The UAE has flown hundreds of foreign citizens from Hubei province in China to Abu Dhabi in a humanitarian operation conducted in co-operation with the Chinese government.
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, announced the flight on Wednesday.
The 215 people – from countries that include Syria, Iraq, Mauritania, Sudan, Brazil, Egypt, Yemen and Jordan – were flown to the UAE capital in a plane equipped with medical facilities, reported state news agency Wam.
They were brought to the UAE at the request of their country's respective governments.
Earlier, a flight-tracking website showed an Etihad plane leaving Wuhan, the centre of the coronavirus outbreak, for Abu Dhabi.
An Etihad representative confirmed that the airline operated a flight on behalf of the UAE government.
"The flight, which arrived shortly after 9.30am, evacuated 215 students from 11 nations, and in some cases their family members, following the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus.
"All of the students, mostly of Arabic nationalities, tested clear of the virus before departure and a specialist medical team provided by UAE health authorities accompanied the group as a further precautionary measure.
"Additional medical screening was implemented by medical authorities on arrival in Abu Dhabi," the Etihad representative said.
The passengers were welcomed to the UAE with a personal message written by Sheikh Mohamed.
“We recognise that it is difficult to leave a place that was a safe home to you, particularly when you are leaving it because of an unexpected crisis to go to a new land where you don’t know anyone. For that reason we wanted to welcome you personally to the Emirates. We want you to rest assured that you are among friends and family and you are a dear and honoured guest. We will provide you with complete health care and everything necessary to continue the trip to your home country whenever it is safe for you," the message signed from Sheikh Mohamed read.
On landing in Abu Dhabi, the passengers were taken to Emirates Humanitarian City. The medical facility was built to accommodate people coming from coronavirus-hit areas abroad.
There, the students will undergo medical check-ups and be quarantined for 14 days, Wam reported.
"I share in the UAE's commitment to the greater good for humankind as we evacuate foreign nationals in Hubei. They will receive the best medical care before they return home," Sheikh Mohamed said on Twitter on Wednesday.
"We thank the Chinese government for its assistance and acknowledge the great work of our citizen volunteers."
The humanitarian operation was carried out under the directives of President Sheikh Khalifa.
Yemen's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammed Al Hadhrami, thanked the UAE for flying Yemeni students out of Wuhan.
"We offer our thanks to the UAE for the co-operation and help to evacuate our Yemeni students studying in the Chinese city of Wuhan ... and for arranging t receive them and place them in temporary quarantine in the UAE before returning them to their homeland."
The President of Mauritania, Mohamed El Ghazouani, also expressed his gratitude to the UAE.
"I am very grateful to President Sheikh Khalifa and Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi [and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces], for evacuating our four citizens from China. On this occasion, we are assured of the Mauritanian people's health and consider them in safe hands and in their second country," he said on Twitter.
On Wednesday, Sharif Badawi, ambassador of Egypt to the UAE, said the UAE’s "prompt response" to help fly Egyptian citizens from Wuhan was an indication of the "strong relations between our two countries and our continued co-operation and co-ordination."
Mohammed Al Kareb, ambassador of Sudan to the UAE, praised the Emirates for responding so quickly to the Sudanese government's request to help get their students out of China.
While Zaid Nouri, ambassador of Iraq to the UAE, said the humanitarian initiative showed the Emirates' giving spirit and solidarity with other countries, reported state news agency Wam.
Last month, local health authorities announced a medical city on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi would be used to treat coronavirus patients.
Senior health officials said the site would provide all the necessary equipment and medical expertise to treat patients over a 14-day quarantine period.
In a tweet from the government’s communication office, Abdulrahman Al Owais, the Minister of Health and Prevention, said there was no need to panic.
He said authorities had made all the necessary technical and logistical preparations, and would tackle suspected cases of the virus with "firm procedures".