The United Arab Emirates on Thursday urged its citizens and its foreign residents not to travel anywhere abroad amid the ongoing worldwide coronavirus outbreak, a stark warning for a country home to two major long-haul airlines.
The country's Health and Community Protection Ministry warning comes as its capital, Abu Dhabi, sent 215 foreigners it evacuated from hard-hit Hubei in China to a quarantine set up in its Emirates Humanitarian City. They include citizens of Egypt, Sudan and Yemen.
Health officials said that those traveling abroad could face quarantine themselves at the discretion of authorities. The UAE is home to some 9 million people, with only about 1 million estimated to be Emirati citizens.
The UAE is home to Emirates, the government-owned airline based at Dubai International Airport, the world's busiest for international travel. Abu Dhabi also is home to Etihad, the country's national carrier. Both airlines have encouraged staff to take time off as international travel has dropped due to the virus.
There are now over 3,150 cases of the virus across the Mideast. Of those outside Iran in the region, most link back to the Islamic Republic. There, authorities say the virus has killed at least 92 people amid 2,922 confirmed cases. Iran and Italy have the world's highest death tolls outside of China.
The coronavirus outbreak also has disrupted Islamic worship in the Middle East, as Saudi Arabia on Wednesday banned its citizens and other residents of the kingdom from performing the pilgrimage in Mecca, while Iran canceled Friday prayers in major cities.
In Iran, the leader of its hard-line, paramilitary Revolutionary Guard falsely suggested the U.S. created the new virus amid ongoing tensions with America.
``We will win in the fight against the virus, which may be the product of the American biological invasion, which it first spread to China and then to Iran and the rest of the world,'' Gen. Hossein Salami told a crowd in the Iranian city of Kerman on Thursday, according to the semiofficial ISNA news agency. ``The U.S. must know that if it did it, (the virus) will return to it.''
Leaders of the Guard, which saw one of their top commanders killed in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad in January, routinely engage in conspiracy theories.