UAE to tackle localised outbreaks amid warnings of a 'second wave'

Crisis authority chief Obaid Al Shamsi said the public must play its part or face a return to lockdown measures

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A leading figure in the UAE's fight against Covid-19 said a surge in infection rates in recent days was expected and plans were in place to stem the spread of the virus.

Obaid Al Shamsi, director general of the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (Ncema), said lessons had been learnt from previous pandemics as decision-makers continued their efforts to protect the public.

Authorities would initially seek to contain the spread of the virus in localised hotspots, such as a building or a particular community, before considering wider restrictions, such as closing shops and malls and a return to the national disinfection programme.

"The spread, through a point such as an area or building, will be isolated and quarantined and the sterilisation will take place in that area," Mr Al Shamsi said in televised comments.

We expected it and we expect even more cases, and strategies have been put in place

He said if there were a significant outbreak there could be a return to the disinfection programme, which saw residents unable to leave their homes at night while streets were extensively cleaned.

At the end of March, the busy Dubai community of Al Ras, home to the Gold Souq, was sealed off for two weeks because of concerns over a potential rise in infection rates.

Mr Al Shamsi urged residents to play their part in stemming the spread of the virus or risk a second wave of rising infections.

"We need to be aware that the UAE strategy is a balance between the health sector and the economy," he said.

"People think that by opening the economy, the pandemic is over. It is not over. And if we neglect it, then we will face a second wave."

The number of Covid-19 cases across the Emirates rose from 210 last Sunday to 461 only four days later, prompting officials and medics to urge the public to act more responsibly.

"Yes, we expected it and we expect even more cases, and strategies have been put in place," Mr Al Shamsi said.

"We look at history like the Spanish flu. Opening and easing movement and opening the economy doesn’t mean being less cautious.

"We continue to monitor. We have tied previous history with the modern day. We studied herd immunity and see the best international practices and we see international figures.

"We are prepared for the worst and the unexpected."

He said human nature made it difficult for many people to abide by social-distancing measures and avoid large gatherings, particularly during festivals when families and friends traditionally come together.

"The last spread was during Eid," Mr Al Shamsi said.

"We warned to not visit and to use other means of contact, but our culture of visiting caused us not to adhere to it.

"We don’t say don’t visit your loved ones, but not during this situation."

Mr Al Shamsi, however, praised the overall response of the public during trying times and highlighted the achievements of the country during a public health crisis that has gripped the globe.

"We are all partners in protecting our community," he said. "Follow all of the procedures. We will not give up on protecting you."

Mr Al Shamsi said the UAE was an example to other nations on how to battle the pandemic.

"The UAE is an international model for its management of the pandemic," he said.

"We launched the Hope Probe during this pandemic. We opened Barakah. We signed a peace deal with Israel in spite of the pandemic.

"We showed through this pandemic national resolve. Our strategy of dealing with this crisis should be taught.

"Hotels have been used for quarantine and field hospitals have been set up.

"This is an international model that no one but the UAE has done. This is a pioneering system and an international model."