Coronavirus: Countries seal off borders to halt spread of Covid-19

The UAE was among several governments to impose major travel restrictions on Thursday

Governments imposed sweeping travel restrictions on Thursday in an attempt to limit any further spread of coronavirus.

The UAE, Australia and New Zealand closed borders to non-citizens or non-residents, while India halted all incoming international flights. The strategy is expected to continue for weeks. Airlines cut back on flights as global tourism slowed to a crawl.

In the Emirates, authorities closed the borders to non-Emiratis for two weeks and said expatriates with residency visas cannot return until the entry ban is lifted. That came after rolling out restrictions in recent days to limit visa on arrival for tourists and the issue of labour permits for new employees. 

In other developments:

UAE officials reported 27 new cases taking the total to 140 patients. Five people – three Emiratis, a Syrian and a Sri Lankan have recovered, meaning 31 have left hospital.

Coronavirus cases rose to more than 230,000 on Thursday with more than 9,300 dead. But more than 86,000 people have recovered from the virus.

Italy brought in its army as civilian authorities struggled to handle the growing number of dead. It recorded 475 deaths on Wednesday, to take the overall toll to nearly 3,000. 

But in a sign the virus can be held at bay, China reported no new cases of Covid-19 in Hubei for the first time since the outbreak began in December. Authorities said they are considering moving Wuhan out of lockdown if no new cases are reported after 14 days.

The UAE organised the airlift of 80 people from Iran – 74 South Koreans living there and six Iranian family members of theirs – in response to a request by the South Korean government.

They were flown from Tehran on Wednesday night to Dubai World Central airport, where they were transferred to an Asiana Airlines flight to Seoul.

In the Emirates yesterday, the decision was taken by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation to close borders to non-Emiratis. The two-week closure could be extended, state news agency Wam reported.

The ministry said UAE residents abroad should contact their local UAE embassy or consulate "for all necessary support and to streamline their return back to the UAE". It also established a round-the-clock helpline 0097124965228 for enquiries and assistance and to relay humanitarian and emergency cases to ensure their safe return to the UAE.

At Abu Dhabi International Airport, frontline healthcare workers work to ensure no airline passenger arriving at the airport has the virus.

Clad in protective gear and working around the clock, they use thermal scanners and nasal swabs check each passenger and allow the capital to keep open key routes for as long as possible.

The National visited the operation on Wednesday, before the border shutdown.

“So far we’ve tested over 15,000 people on arrival at Abu Dhabi Airport - and we haven’t had one positive return as yet,” Bryan Thompson, chief executive of Abu Dhabi Airports.

Speaking on Thursday after the stop on residents returning, Tony Douglas, group chief executive of Etihad Aviation Group, said: “These are unprecedented times and unprecedented decisions are being made by governments, authorities and companies, including Etihad, to contain the spread of the coronavirus and to help minimise its effects around the world, including here in the UAE."

UAE residents spoke about how the new travel restrictions, designed to slow the spread of Covid-19, had impacted their families and travel plans.

Mother-of-four Rebecca Fahmy lives in Abu Dhabi with her husband and two youngest children, with her two eldest children away studying in the UK.

One of them, her 18-year-old son, Amir, is now stuck in Britain as he does not hold a residency visa for the UAE. But her 20-year-old daughter, Makayla, is still a legal resident and has been allowed to fly back home.

"He’s staying in our house, in the family home. He’s surrounded by good neighbours, but he needs us," she said.

“When this two weeks is up, if it doesn’t get extended, my husband will try and go to be with him."

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