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Emirates tells staff to get vaccinated or pay for regular COVID-19 tests

DUBAI (Reuters) - Dubai’s Emirates has told employees to take a free coronavirus vaccine or pay for tests to prove they are not infected with the deadly disease, cautioning that an unvaccinated workforce could create operational issues.

FILE PHOTO: Emirates airliners are seen on the tarmac in a general view of Dubai International Airport in Dubai, United Arab Emirates January 13, 2021. REUTERS/Abdel Hadi Ramahi

In an internal email, seen by Reuters, the airline told cabin crew that starting March 15, those not vaccinated must pay for a test valid for seven days to the start of flight or standby duty.

“Certain countries may in the future differentiate entry criteria between those who have taken the vaccine and those who did not. Keeping this in mind, having a vaccinated workforce has become essential not just from a health and safety angle but from an operational one too,” the email says.

Those due for their second vaccine dose, have registered to take their initial dose, have a valid medical reason, or have been recently infected or are infected are exempt, it says.

The policy applies to all employees in the United Arab Emirates, an Emirates spokeswoman told Reuters, declining further comment.

State-owned Emirates has offered the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and another developed by China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) to its employees for free since January.

A COVID-19 test typically costs 150 dirhams ($40) at private and public clinics in Dubai and is relatively accessible.

The internal Emirates email said about 60% of cabin crews have been fully or partially vaccinated or are scheduled to be.

It is not clear how many cabin crew Emirates now employs after a wave of layoffs last year. Emirates Group, which includes the airline, employed 81,334 staff as of last September, some of whom work outside the UAE.

Other companies in the Gulf state have urged their staff to get inoculated, and government offices require unvaccinated employees to pay for regular COVID-19 tests unless they have a valid medical reason to not be vaccinated.

The UAE, which has registered 417,909 total infections since the start of the pandemic, has the world’s second highest level of vaccinations to population.

The Pfizer, Sinopharm and AstraZeneca vaccines are available for free to the public in Dubai, with priority given to whose who meet certain criteria, such as those older than 40.

Reporting by Alexander Cornwell. Editing by Gerry Doyle

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