The UAE has announced that all non-Emiratis will be suspended from entering the country from Thursday as part of measures to tackle the spread of coronavirus.
From midday, only Emiratis returning to the UAE will be allowed in while other residents will not be permitted to re-enter the country for two weeks.
The decision by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation was announced by the state news agency Wam and could be extended.
Earlier on Thursday, issuing of all new work permits and visas on arrival was also suspended.
The ministry said residents in their home countries should contact their local UAE embassy or consulate "for all necessary support and to streamline their return".
Those out of the country on business should contact their employers and the local UAE embassy.
The ministry has established a round-the-clock helpline to help with procedures.
Holders of valid residence permits and their family members can call the helpline on 0097124965228 for inquiries and assistance for humanitarian and emergency cases to ensure their safe return to the UAE, the ministry said.
Officials also said the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship would be on hand to support residents abroad and could be contacted on the following numbers:
- Mobile: 0501066099
- Landline: 02 3128867 - 02 3128865
- Fax: 025543883
The new travel suspension effectively closes UAE borders for all non-Emiratis.
Other countries around the world are also introducing similar measures, including Australia and New Zealand, who both announced a ban on all non-residents and non-citizens coming in.
“The [UAE] development comes as a precautionary measure which is subject to renewals depending on the health status measures taken due to the novel coronavirus outbreak,” a statement on Wam said.
On Thursday, UAE residents spoke about how the new travel restrictions, designed to slow the spread of Covid-19, had affected their families and travel plans.
Mother of four Rebecca Fahmy lives in Abu Dhabi with her husband and two youngest children. Her two eldest children are studying in the UK.
Ms Fahmy's son, Amir, 18, is stuck in Britain because he does not hold a residency visa for the UAE.
But her daughter Makayla, 20, is a legal resident in the UAE and has been allowed to fly back home.
“I don’t want Amir to feel like he’s been abandoned,” Ms Fahmy said. “Hopefully there’s enough food for him. Makayla went to two supermarkets in the UK and there was barely anything on the shelves.
"He’s staying in our house, in the family home. He’s surrounded by good neighbours but he needs us. It’s very distressing.”
Ms Fahmy said she was going to fly back to be with her son on Friday but the flight has now been cancelled by British Airways.
She was told she could rebook, but she then decided not to go because she did not know when she would be able to return to the UAE to look after her youngest children, who are 6 and 12.
“When this two weeks is up, if it doesn’t get extended, my husband will try and go to be with him,” Ms Fahmy said.
Makayla flew back to the UAE in the early hours of Thursday, hours before the ban came into effect.
But one of her friends, whose family also lives in the UAE, was refused permission to board as she did not hold a residency visa.
“She was crying. It was very emotional,” Ms Fahmy said.
Meanwhile, a Filipina student, 20, told how she was due to fly back to Abu Dhabi, where she is a resident, on Wednesday to be with her family.
“The Philippine Airlines flight I was supposed to be on was cleared and passengers were checking in when I was told I would not be allowed to fly,” Joy said.
“I tried to talk to the airline but they said the authorities in Dubai had just sent them a notice saying cases like mine would not be allowed entry into the country.
“I decided not to push the issue as there was not much I could do. I will have to just wait for the pandemic to disappear. A lot of flights are now suspended."
All travellers who have entered the UAE in recent days must undergo 14 days of mandatory self-quarantine or risk legal action, said the country's Attorney General, Dr Hamad Al Shamsi.
Residents reported long lines to be swabbed when entering the country at Abu Dhabi International Airport on Thursday morning.
Dr Al Shamsi said ignoring precautionary measures, including quarantine, was a punishable crime.