Coronavirus: Abu Dhabi 'had to ban travel' to ensure testing drive works, top official says

From Tuesday, residents cannot go to other parts of the country for one week

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Abu Dhabi had to impose a ban on travel on entering and leaving the emirate to reduce the spread of Covid-19 - and ensure its huge testing drive works, a top official said.

Sheikh Abdulla Al Hamed, chairman of Department of Health - Abu Dhabi, said the one week ban, starting from Tuesday, came as the emirate ramped up a campaign to test in highly-populated areas.

Residents of Abu Dhabi city, Al Ain and Al Dhafra can travel within their cities but not enter or leave them – and cannot go to other emirates.

The decision does not prevent people from leaving their homes, other than during the nightly disinfection period between 10pm and 6am.

We had to ban movement between cities and reduce contact as much as possible

Residents can still travel to work, go shopping, exercise and enjoy entertainment venues that are open.

"Mass testing is a key pillar of Abu Dhabi's strategy to contain the spread of Covid-19," said Sheikh Abdulla.

"With the expansion of the project to include high-density areas, and to ensure that the largest possible number of the emirate's population are reached as quickly as possible, we had to ban movement between cities and reduce contact as much as possible."

Sheikh Abdulla said restrictions have been eased within Abu Dhabi in recent days, including the opening of hotel beaches and greater capacity in malls.

He said public health remained top priority and that continued restrictions were to "reduce contact and maintain the health and safety of all community members".

Abu Dhabi bans movement to and from emirate

Abu Dhabi bans movement to and from emirate

On Monday night, officials were due to test hundreds of residents in Mussaffah's block 11.

Officials reminded residents they would not get into trouble for having expired visas.

The test involves a nasal swab and sometimes a throat swab, which detects whether someone has Covid-19.

Health officials are targeting people who may have the virus but are asymptomatic - that means they show no symptoms and do not feel ill, but could be spreading it to others unknowingly.

Jamal Al Kaabi, acting undersecretary at the Department of Health, said testing in high risk areas, social distancing and the wearing of face masks, which can physically prevent the virus from spreading from coughing, must remain in place.

“The purpose [of the travel ban] is primarily to continue testing and secondly to ensure that the virus is not transmitted between members of the public," he said on Abu Dhabi TV..

"This does not mean ignoring or easing safety precautions such as social distancing and wearing of face masks.”

The decision came as other emirates further eased restrictions. In Dubai, officials said masks could be taken off for certain activities, while Ras Al Khaimah opened two of its biggest shopping centres, Al Hamra Mall and Manar Mall.

The Abu Dhabi Emergency and Crisis Committee said the travel ban would remain in place for one week.

The committee said special permits would be issued to allow employees of vital sectors, people with chronic diseases visiting hospital and people delivering necessary goods, to move freely.

Abu Dhabi Government Media Office said the move would help “enhance the effectiveness of the National Screening Programme” – a drive to increase Covid-19 testing among Abu Dhabi residents and citizens.

“This step... is in line with a series of precautionary and preventive measures being taken to reduce contact, curb the spread of Covid-19 and protect the health and safety of all community members."

The crisis committee eased some restrictions on activities in the emirate, including raising capacity limits on public areas and reopening some tourist destinations.

Capacity limits at malls and the restaurants inside would increase from 30 per cent to 40 per cent.

Hotel beaches, museums and restaurants outside malls, such as in hotels, could also reopen as long as customers did not exceed 40 per cent of the venue's capacity. Public beaches remain closed.

Some outdoor sporting activities, including horse-riding, track cycling, cricket, golf, tennis and sailing will now be allowed, but only for people aged between 12 and 60.