Passenger screening increases at Gulf airports amid virus outbreak

Passenger screening increases at Gulf airports amid virus outbreak
Passengers wear face masks at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on January 23 in Manila, Philippines.
Published: 25 January 2020 - 2:15 p.m.
By: Louise Birchall
Gulf airports, including one of the world's biggest aviation hubs, said Thursday they would screen all passengers arriving from China amid the outbreak of a deadly virus.

The move goes further than other major transport hubs in Europe and the United States, which have limited their screening to passengers coming from Wuhan, the city at the centre of the scare.

According to Arabian Business, Dubai airport authorities confirmed that "all passengers arriving on direct flights from the People's Republic of China must receive thermal screening at the gate upon arrival," a statement said.

Dubai International Airport in 2018 served over 89 million passengers, including more foreign passengers than any other airport worldwide for the fifth year in a row.

Dubai's government said Thursday that some 989,000 Chinese tourists visited the glitzy emirate last year -- a number expected to cross the one million mark in 2020.

Some 3.6 million Chinese transited through the emirate's main airport in 2019.

"The screening will be conducted on secured, closed gates at the airport by Dubai Health Authority and its Airport Medical Centre team," the statement said.

The UAE's Abu Dhabi International Airport, another major hub, announced on Twitter Thursday that it had also begun screening passengers arriving from China, "in an effort to ensure the health and safety of all of our travelers".

Between them, the two Emirati hubs operate dozens of flights a week with Chinese cities.

China is the UAE's top trading partner and Abu Dhabi is among the 15 top crude oil suppliers to Beijing. Several hundred Chinese companies have offices in the UAE.

Saudi Arabia's pro-government Okaz newspaper reported that the kingdom would also conduct "health assessments" of passengers coming from China.

Shortly after, Kuwait and Bahrain followed suit.

Passengers "coming directly from China will be subject to checks as well as all those coming from countries determined by the health ministry if the virus spreads," a spokesman for Kuwait's Directorate General of Civil Aviation, Saad al-Otaibi, told AFP.

Bahrain's international airport said it would check all passengers arriving at Bahrain International Airport "as a precaution to detect the coronavirus present in China".

The UAE's health ministry said Wednesday that the Gulf state with a population of 10 million, about 90% of them foreigners, was free of the coronavirus, and that it had taken sufficient measures to face the disease.

"The health situation poses no grounds for concern and the ministry is closely following up on the situation to ensure the health and safety of everyone," it said.

China Friday added a ninth city to a transport ban around the epicentre of a deadly virus, restricting the movement of some 32 million people as authorities scramble to control the disease. Jingzhou, with a population of 6.4 million, said Friday that all services departing from its railway station will be suspended.

The city is the latest in a string of cities in central Hubei province to impose travel restrictions in a bid to curb the spread of the new coronavirus which has infected more than 800 people.

The coronavirus has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

Like SARS, it can be passed among humans via the respiratory tract.

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