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UAE cancels sporting events, advises against travel abroad over coronavirus fears

Dubai implements preventative measures until the end of the month to slow virus spread
Authorities at Dubai International Airport have begun conducting medical checks on travellers in a bid to slow the spread of coronavirus (AFP)

The United Arab Emirates is advising citizens and foreign residents to avoid travelling abroad because of concerns over the coronavirus outbreak, state news agency WAM said on Thursday.

Emirati authorities may order medical checks on returning travellers and ask them to stay in isolation at home, WAM cited a health ministry statement as saying.

"In case of travel, preventive measures will be taken upon arrival back [to the UAE], at the discretion of the specialised authorities, [such as] medical tests at the airport followed by self-isolation at home," the health ministry said.

Those who test positive for the virus will be quarantined at a health facility.

The Dubai Sports Council has also asked organisers to postpone all sporting events until the end of the month as a precautionary measure to ensure public health, according to a government circular seen by Reuters.

Dozens of major public events in the Gulf Arab states have already been cancelled or postponed, as the region tries to slow the spread of the virus. Last week, the final two stages of cycling's UAE tour were cancelled after two Italian riders tested positive for coronavirus.

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So far, the UAE has reported at least 27 COVID-19 cases. On Wednesday, Dubai’s health authority said a student had contracted the virus from a parent who had travelled overseas.

All schools and educational institutions in the country will be closed for four weeks on 8 March to help contain the spread of the coronavirus, and authorities say that students and education workers will have to spend 14 days at home after returning from overseas.

Home to both Emirates and Etihad airlines, the UAE is a major hub for international air travel. Last year, its Dubai airport handled 86.4 million passengers, roughly 237,000 a day, most of whom were transiting.

Medical tests are already being conducted on passengers arriving from several countries at Dubai airport, Emirate says.

“The Dubai Health Authority (DHA) is conducting a COVID-19 test on customers arriving from Beijing, Beirut, Rome, Milan, Venice, Bologna, Bangkok and Phuket if Dubai is their final destination,” Emirates said in a statement published on its website on Wednesday.

“Customers who are transiting through Dubai International airport will not be tested, but will have to go through temperature screening before boarding their connecting flight,” the statement added.

Passengers arriving and entering from Syria are also being tested, according to an internal Emirates staff email dated 29 February which mentions China, Italy and Lebanon, but not Thailand.

The test is a nasal swab and temperature check, it says.

The latest move may add further pressure on the economy in the Gulf state as the coronavirus outbreak weighs on consumer confidence and business productivity.

Flights from the UAE to Iran, Bahrain and most of mainland China have been suspended because of the outbreak.