Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 5 August 2020

CORONAVIRUS

Coronavirus: what it's like landing in Dubai from a high-risk country like Lebanon

A screening and swabbing process is in place if you're flying in from certain countries, including Thailand, Italy and Syria

I landed in Dubai International Airport's Terminal 1 at 2am this morning to discover extra health checks. Here's what to expect if you're also flying in to Dubai from one of the places deemed high risk...

As the coronavirus outbreak escalates, new screening measures have been put in place for passengers arriving from high-risk outbreak areas at airports in the UAE, and Lebanon, where I was travelling from, falls into that category.

From plane to airport exit, we were waylaid only about one hour, which... under the circumstances is both reassuring and impressively quick

According to Dubai Airports, all passengers arriving at Dubai International Airport and Dubai World Central from Beijing, Syria, Lebanon, Thailand and Italy will be subject to special testing (this list of countries, as with all things to do with coronavirus, is subject to change).

So if, like us, you choose to still follow through with a weekend break booked before the outbreak, there are now a few circumstantial extras added to your leaving and returning process at the airport.

Latest: Follow live developments as coronavirus spreads

Though the sight of medical professionals in hospital gowns can be alarming at first, the rigorous testing, both outbound and inbound, is reassuring. Here's exactly what you need to know...

Outbound flight from Dubai to Beirut: temperature scanners

As far as the check-in process went, everything was pretty run-of-the-mill: perhaps the only way to discern that anything was different from a normal Wednesday night was that Terminal 1 was very quiet, and the Marhaba Lounge had not just one, but many free seats. In fact, our group of five made up maybe half of its patrons.

At the air bridge as we walked onto the plane, a thermal scanner was set up, though no one was manning it.

Upon arrival in Lebanon at midnight, we disembarked the plane (which was full) without fanfare, but were met with staff in hospital gowns just before we went through immigration.

Passengers were then examined with handheld temperature scanners placed on our foreheads, before we were given coronavirus information pamphlets and moved through to baggage claim, where a couple of what looked like medical staff in overalls milled around and watched passengers filter through.

The process took barely ten minutes, and again, the airport in Beirut was very quiet.

Inbound flight from Beirut to Dubai: nasal swabs

Rafic Hariri International Airport was all but deserted when we arrived for check-in at 6pm on Saturday night. Upon entry into the airport, our passports were checked as per procedure, before we dropped off our checked luggage and wandered through the spacious and uncrowded halls to security and immigration.

The only aspect that was out of the ordinary was a few discerning questions about my visa stamp into China from early January, which was eventually given the okay after I explained it was six weeks ago.

The plane from Beirut to Dubai was busy, and just before you disembark your flight, flight attendants hand out a pretty comprehensive document to fill out that asks if you've been to China in the last two weeks, if you've been in contact with a respiratory illness or if you're suffering any symptoms. It also asks for an address and where you sat on the plane.

After disembarking, staff in hospital gowns and masks greeted us on the air bridge with a thermal scanner that instantly screens passengers as they walk past. There's no need to stop here, unless like a passenger in front of us, you decide to snap a picture of the set-up. Don't do that, pictures are discouraged, as they are at most border controls around the world.

From the air bridge, we were led into the departure gate area, which had been transformed into a makeshift medical testing area, where we were told to form an orderly line.

Several hospital gown-clad professionals were seated behind a desk, where they took passports, printed out a personalised label and stuck it to each passenger's swabbing utensils.

We were then taken to a cordoned off area, where we took a seat and were subject to a nasal swab, I found this actually quite uncomfortable, but others in my travelling party didn't mind it – one actually described it as a rather nice feeling.

After that, you're free to continue onwards as normal. And, contrary to what some have been saying, the e-gates in Dubai International were still operating for UAE residents. However, since Monday, they've been closed and all passengers must go through passport control.

The entire process only took about 30 minutes, and it's clear the staff here are trying to make everything as streamlined as possible. This is particularly evident when arriving at baggage claim, where all the bags were removed from the carousel and stacked helpfully, ready for you to pluck them and run.

From plane to airport exit, we were waylaid only about one hour, which is not the greatest at 2am when you're faced with a full day of work, but under the circumstances, both reassuring and impressively quick.

Updated: March 10, 2020 09:47 AM

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