Coronavirus: everything you need to know about Covid-19 in the UAE
From school closures to travel restrictions, the outbreak is having an increasing effect on everyday life
Cases of Covid-19 have soared to more than six million worldwide with new figures being reported by the hour.
As the number of cases has grown, governments have acted – putting in place a series of measures designed to reduce the spread of the virus.
But infections have continued to rise at an alarming rate. Some countries have said that, in a worst-case scenario, up to 80 per cent of people could catch the virus.
Here’s everything you need to know so far:
What is the Covid-19 coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which may cause illness in animals or humans. Covid-19 is only the most recently discovered strain.
In humans, seven coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections, including the common cold and more severe diseases such as Middle East respiratory syndrome – first recorded in Saudi Arabia in 2012 – and severe acute respiratory syndrome, or Sars, which swept through southern China and Hong Kong in 2002 and 2003.
But Covid-19 has affected far more people.
The most common symptoms of Covid-19 are fever, tiredness and a dry cough. Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, sore throat or diarrhoea and, rarely, a runny nose. Some have reported temporarily losing their sense of taste and smell. A high percentage of sufferers are believed to be asymptomatic, possibly around 40 per cent, according to estimates.
When people do develop symptoms they can be severe. The elderly and those with underlying medical problems such as high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness but these can also develop in young, seemingly healthy patients.
Recently, a mysterious condition affecting children that may be linked to the virus has been reported across the world.
Clusters of children and adolescents have required admission to intensive care units with a multisystem inflammatory condition that has some features similar to those of Kawasaki disease and toxic shock syndrome.
Hundreds of children are understood to have been affected by this, with some dying as a result. Some researchers suggest it could be the paediatric version of a cytokine storm, which is what happens when the immune system goes into overdrive.
What about the situation in the UAE?
The first case of Covid-19 in the UAE was identified on January 29. As of May 31, there were 34,557 cases.
In total, 17,932 people in the country have now recovered completely, including a Chinese family who were among the first reported to have the virus in the Emirates. And 264 have died.
The government has taken stringent steps aimed at controlling the spread of the virus.
Residents across the UAE adhered to stay-home orders to help stem the spread of Covid-19 for more than two months.
First introduced at the end of March, the regulations remain a key part of a national sterilisation drive to clean up streets and roads and boost public safety.
The timings of the stay-home regulations have been fluid in recent weeks, with officials tailoring regulations in light of an ever-changing battle against coronavirus.
The sterilisation drive is now in place every night from 10pm to 6am until further notice in all emirates but Dubai, where the drive runs from 11pm to 6am.
The UAE closed all malls and markets for almost two months but reopened them, with precautions in place, in May. Shops selling essential goods including supermarkets and pharmacies were granted permission to operate 24-hours a day.
All inbound, outbound and transit flights were suspended from March 19, except for special repatriation flights.
Anyone who enters the UAE, as part of special repatriation flights, must undergo 14 days of mandatory self-quarantine or risk legal action, the country's attorney general, Hamad Al Shamsi, said.
He said ignoring precautionary measures put in place to limit the spread of coronavirus - including quarantine - was a punishable crime.
On Sunday, May 31, it was announced that travel in and out of Abu Dhabi would be banned for a week, starting on Tuesday, June 2, to help to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Residents of Abu Dhabi city, Al Ain and Al Dhafra can travel within their cities but not enter or leave them – and cannot go to other emirates.
In the early days of the outbreak, the vast majority of employees were told to work from home, if they could.
But that is slowly beginning to change.
Initially, it was announced 30 per cent of private sector employees would return in Dubai. That increased to 50 per cent in late May, and on May 31, half of Dubai's public sector workforce were welcomed back to the office again. The rest will follow in two weeks' time.
Nationwide, 30 per cent of federal ministry employees have returned, and Abu Dhabi government has said 35 per cent of staff will once again be permitted to work from the office. They must, however, follow a series of rules. They include scanning QR codes on their phones when they enter the building.
The Ministry of Education has closed all schools and universities until the end of the academic year, switching to distance learning online instead.
It is now expected that this will continue in some form into the next academic year.
Headteachers have said they anticipated a mix of in-school classes and home learning in the first term of the 2020-21 academic year, but await an official decision from the government.
Other measures aimed at limiting the spread of the virus include a ban on shisha pipes and the closure of nightclubs and cancellation of events to prevent large gatherings.
Tourist attractions including theme parks and arts and cultural centres such as Louvre Abu Dhabi, Global Village and Qasr Al Watan remain closed in Abu Dhabi. But some entertainment centres like Dubai Ice Rink have reopened in Dubai.
Cinemas, public parks and beaches were closed too, but they have now reopened in Dubai and will do so soon in Ajman, amid capacity restrictions designed to slow the spread of the virus.
In Abu Dhabi, hotel restaurants, lounges, bars, beaches, pools and gyms have been issued a extensive list of rules that hotel restaurants, lounges, bars, beaches, pools and gyms must meet before they can resume operations.
Restaurants across the UAE were previously banned from receiving dine-in guests but could still deliver food. In May, authorities allowed food outlets to receive dine-in guests provided they spaced tables at least two metres apart, set a 30 per cent capacity limit and reduce the number of people sat per table. Disposable cutlery and tableware must also be used.
On Sunday, May 31, Abu Dhabi's Emergency and Crisis Committee for the Covid-19 Pandemic announced that capacity limits at malls and mall restaurants would increase from 30 per cent to 40 per cent.
Hotel beaches, museums and restaurants outside malls, such as in hotels, could also reopen as long as customers did not exceed 40 per cent of the venue's capacity. Public beaches remain closed in the emirate.
Since the outbreak, the UAE has completed more than 2m tests for coronavirus in an effort to track and trace every case.
In total, 24 drive-through testing facilities have been set up across the country to test thousands of people a day. Other testing facilities have been set up in densely populated areas, including Mussaffah - where workers are being tested for free.
Field hospitals have also opened across the country to take the pressure of hospitals and increase the number of beds available for Covid-19 patients.
The UAE closed its borders to all travellers except Emiratis returning home in March. The closure extended to UAE residents abroad, leaving thousands stranded overseas. Initially the suspension of entry for UAE residents was due to last until April but the government extended this as restrictions continued across the country to contain the spread of the virus.
The government has said they will be able to return from June 1 once they have obtained permission to travel back.
Emirates and Etihad had been operating a limited number of flights outbound from the UAE for tourists who became stuck in the country after borders closed.
But both airlines have now resumed regular passenger flights and are progressively adding more to their schedules as restrictions are eased elsewhere.
Should you self-isolate?
Health authorities in the Emirates said anyone who returns to the UAE must isolate for 14 days.
Similarly, anyone who has flu-like symptoms should also self-isolate.
If you have taken a Covid-19 test, you must self-isolate until the result is processed.
Authorities are generally calling for the public to social distance and self-isolate if feeding unwell.
Those who recovery from coronavirus are asked to self-isolate for another two weeks after being discharged from hospital.
What precautions can I take?
In early April, the public was instructed to wear masks at all times, or face fines. They are still required most of the time, but Dubai recently updated its guidelines. People can now remove their masks under the following conditions:
- When eating or drinking while indoors or outdoors
- Driving alone or with family members (vehicle occupancy is still restricted to three people, including the driver)
- Engaging in strenuous exercise
- When alone
- Swimming or skydiving
- Undergoing specific medical treatment
Members of the public are advised to be vigilant about washing their hands, particularly in public places. Use tissues for a cough and try to avoid touching your face.
“Adopt preventative measures – wash hands, avoid contact with people coughing and sneezing and once you respect these measures you will reduce any risk of contamination,” Dr Nada Al Marzouqi, a Ministry of Health spokeswoman, said.
What to do if you’re sick
The first thing you should do if you feel unwell and suspect you may have Covid-19 is pick up the phone and call the hospital you intend to visit ahead of time.
That way, doctors will be able to assess the risk you pose to staff and other patients. Public transport should be avoided at all costs to avoid spreading the virus further.
All hospitals in the UAE are required to have isolation rooms to treat patients, so people can choose a hospital based on convenience. All treatment for the virus in the UAE is covered by the government or health provider.
Anyone suspected of suffering from Covid-19 will be isolated immediately in a room with a negative pressure air-conditioning system, which is designed to prevent germs from escaping the room.
A swab is then taken from the patient's nose and throat which is taken in a vial to an approved government-run laboratory.
Results take between 24 to 36 hours, during which time the patient will remain isolated in the hospital.
Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre is answering questions and updating residents about the latest news on coronavirus in the country through messages on WhatsApp. The number is 056 231 2171.
For more information on the virus, residents can also contact Estijaba Service on 8001717, Dubai Health Authority on 800342, or the Ministry of Health and Prevention on 80011111.
Separating myths from the reality
Rumours and misinformation have spread as fast as the virus.
Whether it is spurious claims on social media or confused or inaccurate medical advice, it has been difficult to separate fact from fiction.
Here we clarify some of the myths out there.
Claim: mild coronavirus cases are ‘just a cold’
According to the WHO, the technical definition of a mild Covid-19 case is a bit like a bad case of the flu, with symptoms including a fever, cough and possibly even pneumonia.
A severe case is defined as a rise in the breathing rate with a fall in oxygen saturation, combined with a need for oxygen or a ventilator. Critical cases result in respiratory failure or multi-organ failure.
One in five cases are classed as either severe or critical, with the rest being mild.
"I’m Canadian. This is the Wayne Gretzky of viruses - people didn’t think it was big enough or fast enough to have the impact it does," said Dr Aylward, referencing the former Canadian professional ice hockey player, who is nicknamed "the great one".
It takes people about two weeks to recover from a mild case of the virus, on average, according to experts, while people with severe or critical cases can need help to breathe for between three to six weeks.
Studies show most symptomatic people have a fever, while 70 per cent have dry coughs and 30 per cent have trouble breathing. Runny noses make up a small portion of cases at only 4 per cent.
Reports suggest some people only experience very mild symptoms, although they are likely in the minority.
Claim: children do not contract the virus
Early studies suggested children are less likely to get the infection, but they could be wrong.
Studies show children only make up a small percentage of people infected by the virus, at around 2 per cent of cases typically.
It is now thought many children remain asymptomatic, but they can and do develop symptoms.
Studies suggests the disease makes around 40 to 65 per cent of young patients moderately sick with pneumonia or lung problems. A study of 171 children in Wuhan, with an average age of 6.7 years, found that almost 65 per cent had pneumonia. Another 19 per cent had a cold. And almost 16 per cent had no symptoms at all. Three children required life support, all of whom had coexisting conditions. One 10 month-old baby died.
In another study of 2,143 children under 18 infected with the virus, about half had mild symptoms and 39 per cent developed pneumonia or lung problems. Around 4 per cent had no symptoms at all.
There have been hundreds of cases reported of children developing a multi-system inflammatory condition as a result of the virus. Some have died as a result.
Claim: people can get the virus twice
There have been reports in China and elsewhere of patients who appeared to recover from Covid-19 before getting sick again, suggesting they have become reinfected.
And in Guangdong, China, officials announced in late February that as many as 14 per cent of declared recoveries in the province later retested positive.
Most experts believe reports of Covid-19 reinfections may reflect poor testing procedures as the virus takes a long time to get over.
Claim: there is a second, deadlier strain circulating
This originated from a study conducted by Chinese scientists who compared 103 viral samples from patients with Covid-19. Their work showed there were two strains circulating – an 'L-type' and an 'S type'. The L-type was found to be more common in the samples, but the S-type was said to be the original strain.
But as the outbreak progressed, the L-type became less prevalent.
“Human intervention may have placed more severe selective pressure on the L-type, which might be more aggressive and spread more quickly,” said the scientists.
The WHO said it was too quick to jump to conclusions, saying “it’s important we don’t overinterpret” findings.
“It’s got a slightly different signature, but it’s not a fundamentally different virus,” said Mike Ryan, who is co-ordinating the WHO's response to the epidemic.
* This article will be updated daily to reflect new developments in the UAE
Updated: June 1, 2020 11:26 AM