Highly vaccinated UAE reports most cases of virus within months

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – The United Arab Emirates recorded its biggest daily virus load in months on Tuesday, a spike that comes as the omicron variant crosses the world and the Middle East tourist hub gears up to welcome hordes of tourists for the holidays.

The emirate has reported 452 infections in the past 24 hours, including two deaths – an increase not seen in the highly vaccinated Gulf Arab state since mid-September. Infections had dropped to record highs, around 50 a day, just over a week ago, helping to make the Dubai freewheel warehouse feel like the worst of the pandemic was over and that life could return to normal.

A nationwide mask mandate remains in place outside, but Dubai bars and restaurants are teeming with maskless revelers. Most luxury hotels report that they are booked during the December holidays. Each year, the giant New Year’s celebrations in the city draw thousands of tourists and social media influencers to flee the winter conditions in Europe.

The World’s Fair in the desert outside of Dubai has hosted sprawling concerts, parades and other festivities for millions of visitors. Expo 2020 announced this week that it will suspend its daily parade and other events to stem the spread of the virus.

The UAE has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, with authorities reporting that more than 99% of eligible residents have received at least one dose. The government also offers Pfizer-BioNTech booster shots to all adults.

Emirati health authorities said they had detected the first case of omicron in the country earlier this month. They said nothing else about the highly contagious variant cases in the seven emirates.

But signs of the virus spreading rapidly have appeared.

Local Indian media reported that a couple from the United Arab Emirates tested positive for the omicron variant upon arrival in the Indian state of Kerala. Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal announced on Monday that he tested positive for coronavirus in Spain upon returning from an exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi.

A passenger on Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s return flight from the United Arab Emirates has tested positive for the virus. Soon after, Israel banned travel to the UAE due to the high risk of infection.

The more conservative capital of Abu Dhabi this week rolled out new border controls for commuters from Dubai and other emirates of the federation. Police are now scanning drivers for symptoms of COVID-19, referring those with high temperatures to get antigen tests before crossing.

Two COVID-19 doctors from private hospitals in Dubai said they were alarmed by the recent increase in cases fueled by the spread of the omicron variant. But they said the vast majority of newly infected patients had mild to moderate symptoms and were being treated at home, while hospitals remained largely empty of patients infected with the virus. They spoke on condition of anonymity under the regulations.

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