Arab region on alert for coronavirus, first cases reported

Four cases of coronavirus infection were confirmed in the United Arab Emirates, the first in the region, most of the Arab world is on high alert.
Friday 31/01/2020
Travellers wear masks as they arrive at the 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. (Reuters)
Travellers wear masks as they arrive at the 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. (Reuters)

LONDON - With the World Health Organisation declaring the outbreak of coronavirus, which has spread from China to more than a dozen countries, a global emergency, most of the Arab world is on high alert with health officials acting to prevent the spread of the virus.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the outbreak in China a “public health emergency of international concern,” after the virus had sickened more than 10,000 people and killed at least 213.

Four cases of coronavirus infection were confirmed in the United Arab Emirates, the first in the region since the new strand of the virus was reported in December in Wuhan, China.

The cases in the United Arab Emirates were found in four members of a Chinese family who arrived from Wuhan on vacation, the WAM news agency reported. Symptoms began showing a week after their arrival, a local doctor told the Associated Press.

“Their condition is stable. They are awake. They are all receiving all the measures,” Dr Hussein al-Rand said. “I would say to the public: Please, don’t be panicked. The health condition within the United Arab Emirates is safe.”

Gulf countries have been on alert and have begun screening passengers at international airports. Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai airports implemented "thermal screening" for passengers arriving from China.

UAE officials are taking “all the necessary precautions in accordance with the scientific recommendations, conditions and standards approved by the WHO,” the UAE Health and Prevention Ministry said.

Saudi Minister of Health Dr Tawfiq Al-Rabiah, in a statement January 26, said no cases of the coronavirus had been detected in Saudi Arabia and that the Ministry of Health was carrying out precautionary measures, including screening passengers arriving from China.

The Bahraini Ministry of Health said the country was free of the SARS-like virus. It said preventive measures had been increased at entry points and health facilities to avert an outbreak of the disease.

Oman issued a travel warning through its Health Ministry advising against travel to China because of the coronavirus.

The Kuwaiti Ministry of Health affirmed that Kuwait was clear of any coronavirus cases “till this moment,” ministry spokesman Dr Abdullah al-Sanad said in a statement January 30. Kuwaiti Consul General in Shanghai Meshaal al-Shemali called on Kuwaiti nationals to abstain from travelling to Shanghai.

In Iraq, the official Iraqi news agency reported in a Health Ministry statement that all border crossings were being monitored and a ministry team was checking passengers aboard planes and other means of transportation.

The Egyptian government said it was coordinating with Chinese authorities to facilitate the return of Egyptian nationals who want to leave China over fear of virus contamination.

The Egyptian Health Ministry noted that there had been no reported cases of the coronavirus in Egypt. The country’s flagship airline said it would suspend all flights to and from China.

Tunisian President Kais Saied said officials were considering sending a military plane to repatriate Tunisian citizens.

Temperature sensors were installed at Tunis Carthage Airport to help identify travellers who might have contracted the virus. Health officials indicated that "travellers suspected of carrying the virus will be subjected to medical tests and examinations” and said other airports in the country would be fitted with similar facilities.

A controversy erupted when municipality staff of a town south of Tunis threatened to resign if suspicious cases were taken to quarantine in their community.

In Morocco and Algeria, authorities ordered governmental agencies to repatriate the two countries' nationals from Wuhan.

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