UAE announces visa suspension and flight restriction measures

No new visas will be issued from March 17. Flights to Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Turkey will be halted

Commuters, wearing protective face masks, walk after exiting a metro station in downtown Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Thursday, March 5, 2020. The Middle East’s travel and business hub has called on citizens and residents to avoid travel due to the coronavirus risk. Photographer: Christopher Pike/Bloomberg
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The UAE has announced it will “temporarily suspend” issuing most visas into the country from Tuesday, March 17.

Authorities said only those with diplomatic passports would be exempt from the move, which came as governments around the world stepped up efforts to contain the coronavirus.

In a statement on Saturday, the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship said it was responding to the World Health Organisation’s decision to designate the ongoing outbreak as a pandemic.

More than 145,000 cases of the virus have been recorded globally so far, with more than 5,000 deaths. More than 72,000 patients have recovered.

Also on Saturday, the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority announced it was halting all flights to and from Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Turkey from March 17 until further notice.

On Friday, the Emirates announced the suspension of flights to and from Italy, with the exception of flights from Rome.

Other countries have also imposed major travel restrictions in recent days, including the United States which introduced a ban on non-Americans who had spent time in the Schengen border-free area within 14 days of travelling to the US.

“The [visa suspension] comes as part of the precautionary measures taken by the UAE in response to the World Health Organisation’s declaration of Covid-19 as a pandemic, a development which reflects the high risks now associated with travel under the current circumstances,” a statement from the ICA said.

“The ICA affirms that the decision stems from the UAE’s deep sense of responsibility and diligent efforts in collaboration with other countries of the world to fight the coronavirus pandemic and survive this ongoing crisis.”

A statement from the GCAA added: “The decision followed our analysis and assessment of the latest global situation and the scale of the spread of the virus to most countries of the world including Italy.

“We are maintaining close coordination and co-operation with competent authorities inside and outside the country in regards to the evolving situation.”

Meanwhile on Saturday, Louvre Abu Dhabi and other popular attractions across the country, including cinemas in the capital, were closed as part of efforts to slow the spread of Covid-19.

The closures, most of which will last until the end of March, affect more than 12 major attractions across Abu Dhabi and Al Ain.

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In the city, Qasr Al Watan, Manarat Al Saadiyat, Qasr Al Hosn, and Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation all shut, in addition to all four theme parks on Yas Island: Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, Yas WaterWorld, Ferrari World Abu Dhabi and CLYMB Abu Dhabi.

Outside the capital, Al Ain Palace Museum, Al Ain Oasis and Qasr Al Muwaiji have also been closed.

In a tweet, Abu Dhabi Government Media Office said the sites would be closed “until March 31 to limit large gatherings and protect public health in response to Covid-19”.

In a statement, the Department of Culture and Tourism said the well-being of staff and visitors was “paramount”.

“We will update you once the cultural sites resume normal operations,” it said.