March 5, 2020 / 6:36 AM / a month ago

Concerned by coronavirus outbreak, UAE advises against travel abroad

DUBAI (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates on Thursday urged its citizens and other residents to avoid traveling abroad because of concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.

FILE PHOTO: A traveller wears a mask at Dubai International Airport, after the UAE's Ministry of Health and Community Prevention confirmed the country's first case of coronavirus, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates January 29, 2020. REUTERS/Christopher Pike/

Authorities in the Gulf state, which has reported at least 27 coronavirus cases, may order medical checks on travelers when they return and ask them to stay in isolation at home for 14 days, state news agency WAM said, citing a health ministry statement.

The UAE is closing schools and educational institutions for four weeks on March 8, and students and education workers will have to spend a compulsory two weeks at home after returning from overseas.

In neighboring Saudi Arabia, authorities said on Thursday three new cases of the disease were recorded, increasing the total of infections to five.

The Saudi government said the three new individuals with coronavirus returned from Iran via Bahrain and Kuwait but did not disclose their travel details to authorities.

The kingdom banned traveling to Iran and said legal actions will be taken against any Saudi national traveling there. Riyadh also called on Tehran to disclose the identity of Saudi citizens who visited Iran since Feb. 1.

Iran, which has emerged as an epicenter for the disease in the Middle East, has reported 107 deaths from the virus on March 5, putting it on a par with Italy as the country with the highest death toll outside China.

The kingdom, which suspended umrah pilgrimage in the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina on Wednesday, added more restrictions on access to the two holy mosques, banning overnight visitors.

The administration of the two mosques also banned food and beverage in the holy sites and shut off zamzam water taps, pumped from a holy well.

NASAL SWAB TEST

The UAE is a major hub for international air travel and its Dubai airport is one of the world’s busiest, handling 86.4 million passengers last year, most of whom were in transit.

Dubai’s health authority said on Wednesday a student had contracted the virus from a parent who had traveled overseas.

Medical tests are already being conducted on passengers arriving from China, Italy, Lebanon, Thailand and Syria at Dubai airport, the airport said.

The test is a nasal swab and temperature check.

Slideshow (2 Images)

Transit passengers are not being tested but will have their temperature checked before boarding their connecting flight, Emirates said on its website.

The new travel advice could contribute to pressure on the economy in the Gulf state if passenger traffic falls.

Flights from the UAE to Iran, Bahrain and most of mainland China have been suspended because of the outbreak, which has also led to major events being canceled across the country.

Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli, Alexander Cornwell, Nafisa Eltahir, Maha El Dahan and Davide Barbuscia; Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi and Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Alexander Smith, Timothy Heritage and Lisa Shumaker

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