Coronavirus: UAE suspends visas-on-arrival to stop spread of Covid-19

Citizens of more than 70 countries travelling without a visa will temporarily be unable to enter the UAE

epa08299179 An Emirates Airbus A380 plane lands at Frankfurt Airport, Germany, 16 March 2020. Due to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus outbreak, a large number of flights have been cancelled. Germany has so far reported over 6,700 confirmed Covid-19 cases.  EPA/THORSTEN WAGNER
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The UAE will no longer issue visas-on-arrival for travellers starting Thursday.

The suspension, part of measures introduced by the government to control the spread of the coronavirus, will affect at least 72 nationalities and will last from 1am on Thursday "until further notice".

UAE residents and diplomats will not affected by the measure.

The Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship said the decision was made as part of precautionary measures against the Covid-19 pandemic.

It said visas-on-arrival would resume for eligible citizens once a medical clearance process was made mandatory at the departure country.

The UAE had suspended all entry visas, which required prior application, from March 17. The only exceptions were diplomatic passport holders, those already traveling on visas and those eligible for visas-on-arrival. Wednesday's announcement extends the suspension to visas-on-arrival.

The decision makes the UAE the latest country across the globe to extend restrictions on its borders in the battle against the spread of the virus.

Regionally, some countries have suspended all passenger flights including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, while internationally, El Salvador, Croatia, India, Israel, Poland, Denmark, Norway, Ukraine, and Slovakia have banned all foreign nationals from entering the country, save for a few exceptions. On Tuesday, the European Union announced it would also ban travellers from entering outside the area for 30 days.

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The UAE is a major travel hub, which is home to two major airlines - Etihad Airways and Emirates Airline. In February, it was announced Dubai was the world's busiest hub for international passengers for the sixth consecutive year running, with annual traffic of around 89 million.

However, both Emirates, which is based at Dubai International Airport, and Etihad, which is based at Abu Dhabi International Airport, have both slashed their schedules in recent days due to increasing travel restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the virus.

Etihad Airways announced a temporary suspension of all flights to and from a string of destinations, including Milan and Rome in Italy, from Saturday, March 14 onwards.

Other routes suspended by the airline to and from the UAE include Shanghai, Chengdu and Hong Kong in China; Nagoya in Japan via Beijing; Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam, Medina in Saudi Arabia; Istanbul; Beirut; Casablanca and Rabat in Morocco; Madrid and Barcelona in Spain; and Amman in Jordan.

And since Tuesday, Emirates Airline suspended flights to 30 global destinations, including Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Cyprus, Malta (via Larnaca) and Portugal.

The closure of the UAE's borders is the latest in a raft of measures the country has taken to stem the spread of the virus.

The country has also closed schools, cancelled events, shut tourist sites, cinemas and gyms, and issued rules to restaurants, including spacing tables at least two metres apart.

There are now 113 known infections across the UAE, after 15 new cases were announced on Wednesday in people who had come into contact with others who tested positive for the virus. In total, 26 people have fully recovered.

The numbers have been climbing, but at a much slower pace than elsewhere. In Europe, for example, countries have been reporting hundreds of new cases each day.

This week, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed said the Emirates was “faring well” thanks to early efforts to contain infection rates.

In a statement on Wam, the government news agency, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces argued that the difference between nations who adopted early measures to contain the virus and those which did not were clear to see.

“In the UAE, we have adopted rational and early advanced precautionary measures before other countries around us to stand up to the challenge," he said.

"Therefore, the infection tally in the UAE is less thanks to our early response to contain the virus at its onset.

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He reassured the UAE  the country has enough supplies of food and medicine to address the challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic in a bid to prevent scenes of panic buying, which have been seen across the world.

On Tuesday, the UAE called on its citizens living or working abroad to return home to the country amid the increasing spread of Covid-19.

Government officials said in light of mounting travel restrictions posed by the pandemic, Emiratis should attempt to head back home.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation also urged any Emirati who found themselves unwell while abroad to contact the relevant UAE embassy to arrange for their safe return.