UAE Expo warns of venue closures due to spread of covid

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The multi-billion dollar World Expo in Dubai has warned some on-site venues to close as coronavirus cases rise rapidly in the United Arab Emirates.

Expo 2020 Dubai said virus outbreaks among staff could force parts of the fair to “temporarily close for deep cleaning and disinfection”, without giving details on the extent or location of the infections.

The daily number of virus cases in the UAE has skyrocketed 37 times in the past three weeks alone after the arrival of the omicron variant.

The vague statement from Dubai’s government-run media office on Monday underscores the daunting challenges of staging one of the world’s first major in-person events amid a still-raging pandemic. The fair opened in October after a year’s delay as the United Arab Emirates bet its rapid rollout of vaccines would help its economy avoid the shutdowns that have crippled much of the West.

The expo tries to enforce various virus precautions, with masks mandatory on the fairgrounds and a vaccination certificate or recent negative test required for entry. But the highly transmissible omicron variant, which is thought to evade immunity from vaccination, poses a new test.

There have been no visible social distancing requirements in recent weeks at the exhibition’s massive concerts, where revelers clashed, waving to music.

As Dubai’s peak winter tourist season is in full swing, the World Expo is in the spotlight. Millions of tourists from around the world flock to the sprawling site filled with national pavilions, restaurants, shops and performance stages. Christmas parades drew large crowds last week and the exhibition is now gearing up for big concerts to attract revelers on New Year’s Eve.

The New Year celebrations last year contributed to a drastic increase in virus cases in the Emirates as tourists escaped lockdowns at home. Infections now hover below those heights but are climbing rapidly. The daily infection toll topped 1,840 on Tuesday, the highest in six months.

Abu Dhabi’s more conservative capital on Tuesday stepped up virus checks on the Dubai highway to ensure that all vaccinated drivers had also tested negative in the past two weeks. The city has limited house parties to 30 people and announced that schools will switch to remote learning for the first half of January.

Emirati authorities have reported few daily hospitalizations and deaths among the approximately 10 million people in the UAE, more than 90% of whom are fully immunized.

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