ABU DHABI // The UAE is prepared to track and control infectious outbreaks, experts say, after a tourist was found to have the novel coronavirus following a trip to Dubai.
The Frenchman, 65, is in hospital in northern France. On Wednesday he was confirmed as having the potentially fatal respiratory virus related to Sars, a few days after returning from a week in Dubai.
It is the second infection linked to the UAE and brings the total to 31, leading to 18 deaths. But doctors say the situation is under control.
"Ever since we first got the reports of the first few cases in Saudi, we have worked in close collaboration with Health Authority Abu Dhabi and Seha," said Dr Asim Malik, a consultant and head of infectious disease at Mafraq Hospital.
"It's not just Mafraq Hospital but all Seha healthcare facilities, namely Sheikh Khalifa Medical City and Tawam.
"We met and developed … guidelines and protocols that were put in place in preparation and anticipation of suspected or confirmed cases of coronavirus."
He said the guidelines helped frontline staff to identify and manage suspected cases, all of which were reported to Haad and to Seha, the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company.
“We are very vigilant at every level,” said Dr Malik. “It’s all very, very well coordinated and there is frequent, periodic communication across the facilities as updates become available.”
The Ministry of Health last night said no cases of novel coronavirus had been reported in the UAE, the state news agency Wam reported.
There has been no noticeable change in the way authorities in the region are tracking the virus given the low volume of cases, said Dr Iyad Hijjawi, the director of the Middle East Centre for Infection Control and Disinfection Technology in Jordan.
“The number of infected persons is extremely minute compared to Sars or other viruses,” Dr Hijjawi said. “We’re still waiting to see how governments will deal with this situation. Should they focus more or leave it for a while to determine how serious and effective in terms of spreading this virus will be?”
But some local experts are worried. “I think everybody is in agreement, including the World Health Organisation [WHO], that it has to reach the critical stage,” said Dr Mansour Al Zarouni, a consultant molecular microbiologist in Dubai. “But confirming this virus in the lab is a very, very difficult thing in this region because it’s done at the molecular level and this is not readily available in your common lab.”
The French health minister, Marisol Touraine, said the patient in northern France was on a respirator in an intensive-care ward after being admitted with breathing problems and a fever on April 23.
“This is an imported case and a unique case,” Ms Touraine said, promising a thorough investigation into how he became infected.
In March, an Emirati man died from coronavirus after being moved to a hospital in Germany from Abu Dhabi.
The WHO has said it will send experts to the Saudi Arabian hospital from which the virus has spread. The 23 Saudis who have so far been infected with novel coronavirus have all been treated at Al Moosa Hospital in the town of Al Hufuf, which is only about 250 kilometres from the UAE border. Since September last year, seven of them have died in the eastern province Al Ahsa, of which Al Hufuf is a part.
Four people remain critically ill in intensive care in Al Ahsa, with two improving in hospital, the WHO said. Some of those affected in Saudi are members of the same family.
Dr Al Zarouni said that testing for the virus required a reference virology laboratory, something the UAE has yet to introduce.
“We must have a reference virology lab to do the culture,” he said. “Every GCC country has that and that’s the main reason the first case was confirmed from Qatar, because they did a culture. Without that nobody would have known, so credit to Qatar.
“For surveillance, every GCC country has a National Influenza Centre and this is highly recommended by WHO. Even countries such as Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan have one. Unfortunately, we are the ones who are behind.”
Coronavirus is from the same family that triggered the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) that swept the world in late 2003, killing 775 people.
* With additional reporting from Reuters