UAE says ready for 'worst case' scenarios as coronavirus spreads in Middle East

By Alexander Cornwell
A traveller wears a mask at the Dubai International Airport, after the UAE's Ministry of Health and Community Prevention confirmed the country's first case of coronavirus, in Dubai,

By Alexander Cornwell

DUBAI (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates, a major air transit centre, is ready for "worst case scenarios" as the coronavirus spreads in the Middle East, a government official said on Wednesday.

Three Gulf Arab states recorded their first new coronavirus cases this week, all in people coming from Iran, the UAE's neighbour across the Gulf which on Wednesday reported a total of 19 virus-related deaths, the most outside China, and 139 cases.

Authorities in the UAE, which has reported 13 cases since Jan. 28, have enough facilities to quarantine patients and will be carrying out surveillance on people entering the country, said the official from the UAE National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority.

It was too early to ban public gatherings in the business, trade and tourism hub, added the official. Dubai is due to host the Expo 2020 world fair in October for six months.

"We are quite satisfied that we have taken all the necessary steps needed to preempt the spread of the virus at all levels, without pushing the country into a state of unwarranted panic," the UAE official said.

The disease, which originated in China late last year, has infected about 80,000 people and killed more than 2,700, the vast majority in China.

Egyptian investment bank EFG Hermes <HRHO.CA> said this week it had decided to cancel its annual One on One investment conference in Dubai, which was due to take place from March 2-5.

"The spread of the virus over the past three days to multiple countries from which we expect guests has underscored the importance of guaranteeing the health and safety of all our employees, clients and guests," it said in an email to clients.

Kuwait, which last week evacuated 700 people from Iran, reported another case on Wednesday, bringing the total there to 26.

Bahrain, which has suspended flights to Dubai, said 26 people had been diagnosed with the virus, some of whom had travelled through the UAE. Oman has recorded four cases.

Major Gulf bourses slid on Wednesday, mirroring declines in global stocks over the spread of the virus. Dubai's main share index <.DFMGI> dropped 2% to its lowest level since last June.

Budget airliner Air Arabia <AIRA.DU> extended losses from the previous session to close 2.1% lower, after the UAE on Tuesday suspended all flights to and from Iran.

Several Arab countries have suspended flights to Iran and other destinations and imposed shipping restrictions.

Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways has suspended flights to Hong Kong until March 28, the airline said on Wednesday, citing a drop in demand.

Kuwait has barred foreign ships, except those carrying oil, from departing to or arriving from several countries, according to a Feb. 25 notice seen by Reuters.


(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; additional reporting by Hadeel Al Sayegh and Saeed Azhar, Writing by Maher Chmaytelli and Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman, Andrew Heavens and Alexandra Hudson)