United Arab Emirates seeks to allay Danish concerns over pre-flight Covid-19 tests

DUBAI (AFP) – The United Arab Emirates said late Friday (Jan 22) it was in contact with Danish authorities to “clarify the details” of the concerns over coronavirus testing that prompted them to suspend flights. Danish Transport Minister Benny Engelbrecht announced earlier Friday that all commercial air traffic from the UAE would be suspended for five days over concerns that its pre-flight Covid-19 tests were not rigorous enough.

“Communication is currently underway with the Danish authorities to clarify the details and cases behind the decision in order to guarantee the safety and security of all travellers,” the UAE foreign ministry said.

All air passengers arriving in Denmark need to show a negative virus test from the previous 24 hours, but Engelbrecht said Danish authorities want to be sure there were no botched screenings or tests that had been bought in Dubai – one of the seven emirates that make up the UAE. He said the five-day suspension would give officials time “to ensure that the required negative test is a true screening that has been carried out correctly”. The UAE foreign ministry insisted that all accredited testing centres were “regularly subject to strict quality cheques”.

“Severe penalties are imposed for non-compliance with international standards to ensure the highest level of quality in testing,” it said. While other tourist destinations are applying tight restrictions to control the pandemic, Dubai has kept its doors open since reopening them in July, despite a sharp spike in cases.

But the glitzy emirate clamped down on its entertainment scene this week. It also suspended non-essential surgery in hospitals after a surge in Covid-19 infections since the New Year. It said that more than 200 cases of non-compliance with coronavirus guidelines had been recorded and around 20 establishments closed in the past three weeks, adding: “All entertainment permits issued will be on hold effective immediately.”

Authorities in Dubai issued more stringent health guidelines on Friday after the UAE registered a daily record of 3,552 cases, a new high for the 11th consecutive day. Restaurants and cafes have been instructed to increase the spacing between tables from two metres to three, and the number of people allowed at each table has been reduced from 10 to seven for restaurants and four in cafes.

Authorities have also limited the number of people allowed to attend social gatherings, including weddings, from 200 to “first-degree relatives totalling a maximum of 10 people”. While mask-wearing and social distancing have been in force, restaurants, hotels and mega-malls have remained open in Dubai – whose economy heavily relies on tourism.

According to Emirati health officials, the UAE has already inoculated more than two million of its approximately 10 million population. It has recorded more than 270,000 Covid-19 cases, 776 of them fatal.

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