. Just 16 months ago, the European Championship soccer tournament was played across the continent, with some stadiums only 25 percent full because of local COVID-19 rules.

Fans coming to Qatar have been advised, including on the health ministry website, to get travel insurance and up-to-date vaccinations for COVID-19 and influenza.

The Associated Press contributed to this reporting.

Bailey Berg is a freelance travel writer and editor, who covers breaking news, trends, tips, transportation, sustainability, the outdoors, and more. She was formerly the associate travel news editor at AFAR. Her work can also be found in the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, the Points Guy, Atlas Obscura, Vice, Thrillist, Men’s Journal, Architectural Digest, Forbes, Lonely Planet, and beyond.
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