UAE confirms 4 Chinese tourists have virus, first in Mideast

Virus reaches Middle East

A family of four Chinese tourists in the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday became the first cases in the Mideast of a new Chinese virus that causes flu-like symptoms, with an Emirati doctor saying the first to fall ill only showed symptoms after over a week on vacation.

Dr. Hussein al-Rand, an assistant undersecretary at the UAE's Ministry of Health and Prevention, told The Associated Press that there was no reason to panic over the virus. However, he acknowledged Emirati officials now were tracing the family's steps since landing in this federation of seven sheikhdoms that includes Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

“Their condition is stable, they are awake, they are all receiving all the measures,” al-Rand said. “I would say to the public: Please, don't be panicked. The health condition within the United Arab Emirates is safe.”

Among those sick in the family are a grandmother, her daughter, the daughter's husband and the couple's 9-year-old daughter, al-Rand said.

The family from Wuhan, the epicenter of the viral outbreak, entered the UAE on Jan. 16, al-Rand said. He declined to name the airline the family flew on and the airport at which they arrived. The UAE is home to long-haul carriers Emirates and Etihad Airways and is a hub for global air travel. Al-Rand also declined to say which cities they visited during their vacation.

Authorities at Abu Dhabi's airport and Dubai International Airport, the world's busiest for international travel, began screening passengers and crew from incoming China flights on Jan. 23. That's the day China shut down Wuhan's airport and other transportation in the city to stop the spread of the virus. The lockdown has since expanded to include 17 cities with more than 50 million people in all.

That same day, Jan. 23, the grandmother among the family fell ill and sought medical care, al-Rand said. Public awareness about the virus had spread widely and doctors tested the grandmother for the new coronavirus and got a positive result. Authorities admitted the other three shortly after and they too tested positive.

On Wednesday, six days after the grandmother fell ill, the UAE announced the cases, initially providing little information. They later confirmed the number of those ill and their nationality. The cases previously hadn't been reported by the World Health Organization, which is keeping track of those who fall ill from the new virus.

Emirati officials are taking "all the necessary precautions in accordance with the scientific recommendations, conditions and standards approved by the World Health Organization," the Health and Prevention Ministry said. “The general health condition is not a cause for concern."

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