UAE free of coronavirus, says Minister of Health

The virus has killed 56 people and sickened hundreds of others

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The UAE is free of any cases of coronavirus, the country's health minister said on Sunday.

Abdul Rahman Al Owais, made the statement, published by state news agency Wam, during a meeting with the National Committee for International Health Regulations and the Control of Pandemics.

He stressed that no cases of coronavirus have been found in the UAE and that all necessary precautions have been taken to protect the country from the disease.

The health situation poses no grounds for concern

Several authorities convened on Sunday to discuss the steps that have been taken to ensure the UAE remains free of the virus and consequent respiratory illness.

The UAE has "raised the level of alertness in the country" to deal with any developments at the border crossings, reported Wam. The incidence of the disease in a few other countries, as per reports from the World Health Organisation, have also been taken into account, the committee said.

All health bodies in the country have been briefed on how to anticipate and preempt the disease as well as how to prevent it from spreading in case of any incidence.

Mr Al Owais called on the public to rely on updated information from the government and avoid "giving heed to rumours."

On Sunday, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi issued a statement after unfounded rumours about suspected cases appeared on social media.

“Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi can assure the community that, to date, no patients have been diagnosed with the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), the virus originating in Wuhan, China and currently causing global concern," the hospital said.

"There are numerous forms of coronaviruses, including more prevalent human coronaviruses, and the majority of these are not considered public health risks."

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, said the UAE is ready to offer all necessary support to China's efforts to contain the virus.

The update from the Ministry of Health and Prevention comes less than a week after the committee said the UAE was "completely free" of the virus that has now killed 56 people.

"The UAE has an effective integrated system and plans for emergency and crisis to address public health risks and the country is in constant touch with the WHO to find out the latest updates, recommendations and procedures taken in this matter," the Committee said at the time.

"The health situation poses no grounds for concern and the ministry is closely following up on the situation to ensure the health and safety of everyone.”

On Sunday, China announced 15 more deaths as a result of the new coronavirus, bringing the death toll to 56. The total number of confirmed cases was 1,975, according to authorities in China – although experts stress the actual number may be much higher.

One of the deaths occurred in Shanghai, a sprawling metropolis home to more than 24 million people, further heightening anxieties about the rapid proliferation of the disease, which has now spread to more than 10 countries.

Pandemics occur when an epidemic disease spreads to many countries, such as was the case with the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which killed around 50 million people worldwide - around 10 per cent to 20 per cent of those infected.

Cases of the new coronavirus have not yet reached epidemic, let alone pandemic, levels. And the World Health Organisation has yet to even declare it a public health emergency of international concern.

But some experts believe a future coronavirus, if not this one, could be the source of the next “big one”.

Last year a scientist at the John Hopkins Centre for Health Security ran a simulation to see what would happen if infections of a coronavirus reached pandemic levels. According to that model, 65 million people could die within 18 months.

“I have thought for a long time that the most likely virus that might cause a new pandemic would be a coronavirus,” said Eric Toner, the scientist who staged the simulation, was quoted as saying in Business Insider.

There are seven known coronaviruses, the majority of which result in symptoms no more severe than the common cold. Sars, which killed almost 800 people from 2002 to 2003, and Mers, which kills about 35 per cent of people it infects, are the most deadly.

It is not yet clear how severe the Wuhan coronavirus is. There could be many infected who develop such mild symptoms they do not know they even have it. It is currently believed to be less severe than Mers, with a fatality rate of around 3 per cent.