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Dubai Rolls Back Relaxed Pre-Flight Testing Rules as COVID-19 Cases Continue to Surge

Dubai Rolls Back Relaxed Pre-Flight Testing Rules as COVID-19 Cases Continue to Surge

Dubai has reduced the time window in which travellers can take a pre-departure COVID-19 test as the emirate tries to battle a surge in new infections while avoiding a second total lockdown. In recent days, Dubai has cancelled live entertainment events and has told hospitals to cancel elective surgeries in order to prepare for a wave of hospitalisations.

On Wednesday, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) reported a record 3,939 new coronavirus cases. Infections rates have risen rapidly over the last few weeks, although the UAE does not publish more detailed data such as the number of patients in hospital or a breakdown of infections by region.

The surge in Coronavirus cases comes just weeks after the Christmas and New Year holidays when tourists from Europe arrived in Dubai in their thousands to escape lockdowns and rising infection rates in their own countries. Festivities were allowed to continue in Dubai, albeit with limited restrictions in place.

A highly transmissible new variant of the COVID-19 virus which was first discovered in the United Kingdom has since been detected in Dubai, believed to have been imported by a tourist or resident who may not have even needed a pre-departure test before flying to the emirate.

Dubai pioneered the use of pre-departure COVID-19 tests to reopen its tourism-focused economy in July 2020, initially with great success. The city managed to keep the virus at bay for months and soon decided to relax the 72-hour window in which tourists had to take their test to a full 96 hours (four days).

Tourists from the UK and Germany could opt to take a test on arrival rather than departure, while Emirati citizens remain exempted from taking a pre-departure test no matter where in the world they come from.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management in Dubai said the latest changes showed its “keenness to protect passengers and ease hassles for them without compromising on COVID-19 precautionary measures put in place to safeguard everyone’s health and wellbeing.”

The 96-hour time window has been cut back to 72-hours and travellers from all countries will now need to take a pre-departure test. Tourists from a slew of countries will also be required to take a second test on arrival.

There is, however, continuing concern over the accuracy of some COVID-19 tests taken in the UAE. Last week, Denmark banned all flights from the country, saying tests taken there were “not reliable” and “suspected irregularities” had been reported. The initial five-day ban has now been extended until at least February 2.

Minister of Transport Benny Engelbrecht said talks were continuing with the authorities in the UAE on a solution.

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