The United Arab Emirates said Wednesday that a Chinese family of four who arrived from Wuhan were infected with the new coronavirus, in the first confirmed cases in the Middle East.
The health ministry said that the condition of the family from Wuhan — the quarantined Chinese city at the epicentre of the health crisis — was stable and that they were “under medical monitoring”.
The World Health Organization confirmed the infections, saying the family arrived in the Emirates earlier this month.
They “were hospitalised on 25 and 27 January after testing positive for coronavirus,” it said in a statement, adding that two of the patients never showed any symptoms.
“Due to the global nature of travel”, it is expected that more cases will appear in other countries, it said.
The WHO’s regional director, Ahmed al-Mandhari, urged “individuals to stay calm and take the necessary precautions to keep themselves and their loved ones safe”.
Gulf airports, including Dubai which is one of the world’s biggest aviation hubs, said last week they would screen all passengers arriving from China amid the outbreak of the deadly virus.
The disease has spread to more than 15 countries since it emerged out of Wuhan late last year, with the death toll soaring to 132 and confirmed infections nearing 6,000.
All confirmed fatalities have so far been in China. Cases have been reported across the Asia Pacific region and in North America and Europe, but the infected family in the UAE are the first in the Middle East.
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.
About 3.6 million Chinese transited through the emirate’s main airport in 2019.
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.
The UAE’s Abu Dhabi International Airport, another major hub, has also begun screening passengers arriving from China.
Between them, the two Emirati hubs operate dozens of flights a week serving 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.
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.
The UAE health ministry said it has taken “all the necessary precautions” in line with standards approved by the World Health Organization.
It said that the country’s health system “works very efficiently and that the ministry is closely following the situation in a way that guarantees the health and safety of everyone.”